A Real Victorian Teatime Treat
The latest recipe from the Victorian Kitchen is a real favourite of our ancestors. It was not only a must on most tea tables but it remained one well into the first half of the 20th century. It then fell out of favour as being old fashioned, and anyway there were newer more exciting types of cakes and flavours to try. To what am I referring? Caraway Seed Cake of course!
For over 50 years Caraway Seeds became a forgotten ingredient. Well . . . . Don’t things change! It’s now good to report that these are back! After disappearing from our store cupboards they are now in favour again.
Way back in 2019 when the museum started showcasing our ‘Taste of History’ a Caraway Seed Cake was the very first one on offer. For some visitors they hadn’t tasted these before, for a few the taste was familiar, but they didn’t know what it was. For one it was truly memorable. This visitor said with the first mouthful she was taken back over sixty years to a time when she was a little girl having tea in her grandmother’s kitchen. It was actually an emotional time for all of us privileged to witness this.
For any readers who are not sure what Caraway Seeds are, and more importantly what they taste like, I shall explain.
The seeds have a mild aniseed flavour and have been used in English cookery in cakes, biscuits and breads for over 500 years.
They grow wild in this country and they were sometimes called Persian Cumin as the seeds look very similar to that Middle Eastern spice. The taste is very different so don’t be tempted to substitute one for the other!
They were believed to be very good for the digestion and the individual seeds were frequently sugared and used as an after-dinner comfit or sweet treat. They were also a very important ingredient in love potions!
In Europe they were, and still are, used more widely than here. They figure in many different types of breads, in a variety of vegetable dishes, they are added to a number of cheeses and are found in pickles and soups.
So next time you have a dish which includes Caraway Seeds just remember that you are carrying on a long culinary tradition which stretches back centuries in this country!
Two different Caraway Seed Cake recipes are featured here. The one available in the kitchen is the ‘Rich’ recipe – more butter, more sugar, just more of everything! The other is a more ‘Plain’ cake. This one was thought more appropriate as a Nursery Cake! Both are taken from Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management published in 1861. Following each recipe there will be a brief explanation about some of the ingredients and the methods used.
Caraway Seed Cake – Rich Recipe
9oz (240g) softened butter
9oz (240g) caster sugar
4 large eggs – beaten
12oz (320g) self raising flour
½ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ – 1oz (15- 30g) Caraway Seeds – to taste
3 tablespoons Brandy
4 – 6 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
- Preheat the oven 180C, 160C fan, Gas Mark 4
- Grease and line the tin or use a paper cake case for a round 8” (18cm) deep cake tin or a similar sized square one
- Beat the eggs well in a separate bowl and sieve the flour with the mace and nutmeg
- Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy
- Gradually beat in the eggs, a little at a time beating well after each addition. If the mixture looks as if it might curdle add a tablespoon of flour along with the egg
- Stir in the caraway seeds
- FOLD in the flour carefully and stir in the Brandy. Add enough milk to make a soft dropping consistency. When the spoon is tipped the mixture will, slowly drop off
- Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin, level the top and sprinkle over the Demerara sugar
- Put the tin in the centre of the oven and bake it for about 1–1 ¼ hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean ie no wet mixture is sticking to it
- Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool for some time in the tin. Turn out and allow to cool completely before storing in an air tight tin
- This cake has a more ‘dense’ texture than the light and fluffy ones we come to expect today. It does keep well and the flavour improves with keeping for a few days before using.
- Getting the correct dropping consistency can be tricky. By tipping the spoon the mixture should drop off gradually on its own without any assistance.
- In Victorian times cakes like this would often literally be made by hand, and in this way the cook would be able to feel if the consistency was correct. Have a go if you want but only use one hand and have everything ready to use!
- The 18cm cake tin is an exact fit for this cake! So if you haven’t got a tin the exact size, go for one bigger rather than smaller. I have to admit I had one or two worried moments the first time I made this!
- Don’t be at all surprised if this cake takes longer to cook than the time given. A deep round tin will take longer than a shallower square one, it all depends on your oven and the consistency of the mixture. Test after an hour but don’t be surprised if it takes a little longer than the time given here.
- You don’t have to use the Brandy but you will need to increase the amount of milk used.
- Self raising flour has been used in this recipe. In Isabella’s time cakes like this were frequently made by beating the whole mixture very well for a good 10 minutes or more. Baking powder was available but not always given in some of her recipes. The old methods were deemed to be the best! Sometimes the eggs were beaten for about an hour to trap the air.
- Ground mace has a similar but milder flavour to nutmeg. It was a favourite flavouring used by the Victorians. You could use one or the other if you don’t have both.
Seed Cake – in Mrs Beeton’s book – it is called A Nice Plain Cake
8oz (200g) self raising flour
4oz (100g) butter
3oz (75g) Light soft brown sugar
1/2oz (15g) caraway seeds
4oz (100g) currants
4-5fl.oz (100-125ml) milk
- Sieve the flour into a bowl. Cut up the butter and rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
- Stir in the sugar, caraway seeds and the currants
- Beat the eggs in a small bowl and add these with the milk to the dry ingredients. Beat very well to mix
- Put the mixture into 8” (200mm) square cake tin lined with baking parchment
- Bake at 160C fan, Gas Mark 3 for 3/4 – 1 hour until the cake is fully cooked – test with a skewer
- Leave to cool in the tin for a little while before attempting to turn it out onto a cooling tray
This is a much less rich recipe and will not keep as well. Again self raising flour has been substituted – a must I feel as this was a cake often given to children. Nursery cakes were frequently rather dry and would certainly not be to our taste. The fat used in this was originally dripping which was the fat left when the joint was cooked. Again this is not something we have often in our kitchen today. I hope you agree that butter is a much better substitute.