Caraway Seed Cake

by Kristin on November 11, 2011

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
2 eggs
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.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Mom3boys November 11, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Hi Kristin,
My mother in law makes this cake. It does indeed have a lovely light taste. On her advice I used caraway seeds for my colicky baby. They worked a treat. Once again your lovely pictures make me want to bake this now. Looks good !

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Kristin November 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

I’d never heard of using caraway seeds for colic. Luckily those days are behind me!

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Mom3boys November 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Me too thankfully but all of my boys suffered from it. The caraway seeds work by breaking up the gas bubbles that cause the colic. Boiling 1 tbsp of them in 200 mls of water makes a tea and after removing all seeds you can add a little honey to sweeten. We just added an ounce at a time to a bottle of cooled boiled water.Its supposed to be good for all kinds of digestion problems. Gotta love the wisdom of the old wives !

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Kristin November 12, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Look what was just published today in the Guardian – a column all about caraway from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall! And sure enough, he says that caraway seeds coated in sugar were served with spiced wine to aid digestion. Just goes to show that sometimes there’s a grain of truth in those old wives’ tales! http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/nov/11/caraway-recipes-hugh-fearnley-whittingstall

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Mom3boys November 12, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Wow . I must ring Nanny Kathleen and tell her. Although I’m not sure that she would appreciate being called an old wife just yet ! Thanks for sharing that.

MónaWise November 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I honestly can’t stand caraway seed bread or cake. Mum used to make a White soda bread with caraway seeds in it and it just did not sit well at all with me. However, and oddly enough, we have a recipe for potato soup with toasted caraway seeds in it and it is delicious. I love it. Go figure ;0)

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Kristin November 12, 2011 at 10:04 am

So does that mean you don’t like rye bread? Rye bread is one of the foods I miss from back home, toasted and slathered with butter. I can see though how it might be more of an acquired taste in a cake, it’s a bit of a grown-up flavour.

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Móna Wise November 12, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Ha ha ha – I honestly cannot stand rye bread. I know it is a ‘grown up’ flavour, and I should like it. I do like a good pastrami on salted rye when in NYC but would never buy a loaf of rye bread. And yes, the Chef loves it and bakes it daily at work. Bad bad bad childhood bread experience. Can’t shake it.

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Kristin November 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Fair enough!

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Sheila Kiely November 12, 2011 at 10:31 pm

As I read one of my daughters sits besides me and says ‘that’s pretty’ and from the mouth of babes that’s praise indeed! Interesting to hear of the colic cure and I’ll try to remember it when it’s my turn to pass on seeds (!) of wisdom to the next generation but thankfully like you those times are behind me :) Sheila

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Kristin November 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Now that those days are behind us, does that mean we’re wise women now, passing on our sage advice? I’d like to think there are some benefits anyway to the grey hair I’m starting to get!

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nessa robins November 13, 2011 at 10:45 am

I must say that as a child it was one cake that I rarely enjoyed however I love it now. I think the taste can be a little acquired. Beautiful photo :)

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Kristin November 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Thanks Nessa! I can see how it would be a bit of an acquired taste. I was surprised when my two little ones ate it without passing any comment. Then again, I didn’t play it up that there was anything different about this cake – cake is cake, I guess!

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Imen McDonnell November 14, 2011 at 8:15 am

Mmmm looks yum Kristin…may have to bake a cake when our guests are here next week from the States…caraway lovers as well. Also, I LOVE rye bread and it’s more low in carbs as well…really miss it. A Finnish friend made some last year and brought it to Thanksgiving…it’s the only time I’ve eaten it in Ireland although I suspect it could be sourced (just wouldn’t be the same as NY bakeries however!) Anyway, I digress. This recipe looks about the same as the one I did and it was wonderful. Thanks for sharing! xx

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Kristin November 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Rye bread is one of the few things I still miss. It always reminds me of big weekend diner breakfasts back home, when I’d get rye toast dripping with butter. Sigh!

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DJP January 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Miss Marple of Agatha Christie fame had a fondness for Seed Cake and if not mistaken in one of the stories goes to Brown’s Hotel for tea and the cake. We love it too and when I take it as my dish to pass the plate of cake is the first to disappear.

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Kristin January 10, 2012 at 7:40 pm

As a professional bookworm, I love this story! Thanks so much for sharing. I’ll enjoy the cake even more knowing that it was Miss Marple’s favourite.

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TexasNative February 1, 2013 at 3:35 pm

I recently watched the ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ from the Agatha Christie’s Poirot TV series, and in on of the scenes seed cake was served. Having never heard of it, I’m sitting here Googling for recipes and find myself here! (Never ran across it when visiting Ireland 4 years ago;)

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Kristin February 10, 2013 at 10:38 am

I love that you made your way to the blog via Agatha Christie, I’m an old fan! Seed cake isn’t something you ever really see on menus or in cafés, it seems to primarily be a home-baked treat.

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Fran Laird October 13, 2012 at 1:46 am

My mother made many seedd cakes in fact she was known as seed cake Olive and was requested to bring a seed cake when a plate was required

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Kristin October 13, 2012 at 11:17 am

What a fantastic nickname! There are certainly worse things to be known for than a good seed cake. :)

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