It’s hard to believe that I skipped over things like chocolate peanut butter cake, turtle bars and pecan brownies and headed straight for this recipe for caraway seed cake as the first thing I baked from Lilly Higgins’s new cookbook, Make, Bake, Love, but I’d been intrigued by the idea of this cake ever since reading about it last year on Imen’s blog. I mean, caraway seeds? In a cake? It’s a popular cake in Ireland and Britain too, so I was curious to see what it tasted like. Somehow, the flavours work together, even though you don’t expect them to (or at least I didn’t). Apparently it was all the rage in Victorian times and historically, it was baked by farmers’ wives to celebrate the end of the sowing of the spring wheat.
Caraway seed cake, also just called seed cake, is an old-fashioned cake that seems to be a particular favourite with the older generation. It’s really just a basic Madeira cake (similar to a pound cake in America) with a tablespoon of caraway seeds added into the mix. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes that there’s a lot of folklore surrounding caraway: “It’s associated with fidelity and was often used in love potions. And it was believed that possessions couldn’t be lost, stolen or mislaid if they contained a few seeds … In the same spirit, country folk fed caraway to geese and pigeons to ensure they always returned.”
This is what I like to think of as a 3:00 kind of cake — not sweet or decadent enough to serve as a proper dessert after dinner, but perfect with a cup of tea as an afternoon pick-me-up. Or if you’re in the market for a love potion, maybe just whip up one of these instead.
Caraway Seed Cake
adapted from Make, Bake, Love by Lilly Higgins
Serves 8 to 10
Don’t be tempted to throw in some extra caraway seeds for good measure. In his recipe for seed cake, Nigel Slater warns against overdoing it with the seeds, saying, “A pleasing seed cake is about how few seeds you add rather than how many.” If you’re worried that your batter looks too dry, add in 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk.
175 g (1 1/2 cups) self-raising flour
150 g (1 1/4 cups) caster sugar, plus extra to sprinkle
125 g (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) butter, softened
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Grease and line a 1 lb loaf tin.
Cream the sugar and butter together, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the flour and mix just until smooth, taking care not to overmix, then fold in the caraway seeds. Pour the batter into the tin, level the top and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for about 1 hour (check it after 50 minutes), or until risen and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to rest in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.