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The Hobbit; An Unexpected Party; Seed Cake

‘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

Read The Hobbit in the 21st century and you’ll come across a number of bygone traditions and recipes- of British teatime and beautifully round seed-cakes.

Whether for an Unexpected party, or to embrace a slower, more Hobbity lifestyle, this seed cake recipe will help you on your way.

Seed cake typically refers to a cake made with caraway seeds, a British teatime staple in the Victorian era. Having been born in 1892 (at the end of the Victorian era), J.R.R. Tolkien will have grown up with very British traditions.  This sweet, round cake, can be found across several centuries in the UK, serving as a symbol for a number of traditions and customs.

Some history books indicate that the caraway seed cake was originally served during harvest and seeding to those working the fields. The seed cake also takes another form, that of the shortbread, when mentioned as a custom at funerals. And we also see it on the country tea table, during “that delightful hour in the country when we would gather beside a blazing log fire and retail to each other the news of the day.”*

The one common linkage in all these recipes and customs, is the caraway seed. With an anise flavour, similar to light flavoured liquorice or fennel, it’s also described as nutty, citrusy, and peppery.

The fact that some Victorian tea recipes call for caraway comfits leaves a clue as to why caraway was the more common ingredient for teatime. Caraway comfits had been served in UK households for centuries, historically eaten at the end of meals to prevent indigestion. Caraway comfits are coated and cooked in sugar to create a hard shell and would have been kept on hand.

A preference of Balin’s, the seed cake conjures up a simpler time. And with its straight forward steps of cream, sift, pour, bake, it’s an easy recipe to whip up ahead of time for a Hobbit party. Recipes vary, however, the denser seed cakes were known to keep for a good period of time, making it an easy cake to make in advance of your Hobbit party.

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The Hobbit; An Unexpected Party; Seed Cake

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

Scale
  • 2 egg whites
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 250g of butter
  • ¼ tsp of rose water
  • one shot of brandy
  • ¼ of a lemon rind
  • 1 ¾ cups of all purpose flour
  • ¾ cup of white sugar
  • 3 tbsp of caraway seeds
  • ¼ cup of candied peel

Instructions

  1. Take 2 egg whites and 5 egg yolks and beat them together in a mixer.
  2. Mix in 250g of butter, ¼ tsp of rose water, and one shot of brandy.
  3. Grate in ¼ of a lemon rind and sift in 1 ¾ cups of all purpose flour, and ¾ cup of white sugar.
  4. Set your mixer on medium speed for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and white.
  5. Stir in 3 tbsp of caraway seeds and ¼ cup of candied peel.
  6. Butter a round pan, scoop mixture into 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)

Notes

This Hobbit seed cake recipe was created by deciphering and reducing from ‘English Housewifery Exemplified; In above Four Hundred and Fifty Receipts Giving Directions for most Parts of Cookery’ by Elizabeth Moxon (printed in 1764) and can be found at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10072

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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5 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.

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