Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Seed-Cake

The seed-cake of hobbit fame* has enchanted me since I read that book out loud to a friend when we were much younger than we are now. We both badly wanted that cakeI, with my herbal tea, he, with his coffee. I have come across as many versions of this fabled cake as there are individual imaginations. Various approaches include adding citrus zest or a sweet spice like cardamon, skimping on the caraway seeds or letting them rain onto the batter like a demented deluge, and augmenting with any other available crunchy seed like flax, poppy, sunflower, hemp, yup, that's right, hemp! Yet still other bakers do it gluten-free and substitute different sweeteners for sugar.


Variation is fine but to my mind the only parameter that can't be ignored is its roundness: full like a happy moon, enticing in its bedazzling completeness, and smugly satisfied with its circular solidity as Bilbo is with his own rotund belly. Not to mention that he baked it in this form. So please put those loaf pans away! Furthermore, I have divined that Bilbo when in a certain mood, would say to himself, hmmm, a little lemon icing would not be amiss.


INGREDIENTS
makes a 20 cm/8 inch round
adapted from the 2008 edition of Delia's Frugal Food

  • Flour, white, plain, 170 g/10 fluid oz
  • Baking powder, 2 tsp
  • Almond meal/flour, unblanched, 50g/3 fluid oz
  • Butter, sweet, at room temperature, 120 g/4 fluid oz
  • Sugar, preferably caster (very fine texture), but regular will do, 120 g/4 fluid oz
  • Eggs, large, 3
  • Milk, whole, 2-3 T
  • Caraway seeds, 1 tsp
  • Lemon icing: 8 T of icing/confectioner's/powdered sugar & 3 T of freshly squeezed lemon juice, that is, about a small lemon

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Liberally butter the bottom and sides of the pan. To ensure the cake can be removed without heartbreak, the buttered bottom can be covered with a circle of buttered parchment paper. If baking a cake requiring creaming butter and sugar together, I leave the eggs, butter, and milk out on the counter for a few hours. Having no caster sugar on hand, I buzzed the regular stuff in a mini food processor for about a minute. Though a finer textured sugar will be easier to cream, the ordinary version will work also.


Start by mashing with a fork the softened butter. 


The Calm One, when spying this yellow ware bowl in a shop, said, I must have it as he grew up with such in the wilds of Yorkshire, England. Those words were uttered twenty-five years ago. And I am embarrassed to say, that is the time it took us to realise that this was not just an attractive, large mixing bowl steeped in childhood memory, but one with a particular edge. It has two feet, one on the bottom, and a slanted, flat one on the side allowing this heavy bowl to be tipped easily for blending and pouring.


The goal in creaming is that the mixture needs to be beaten until fluffy and most of the sugar crystals are invisible, though they can be felt when tasting a sample. It usually takes several minutes to get this state.


Beat in the eggs one by one.


Mix together the almond meal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and caraway seeds. Blend into the wet ingredients a third of this mixture, do another, and then finally incorporate the last.

Whole almond meal packs texture and flavour

Add enough milk to make a gloppy consistency. Spoon into the prepared pan and spread the batter evenly with the back of a metal tablespoon.


Bake for about thirty minutes or until the edges slightly pull away from the pan, the top springs back sprightly after being pressed in the centre, and when an inserted wooden skewer comes out dry. Loosen the edges with a narrow spatula and remove. Cool on a wire rack. One from the oven can be used.


Just before serving, mix up the icing and using a small pitcher, dribble/pour on the cake and let dry. Was it as good as what I imagined all those years ago? Yes! Reminiscent of biscotti, albeit a soft, tender version, it makes a wonderful breakfast or snack, especially when paired with coffee. Engaging, delightful, and fulfilling, it is the height of a simple pleasure.


Dirac the kitten is now nearly nine months old. At times, lively beyond belief, at others, quiet and composed like a Buddha, he continues to grow and to outsmart us. His latest coup is when we try to retrieve him from a room that he has decided is his personal gym, like, let's say, the kitchen, he hides under a chair, and when that chair is picked up, he darts under another...

Dirac taking a much needed rest after a vigourous game of musical chairs in the kitchen

À la prochaine!

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*[Bilbo] had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he — as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it, however painful — he might have to go without.
‘Come along in, and have some tea!’ he managed to say after taking a deep breath.
‘A little beer would suit me better, if it is 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 surprise; and he found himself scuttling off , too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.
--J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit