This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.
Poor Jane Eyre. Girl can’t get a break. First, her parents die of typhus. Then, her beloved uncle and guardian Mr. Reed dies, leaving her in the care of an aunt who despises her and encourages Jane’s abuse at the hands of her cousins. After a particularly distressing conflict with her cousin John, she is sent away to the Lowood School for girls, where she finds a new abuser in Mr. Brocklehurst, the school’s headmaster. Eventually, Jane befriends a fellow student, Helen Burns, and finds a supporter in her teacher, Miss Temple.
In one of the first bright spots in the novel Miss Temple invites Helen and Jane for tea, and shows the young girls true kindness:
“[...] she got up, unlocked a drawer, and taking from it a parcel wrapped in paper, disclosed presently to our eyes a good-sized seed-cake.
‘I meant to give each of you some of this to take with you,’ said she: ‘but as there is so little toast, you must have it now,’ and she proceeded to cut slices with a generous hand.
We feasted that evening as on nectar and ambrosia; and not the least delight of the entertainment was the smile of gratification with which our hostess regarded us, as we satisfied our famished appetites on the delicate fare she liberally supplied.”
I mean, at this point, this was probably the best afternoon of Jane’s life. Of course, (SPOILER ALERT) then Helen goes on to die of consumption in her arms.
Seed cakes were quite popular in Britain well into the 19th century and were usually flavored with caraway seeds—hence the name. You may know caraway seeds from their role in rye bread, but they actually work nicely in sweet breads too. According to Andrea Broomfield in her book Food and Cooking In Victorian England: A History, seed cakes originated in East Anglia in the 16th Century where they were traditionally served during the harvest time. Caraway seeds were also thought to aid in digestion, so this cake was served after large meals. It became most popular during the Victorian age and was frequently served with tea. It was usually flavored with some kind of spirit, such as Madeira wine or brandy, was nicknamed a “keeping cake” because it didn’t spoil easily.
I couldn’t find a recipe from the 1840s, so one from the infamous Mrs. Beetonwill have to do. She was kind of like the Martha Stewart of her day. She came up with such revolutionary ideas as listing ingredients at the beginning of the recipe and telling readers how long they should cook something for:A Very Good Seed-Cake: 1861 From Mrs. Beeton’s ‘Household Management’
INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of butter, 6 eggs, 3/4 lb. of sifted sugar, pounded mace and grated nutmeg to taste, 1 lb. of flour, 3/4 oz. of caraway seeds, 1 wineglassful of brandy.
Mode.—Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour; add the sugar, mace, nutmeg, and caraway seeds, and mix these ingredients well together. Whisk the eggs, stir to them the brandy, and beat the cake again for 10 minutes. Put it into a tin lined with buttered paper, and bake it from 1–1/2 to 2 hours. This cake would be equally nice made with currants, and omitting the caraway seeds.
Time.—1–1/2 to 2 hours.
I decided to find a recipe that didn't include 6 eggs because I like my cholesterol level. This
one from GoodToKnow.co.uk seemed like a great balance between classic ingredients and modern methods:
Caraway Seed Loaf Cake
- 175g (6oz) butter, softened
- 175g (6oz) caster sugar
- 3 medium eggs
- 250g (8oz) self-raising flour
- 38g jar caraway seeds
- 2tbsp milk
- 1kg (2lb) loaf tin, buttered and lined with a strip of baking parchment
- Tip all the ingredients into a bowl and beat until smooth. Spoon mixture into the loaf tin and level the surface.
- Bake the cake in the centre of the oven 160°C (320°F, gas mark 3) for 45 mins-1 hr, or until the cake feels just firm to the touch in the centre, and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into cake.
- Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10-15 mins.
- Transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.
The amount of eggs gives this cake a rather spongey texture, much different from the sweetbreads I'm used to, but it all works to create a nice, fluffy cake . However, I can see why wine or brandy was used to help preserve this cake because it seems to get a bit mushy from all the butter after a few days.
Now invite this guy over to tea and you'll be all set: