I learned to bake the old fashioned way, in the kitchen with my Mother and Grandmothers. I don’t actually remember too many recipe books from this time aside from a very well loved copy of the Bero recipe book from the early 60’s which was passed from my Gran to my Mam and is now mine, a giant Good Housekeeping encyclopaedia of recipes that my Mam used on a regular basis and a handwritten recipe book that my Mam made during her Home Economics Lessons in school. There were other recipe books of course, but it’s those ones that I remember the most. As well as that old faithful Bero book, I now have my own handwritten recipe book filled with recipes I’ve collected over the years, I even have an updated version of the giant recipe book I remember so well. But, the recipe books that I pour over the most are the vintage ones that I’ve found in charity shops and antiques markets over the years. I just can’t resist the allure of a well loved recipe book and the long forgotten tips, recipes and ideas it may hold. I love the way the way that these books address the lady of the house and the tone they adopt, one of my favourite quotes is on how to tell when a cake is cooked and its from “The Creda Housecraft Manual” 1958
“When cooked, cakes shrink very slightly from the side of the tin. Experienced cooks 'listen' to a cake which makes a singing noise when done; and they can tell by the feel of the top whether it is cooked through. Beginners are advised to thrust a hatpin or knitting needle into the cake; it should draw out perfectly clean with no trace or grease. Don't use a knife for this purpose as it leaves an unsightly gash in the cake."
I'm not entirely sure why, but it always makes me smile.
What attracts me the most is the promise that I might just find a gem hidden amongst those pages, a recipe or flavour combination that makes me want to dash to the kitchen and get to work. This happened recently as I was curled up on the sofa looking for inspiration. My 1930s Raisley recipe book by Brown and Polson Ltd was the first to grab my attention with a seed cake recipe. I seemed to recall this being a favourite of my Gran and her friends as well as being the cake of choice for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Having done a bit of googling, it would seem that this cake was going out of fashion even at the time that the Miss Marple books were set. Once I had spotted it in a few more books, my resolve was set, I was determined to make a seed cake, in fact not only to make a seed cake but to reinvent seed cake for modern times.
Good Old Fashioned Seed Cake
adapted from The Creda Housecraft Manual (1958) and Light Fare Recipes (1932)
8oz Plain flour
1tsp Baking powder
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
2 teaspoons of Caraway seeds
Sift the flour baking powder and salt into a bowl and add the fat, rub the fat gently through the flour gently until it resembles bread crumbs and there are no lumps.
Add the rest of the dry ingredients and distribute through the mix with your fingers.
Beat the eggs, add these to the mix and mix thoroughly.
Place in a large greased tin, I used a 6.5 inch round tin, but feel free to use what you have.
Bake at 180 gas mark 4
(the vintage recipes both state the cake will take over an hour to cook, mine took around 45 minutes as modern ovens are hotter...remember, if in doubt thrust in a hatpin and if it draws out clean your cake is cooked!)
I have to say I can't understand why the popularity of this cake waned, it went beautifully with a cup of tea. As it is made using the rubbed in method, it has a slightly heavier texture making it satisfying to eat, you only need a small slice so a relatively small cake goes a long way. It has a spiced and slightly aniseed flavour, rather than being overly sweet which I think goes perfectly with the sharp zestiness of lemons and would make a lovely treat for breakfast or elevensies.
Thoroughly Modern Mini Seedcakes
Use the ingredients and method as above, with the addition of the zest of an unwaxed lemon when you add the eggs.
Place the mixture in large muffin cases, filling the case about 2/3 of the way. I got 12 large muffins from this mix, but depending on the size of your cake cases you may get more.
Bake at 180 gas mark 4 for around 15 to 20 minutes
Allow these to cool for 5minutes in the muffin tin. While they are cooling in the tin, prepare your lemon syrup
The juice of one lemon
Place these ingredients into a small pan and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, this should take 2-3minutes.
Use a small skewer (or hatpin) to pierce the cakes, they should still be a little warm and spoon the syrup over them. Decorate with a few caraway seeds and allow to cool fully before enjoying with a nice cup of tea.
So, the next time you're looking for a cake recipe, why not try Seed Cake and do your bit to revive a great British recipe. Alternatively, look for that recipe book thats been in the back of your cupboard for years or even see what you can find in the book section of your local charity shop; you just don't know what long forgotten recipes you might discover.