Victorian Seed Cake Inspired by 'Jane Eyre'

Victorian Seed Cake Inspired by 'Jane Eyre'

Wednesday, 30 October, 2019

Food is one of the easiest — and most fun — ways to vicariously experience another culture. When you add a great book to the mix, you've got the makings of a perfect evening. In Food+Fiction, we recommend a delicious read and a related recipe so you can enjoy the taste of different destinations in your own kitchen.

This post is part of our Food+Fiction series.

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Jane Eyre is a character for the ages: an orphan with no prospects — and no one to love her — who defiantly wends her own way through the world with determination, a strong moral compass, and her unerring belief in her inherent value.

Orphaned and denied all affection, Jane has been sentenced to live at the luxurious Gateshead Hall with an aunt and cousins who literally wish she were dead. After suffering daily abuse and being denied all affection, it’s a relief (for all of us) when she’s sent to Lowood School. Sure, it’s a barren, drafty, hard-edged old pile governed by draconian rules and inhabited by half-starved urchins from equally unwelcoming homes. But Jane’s tenacity and grit help her survive the icy winters and meager meals of Lowood for nearly a decade.

But first, Jane has to survive day one at the school — and it’s a doozy.

Called out by the headmaster as a liar — she’s not — Jane is forced to stand on a stool without food or water: ‘Let her stand half-an-hour longer on that stool, and let no one speak to her during the remainder of the day.’ When she’s finally permitted to dismount her throne of shame, she dissolves into tears and finds herself befriended by the angelic Helen Burns.

Then the two girls are invited to the quarters of the kindly teacher Miss Temple. She warms them by the fire and feeds their little bodies and spirits with toast, tea, and fragrant seed cake.

This recipe for seed cake is based on a traditional Victorian recipe. Not too sweet and studded with tangy candied citrus, it’s delicious with a cup of tea and best when shared with friends.

Victorian Seed Cake

Victorian Seed Cake

Serves 6-8. Prep 20 minutes. Bake 60-90 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 1/3 cups flour*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup candied citrus peel
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brandy or whiskey

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Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C. Butter a 7- or 8-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper, then set aside.

Toast the caraway seeds. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. Add the caraway seeds and, shaking the pan occasionally, toast the seeds until they’re lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Make the batter. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and the toasted caraway seeds; mix with a fork. Slowly add the flour to the batter, beating on low speed to combine. Add the brandy and citrus peel and stir until just combined. Transfer to the prepared cake pan.

Bake the cake. Bake for 60-90 minutes — somewhere around 75 minutes seems to be the sweet spot, so check often with a toothpick. When it’s finished, the cake should be golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

To serve, allow the cake to cool completely in the pan then cut into slices and enjoy with a nice cuppa.; we like to dust the top of ours with a little confectioner’s sugar. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

*You can use a gluten-free flour blend in place of white flour, if you prefer.

Having invited Helen and me to approach the table, and placed before each of us a cup of tea with one delicious but thin morsel of toast, 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.

Tea over and the tray removed, she again summoned us to the fire; we sat one on each side of her, and now a conversation followed between her and Helen, which it was indeed a privilege to be admitted to hear. — Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Brontë

This is a novel to read and read again; each experience with this story reveals new depths of character and fresh admiration of Brontë’s turns of phrase. It’s populated with people who feel quite real: Jane, of course, but also her dearest friend Helen, the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, the damaged and brooding Mr. Rochester, the priggish St. John Rivers and his beloved, sweet sisters Mary and Diana, and the original Victorian femme fatale herself: Blanche Ingram. This novel has everything that makes reading fiction so great: palpable atmosphere, damaging secrets, relentlessly evil villains, true love and twisted romance, perilous escapes, dramatic weather, and tender moments of kindness and peace — plus Jane. Always Jane. An unforgettable heroine who, after almost 200 years, is still an exemplary role model for us all. {more}

This treasured classic (578 pages) was published in June of 2006 by Penguin. The book takes you to a manor house in Victorian England. Melissa read Jane Eyre and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

Jane Eyre

 

Top image courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum.

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