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Seed-Cake (Novel Food, Fall ’08 edition)

Posted by bakinghistory on September 20, 2008

A nice cup of hot tea and a slice of this cake are best enjoyed in the company of good friends

Roundup 1 —-Roundup 2

For this season’s edition of Novel Food—one of my favorite blog events, co-hosted by Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste—I chose to recreate a food item from Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë‘s masterpiece.

This also goes to Susan’s Yeast Spotting

I read the book for the first time many years ago, in Junior High School, and loved it ever since. Over the years I returned to it once in a while, and the story never ceased to fascinate me. In time I realized what I found consistently so appealing in it. The novel contains all the necessary components of Romantic literature: a love story full of passion, mystery and tragedy, a good touch of the supernatural and a happy ending against all odds.

However, besides all of that, what truly brought me back to this novel is how its main character, Jane, is portrayed. She is a young woman, orphaned and destitute, very smart and barely pretty—in other words a person apparently lacking all of the desirable qualities that would ensure her any happiness in life or at least a comfortable place in society.

And yet, even in the worst of her circumstances and situations, Jane never compromises, never gives up her dignity as a person, never loses her solid moral principles. She is able to balance a good heart with cool rationality, always seeing beyond appearances and never settling for the easiest path. It was—and is—her strength in being able to say no, even if compromise would seem to ensure her gaining everything she most dearly wishes, that I find admirable, as is her unshakable belief that the qualities of the heart and the spirit have a value very much above those of wealth, position and social approval.

In the book food is mentioned quite often, from the dreadful meals at Lowood, the boarding school for orphaned girls that Jane attends—and survives—for eight years, to that offered to Jane after she leaves Thornfield and is rescued by the Rivers family.

Among all of the possibilities, I chose to bake a seed-cake, like the one Jane shares one perfect evening with her beloved schoolmate Helen and their teacher Miss Temple. The reason of my choice is that, to me, that simple cake eaten with friends and kindred spirits shows how, despite the dreariest circumstances, the comfort of true friendship can lighten one’s heart and console of any sadness.

Miss Temple invites Helen and Jane for tea: 

“[…] 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.”

In the many vintage cookbooks I have read I found different versions of seed-cakes, some rather plain, made with a yeasted and sweetened dough and others closer to pound cakes, very sweet and rich in eggs and butter. The common trait between all of these versions is, of course, the caraway seeds that speckle their crumb. Caraway seed once was used in sweet baked goods such as cakes and biscuits and not limited to savory ones. The effect is amazingly good: the pungency and complex aroma of these seeds, as well as their slight crunchiness provide a wonderful counterpoint to the sweetness and tenderness of the cakes.

As much as I love the flavor of caraway in the tangy sourdough ryes found in the baking repertoire of Central and Eastern Europe, I have to say that tasting caraway in a sweet baked good allows to appreciate this pleasant spice even more.

I tried more than one version, and it was difficult to choose one among all, since all have pleasant qualities that made them worth recommending. Charlotte Brontë does not give a detailed description of the seed-cake Jane and her friends have together with tea. Given the time at which the novel was published (1847) I thought at least I could write off any of the more recent recipes made with actual baking powder, which became popular only in the late nineteenth century. I tried a yeasted version made with only a little sugar and butter and no eggs, and another rather rich made with great quantities of all of these ingredients. The yeasted, plainer version is my favorite, and is the one I feature here.

From the original recipe by Margaret Dods

in: “The Cook and Housewife’s Manual”, 1828—UK


1/2 lb white sugar

2 lbs bread flour

1 tbsp active dry yeast

2 cups whole milk, plus more as needed

1/2 lb butter

1 oz. caraway seeds

a pinch of allspice, nutmeg, and ginger

Mix the sugar and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Scald the milk and let it cool to lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the warm milk and pour it over the flour-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until some of the flour and the milk form a soft soupy dough (the rest of the flour will stay underneath. Cover the bowl and let the sponge ferment until doubled and bubbly. Switch to the dough hook, add the ground spices (except for the caraway) and knead until the dough starts to come together, adding the rest of the milk by the tablespoon as necessary (the dough should not be too soft at this point).

With the mixer running add the cold butter, diced, and knead until the dough is well developed, supple and smooth. Once the butter is well incorporated add the caraway seeds and knead a little more until well distributed in the dough.

Let the dough ferment until doubled in a covered bowl. Shape into two oval or round loaves and bake in a preheated oven at 350F (180C) for about 50 minutes, or until nice and golden. The loaves should be allowed to cool on a rack and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

If you prefer to use a bread pan, you will need two 9×5-inches pans.

Posted in Blog Events, Dairy, Eggless, Spices, Tea, Yeasted Cakes, Kuchen, Coffee Cakes | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Lydia M. Child’s Loaf Cake

Posted by bakinghistory on February 11, 2008

A yeasted cake spiced with cinnamon and rose water
The theme of this blog is to recreate recipes from antique cookbooks which can be a way to have a glimpse of times past. Many of these old cookbooks were written by women who had very interesting lives, and who accomplished a lot in their time.
As Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations mentioned, one of this women, Lydia M. Child was born on February 11, 1802. I baked this cake from Lydia’s cookbook The American Frugal Housewife.
Lydia M. Child was a remarkable woman in many ways, who accomplished amazing things both in the personal and in the social sphere—and her life almost reads as a novel.
She was a member of the Transcendentalist movement—and like many of her generation —she was a passionate social reformer.
She raised a family, worked as a teacher and a journalist, wrote essays and novels devoted to the social causes of her time: she was an abolitionist, as well as an activist for women’s rights and Native Americans’ rights.
Her life has been recently portrayed in a documentary .
From the original recipe by Lydia Maria Child
In: “The American Frugal Housewife”, 1833—USA
2 lb bread flour
1/4 oz. (7 g) active dry yeast
1/2 lb sugar
1/4 lb. butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup water (or as needed)
1/2 oz. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp rose water or lemon extract (or to taste)
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 yolk to decorate
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside. Cream the butter with the sugar, add the eggs and the flavoring (rose or lemon) and mix well. Sift the flour with the cinnamon and the salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture, then pour in the yeast water and the remaining water, kneading on low speed to make a soft, smooth dough. You might need more water than indicated.
Let the dough rise in a buttered bowl, covered, until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Shape the dough in a free form loaf or place it into a removable bottom round cake pan, 8-inches in diameter, generously buttered on the bottom and sides. Brush the top of the cake with yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water and make a diamond pattern lightly scoring the top with a sharp knife.
Let it rise, covered, until light. Bake for about 40 minutes and let cool on a rack.

Posted in American Cooking, Spices, Yeasted Cakes, Kuchen, Coffee Cakes | 11 Comments »

Kuchen Roll (bbd #05)

Posted by bakinghistory on January 1, 2008


A slightly sweet yeasted dough with a touch of nutmeg and a flavorful prune-cinnamon filling

breadbakingday51_2_2.jpg This is my entry for bread baking day #05, hosted this time by Chelsea at Rolling in Dough, and initiated by Zorra. Chelsea proposed Filled Breads as a theme, and I decided to keep on the sweet side with this kuchen roll. The dough is actually barely sweet, which lets the prune-cinnamon filling really shine through. It is perfect with a glass of lemon tea.

bbd #05 roundup is here 

From the original recipes by Lizzie Black Kander (Mrs. Simon Kander)

In “The Settlement Cook Book”, 1901–USA

Kuchen Dough, No. 1

1 pint (470 ml) milk, scalded

1/2 cup (113g ) butter

1/2 cup (100) sugar

1 tsp (6 g) salt

5-1/2 to 6 cups (750 g-820 g) bread flour (or as needed)

yolks of 2 eggs (or 1 egg)

1-1/2 tsp (6 g) active dry yeast

grated nutmeg to taste

1 egg to shine the roll surface

Prune Filling

1 lb. (454 g) prunes

2 qt. (1.90 l) water

1 cup (200g) sugar

2 tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice

grated lemon zest

1 stick cinnamon (or 1 tsp of ground cinnamon)

Make the Filling

Soak the prunes in water for a few hours, then cook them in the same water, with (a stick of) cinnamon, until soft. Add sugar (1/4 cup of sugar every 2 cups of stewed prunes) and cook 2 minutes more. Take off the heat, add lemon juice to taste and lemon zest. Remove cinnamon stick (unless you used ground cinnamon) and process the prunes in a food processor or with an immersion blender till creamy. The quantity of sugar and lemon juice should be adjusted by taste; personally I prefer the filling to be rather tart.

Place the prepared filling in a covered glass container and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. It can be prepared the day before.

Make the Kuchen Dough

Dissolve the yeast with 1 tsp of sugar in 1/2 cup of the warm milk and set aside till foamy. To the rest of the milk add the butter, sugar, salt, nutmeg and, when cool, the two beaten yolks or the beaten egg. Add some of the flour, mix well, add the yeast-milk mixture and then the rest of the flour, kneading on low speed with the dough hook attachment if using a stand mixer. The dough should be well developed, smooth, soft, supple and satiny; the amount of flour has to be adjusted so that the dough is not sticky but still fairly soft. Let the dough rise, in a covered container, until doubled and light. Then take the dough, press it flat with the palms of your hands in a rectangular shape, not too thin or it might tear, spread with prune filling leaving a little clean margin on one of the short sides. Roll up the dough, starting with one of the short sides and seal well the seams.

Let the shaped roll(s) raise, covered, till light. Gently brush the surface with the beaten egg glaze and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F (180°C) for about 35-40 minutes.

Cool the rolls on racks (unmold them if you used a pan). Slice and serve only when they are throughly cold.

The roll can be baked free form on a baking sheet lightly greased and floured, or arranged in a lightly greased bundt pan.

The dough can also be divided in two before rolling and filling to make two smaller rolls to bake free form or to arrange in a pan.

Posted in Blog Events, Fruit, Jewish Cooking, Spices, Yeasted Breads, Yeasted Cakes, Kuchen, Coffee Cakes | Tagged: , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Saffron Cakes (bbd #04)

Posted by bakinghistory on November 30, 2007



These buttery buns have the golden color of saffron, the lemony aroma of coriander seed and a light touch of sweetness


This is my entry for Bread Baking Day #04 (Bread with Spices), which I was very happy to host. Thanks as always to Zorra for initiating this monthly baking event!

The recipe for these delightful buns comes from the 1803 American edition of a book by Susannah Carter which was originally published in England around 1765. Susannah was a truly wonderful baker, and this is one of my absolute favorites among her recipes. I have halved her recipe and chosen an amount of sugar, saffron and coriander seed to my taste–as she wrote in her original recipe, which in fact does not specify quantities for those ingredients.

From the original recipe by Susannah Carter

In: “The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook” 1803–USA



2 lb (6-1/2cups–900 g) bread flour (or as needed)

1/2 lb (2 sticks, 225 g) butter

1 cup (237 ml) cream or whole milk

3/4 cup (150 g) sugar (or to taste)

4 eggs

1 yolk

1 tbsp (7 g) active dry yeast dissolved in 3 tbsp (45 ml) warm water

1 tbsp (18 g) kosher salt

1/2 tsp (generous) saffron strands (or to taste)

2-1/2 tbsp whole coriander seed (or to taste)

1 egg white (to brush the buns before baking)




Prepare the spices: place a small pan (preferably cast iron or stainless steel, but not nonstick) on very low heat and put in it the coriander seed. Stirring continuously toast them lightly, until the aroma rises and their color darkens slightly. Be careful because they burn easily. As soon as they are ready transfer them to a plate to cool and set aside. Then place in a coffee or spice grinder and grind until fine and powdery.

Put the butter and milk or cream in a pan with the saffron, sugar and salt and scald until the butter melts. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Add 1/2 tbsp flour, taken from the total, to the yeast water, then sift the rest of the flour with the ground coriander seed. Mix the eggs, yolk, saffron milk mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed using the flat beater attachment. Add the flour mixed with coriander seed and the yeast. Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is well developed, shiny, supple and elastic.

Let the dough rise until doubled in a covered bowl. saffron-cakes-dough.jpg

When the dough has raised, divide it in small balls (cut pieces of dough with a pair of kitchen scissors, do not tear them off) and arrange them on a baking sheet.

I made 12 rather large buns.saffron-cakes-rising.jpg

Let the buns rise, covered, until they are almost doubled in size and are very light. Gently brush each one with lightly beaten egg white (the butter and sugar will ensure that the dough will bake to a nice dark golden color, the egg white will provide some shine).

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C)

Bake the buns for about 20-25 minutes, and lower the heat slightly if they color too fast. Cool them on a rack. They are good fresh from the oven or toasted with jam and butter.


P.S. Visit soon for the BBD #04 roundup, which will be ready by December 6th.




Posted in Blog Events, Spices, Yeasted Breads, Yeasted Cakes, Kuchen, Coffee Cakes | 4 Comments »

Cocoa Buns

Posted by bakinghistory on July 25, 2007


In these breakfast treats the flavor of cocoa is nicely enhanced by a touch of cinnamon and their light texture well paired with a thin, crunchy layer of frosting

From the original recipe by M.E. Robinson

In “Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes” 1909–USA


2 tbsp (28 g) butter

1/3 cup (65 g) sugar

1 egg

1 cup (237 ml) whole milk, scalded

1/2 tbsp (6 g) active dry yeast

1/2 cup (118 ml) warm water

1 tsp (2.3 g) cinnamon

1/2 cup (45 g) cocoa

1/4 tsp (1.5 g)salt

3-1/2 to 4 cups (480-550 g) bread flour

1/2 (70 g) cup currants

For the icing

1/2 cup (60 g) confectioners’ sugar

1 egg white

Scald the milk and dissolve in it the sugar (keep 1 pinch of sugar), salt and butter, then set aside to cool. When lukewarm add the well beaten egg.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 pinch of sugar and set aside.

Sift the flour with the cocoa (start with 3-1/2 cups-480 g flour, adding the remaining flour if needed) and the cinnamon in the bowl of a stand mixer, pour the yeast water over the flour and then the milk mixture. Knead using the dough hook attachment at low speed, the dough should be very soft and barely tacky–add more flour as needed. If using the currants, add them by hand after the dough is ready.

Let the dough raise, covered, in a lightly oiled bowl, until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets, shape the raised dough into small balls about the size of an apricot. Place the balls onto the baking sheets, and let raise for about 30 minutes, or until doubled and light. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile make the icing mixing the confectioners’ sugar with enough egg white to make a thin icing. As soon as the buns are ready, lightly brush their top with icing, then let them cool on a rack.

Posted in Chocolate, Yeasted Cakes, Kuchen, Coffee Cakes | 4 Comments »

Moravian Sugar Cake

Posted by bakinghistory on June 13, 2007


Cinnamon is the spice that gives this cake its wonderful aroma. In the very words of Miss Leslie, author of this recipe, “this is a very good plain cake”. I do agree.

From the original recipe by Eliza Leslie

In “Directions for Cookery, In Its Various Branches” 1840-USA


1. For the Sponge

1/4 lb (115 g) unsalted butter

2 cups (475 ml) whole milk

3/4 lb (340 g) bread flour

2-1/4 tsp (1/4 oz–7 g) active dry yeast (or 0.6 oz–14 g fresh yeast)

1/4 tsp (1.5 g) salt

2. For the Dough

1 large egg

1 tbsp (7 g) ground cinnamon

3/4 lb (340 g) bread flour

3. For the Filling

5 oz (3/4 cup–140 g) brown sugar

2 oz (2 tbsp–60 g) unsalted butter (room temperature)

2 tbsp (14 g) ground cinnamon

2 tbsp (28 g) brown sugar to sprinkle on top of the cake

Make the Sponge: Scald the milk, then let it cool to 100°F (38°C). In the bowl of a stand mixer pour the warm milk and dissolve the yeast in it; add the softened butter and stir on the lowest speed (use the flat beater attachment) to mix them well, then add the flour and finally the salt. Continue mixing on the lowest speed for 1 minute. Cover the bowl and let the sponge to rise until bubbly and doubled in bulk.

Make the dough: Add the beaten egg to the sponge and mix with the flat beater at the lowest speed until well mixed. Switch to the dough hook, add the flour sifted with the ground cinnamon and mix on the lowest speed for about 10 minutes. The dough will be soft, supple, and only barely tacky. Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes, covered.

Line a 9 x 13 in. (23 x 33 cm) pan with aluminum foil, then generously butter the aluminum foil. Arrange the dough in the pan, flattening it with the palm of your hands to cover the bottom of the pan; let rise, covered, until the cake is light and almost doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven at 350°F (180°C).

Make the filling: Mix brown sugar, cinnamon and butter and set aside.

Filling the cake: when the cake has risen make deep parallel slits all over it using sharp kitchen scissors. Fill each slit with about 1/2 tbsp of the cinnamon filling, pushing it down almost to the bottom, then pinch the edges closed after filling each slit.

Sprinkle the extra 2 tbsp of brown sugar over the cake and bake it for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Take the cake out of the pan (the liner makes this really easy) and let it cool on a rack.

Posted in Spices, Yeasted Cakes, Kuchen, Coffee Cakes | 2 Comments »

Bundt Kuchen No. 1

Posted by bakinghistory on June 8, 2007

Ethereally light, with the richness of butter and eggs balanced by the warm aromas of lemon zest and nutmeg. Something worth having for coffee with one’s best friends.

From the original recipe by Lizzie Black Kander

In: “The Settlement Cook Book” 1901-USA


1. For the Sponge

1/2 tbsp active dry yeast or 1/2 oz of fresh yeast

1 cup warm milk (about 100F-38C)

1 cup (4.5 oz-125 g) bread flour

2.For the final dough

2 cups (9oz-250 g) bread flour

1 cup (7 oz-200 g) sugar

1/2 cup (4 oz–115 g) butter

4 eggs

zest of 1 (organic) lemon

2 tsp (4 g) (or to taste) freshly grated nutmeg

3. For the Icing

1 cup (4 oz-120 g) confectioners sugar

1-2 tbsp (15-30 ml) boiling water or milk

Make the sponge: Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk, mix in the flour and let stand, covered, until it doubles and looks bubbly.

Make the dough: In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment beat the butter to cream, until very light and fluffy, then add the sugar and the lemon zest and nutmeg, when well mixed add the eggs, one at a time. Now switch to the flat beater attachment and add the sponge and then the remaining 2 cups of flour. Mix on medium speed until you get a very soft but elastic dough (about 10 minutes). At the end, it will look more like a batter than dough, almost pourable.

Grease very generously a 9-cups Bundt® pan, then put the dough in it leveling it with a spatula. Cover the pan and let the dough stand until very light, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C)

Bake the kuchen for 45 -60 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.

Take out the kuchen from the pan and let it cool on a rack.

Make the icing, mixing the sugar and water or milk (the icing should be spreadable but not too thin), then ice the cake once it is cold.

Posted in Jewish Cooking, Spices, Yeasted Cakes, Kuchen, Coffee Cakes | 1 Comment »