"A little beer would suit me better, if it's all the same to you, my good sir," said Balin with the white beard. "But I don't mind some cake - seed-cake if you have any."
"Lots!" Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise; and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and to the pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, Chapter One
Any number of books could have inspired the inclusion of a recipe for seed cake on this blog (Agatha Christie's At Bertram's Hotel ran a close second). They pop up everywhere, but I had never had one myself until last autumn, when I was inspired (and instructed) by my friend Aoife, through her brilliant column in the Irish Times, to make one.
It's a classically English cake, and there are innumerable recipes for it, differing on many points (some suggest some very odd spices to complement the caraway seeds). I've played around with a few, and in the end, the building blocks for the recipe below come from none other than Mrs Beeton herself, Queen of the Victorian kitchen. Mrs Beeton has four recipes for seed cake in her doorstop of a book, including a 'Common Seed-Cake' a 'Seed-Cake for Children' and a 'Very Good Seed-Cake'.
There's no question that hobbits know how to do feasts, and Bilbo would have a store cupboard stocked with nothing less than the absolute best for an unexpected party, so a 'very good seed-cake' it will have to be. Before his adventures through Middle Earth, we are lucky enough to get a glimpse into Bilbo's comfortable home, with its circular door and enormous larder. It's a house I would happily move into; I feel that Bilbo and I would get along famously as housemates - anyone who makes two seed cakes for a solitary after-supper morsel is someone I'd very much like to meet.
A Very Good Seed-Cake
170g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
1/2tsp ground mace
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
225g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tbsp caraway seeds
1tbsp demerara sugar
20cm round baking tin
1. Line the base of the baking tin with greaseproof paper and butter and preheat the oven to 160C.
2. Beat the butter and sugar to a light and creamy consistency. Whisk the eggs with the brandy, nutmeg and mace and beat into the butter and sugar mixture for a couple of minutes. If the mixture separates, you can add a tablespoon or so of flour to bring it back together.
3. Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture, and gently fold in, along with the caraway seeds. Spoon carefully into the tin, flatten the top with a spatula and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake in the oven for fifty minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, and serve cold and unadorned for an after-supper morsel, or elevenses.
And that's it! This cake is, if possible, even easier than the Apple and Almond Cake from two weeks back. Do give it a go, and let me know what you think.