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Seed Cake | The Hobbit; An Unexpected Party

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‘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.

-An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

In the modern age, as we immerse ourselves in the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s timeless masterpiece, “The Hobbit,” we unearth a treasure trove of bygone traditions and recipes that harken back to British teatimes and the heartwarming allure of beautifully round seed cakes. These culinary delights, steeped in nostalgia and comfort, offer us a taste of the simple yet enchanting world of Hobbits. One such gem is the Seed Cake, a treat that can transport us to an Unexpected Party or beckon us to embrace the leisurely and distinctly Hobbity way of life.

A Slice of History: The Significance of Seed Cake

Seed cake, often infused with the delicate essence of caraway seeds, was a quintessential feature of British teatime gatherings during the Victorian era. Born at the tail end of this era in 1892, J.R.R. Tolkien would have been intimately familiar with these traditional British flavors. The circular, sweet confection has graced the tables of countless generations, becoming a symbol of time-honored traditions and customs that have woven through the tapestry of British culture.

From Harvest Fields to Tea Tables: Caraway’s Varied Legacy

Historical records indicate that caraway seed cake originally emerged as a sustenance for those toiling in the fields during harvest and seeding seasons. This delectable creation also took on a different role – that of a shortbread-like offering presented at funerals. Moreover, the seed cake found its place of honor on countryside tea tables, where friends and family would gather around crackling fires, sharing tales and relishing the day’s news.

The Enduring Charm of Caraway Seeds

Central to all these cherished recipes and customs is the unassuming caraway seed. Possessing notes of anise akin to light-flavored licorice or fennel, this tiny seed delights the palate with its nutty, citrusy, and peppery undertones. Interestingly, some Victorian tea recipes called for caraway comfits, offering a clue as to why caraway held its prominence in teatime treats. These comfits, sugar-coated caraway seeds, were a staple in British households for centuries, often consumed at the conclusion of meals to aid digestion. Their presence in many homes undoubtedly made caraway an accessible and preferred ingredient.

A Taste of Simplicity: Balin’s Preferred Seed Cake

Favored by Balin himself, the seed cake embodies the essence of simpler times, evoking a sense of comfort and nostalgia. The uncomplicated steps of creaming, sifting, pouring, and baking make this recipe a breeze, especially fitting for crafting ahead of a Hobbit-themed gathering. While recipes for seed cake may vary, the denser variants are renowned for their longevity, allowing hosts to prepare this treat well in advance of their Hobbit festivities.

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Seed Cake | The Hobbit; An Unexpected Party

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Whether preparing for an Unexpected Party or simply wanting to reawaken bygone traditions, this seed cake from The Hobbit is your go-to recipe.

  • Author: Bryton Taylor
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 2 egg whites
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 250g butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp rose water
  • one shot brandy
  • 1/4 of a lemon rind
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1/4 cup candied peel

Instructions

  1. In a mixer, beat together 2 egg whites and 5 egg yolks.
  2. Mix in butter, rose water, and one shot of brandy.
  3. Grate in ¼ of a lemon rind and sift in all-purpose flour and granulated sugar.
  4. Set your mixer on medium speed for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and white.
  5. Stir in caraway seeds and candied peel.
  6. Butter then flour a 7″ round cake pan and bake in ‘a quick oven’ (pre-heated oven, ~200C/400F).
  7. When a wooden skewer is pushed into the middle and comes out clean, the cake is done (45 minutes to 1 hour)

References

  • *Good Things in England, Florence White, 1932
  • English Housewifery Exemplified; In above Four Hundred and Fifty Receipts Giving Directions for most Parts of Cookery’, Elizabeth Moxon, 1764
  • Food and Cooking in Victorian England, Andrea Broomfield, 2007

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you! The Hobbit is my favorite book. I first read it over 15 years ago, and I could never find out what seed cake was. I gave up looking years ago. I am going to try and make this! Thanks again.

  2. Reading The Hobbit at age 10, I was intrigued by the food mentioned and desperately wanted to try seed cake. It took me another 20 years to find a recipe in a Scots cookbook, loved the cake and made it several times. This is a significantly different recipe and I look forward to making it.
    Thank you for all your investigations and your sharing the delectable results.

    1. It’s always fascinating finding the different variations of a recipe! Hope you enjoy this one.

  3. I made this cake tonight and I can’t believe how delicious it is. It literally melts in your mouth when served still warm from the oven. This will be my “go-to” cake for any occasion, and I’m sure my slim days are over.






  4. I stumbled upon your recipe, it looks quite promising… just a question, what is candied peel? I mean, it’s obviously a peel of some fruit that’s been candied, but what fruit? I never heard of it before in my country (Netherlands).

  5. In the US, this is likely candied orange peel, although you can buy lemon peel, citron peel, or “mixed” peel in small plastic containers . It is often sold near Christmas time for making fruitcakes. However, making home-made candied orange peel is not difficult, it just takes a bit if time. I imagine you could substitute aby sort of dried fruit, such as raisins or dates, though of course this would change the taste.

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