To make a seed cake

So, I chose to make this particular recipe because 1) I had all the ingredients on hand, and 2) it looked easy. I admit it – no loftier goals than that. But isn’t ease and convenience how we often choose recipes? And perhaps the same applied for this cake’s original cooks. After all, we don’t always have the inclination (or eggs) to make a “rich cake” that requires 24 eggs. But a simple cake that requires only four ingredients? No wonder Catherine Cotton included this recipe in her book.

This “seed cake” comes from one of our favorite volumes, Catherine Cotton’s UPenn Ms. Codex 214. We’ve seen seed cakes come up in other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century recipe books, so it seems safe to say that seed cake was probably fairly common at the time. Interestingly, this recipe would have yielded quite a large cake: halved, it more than filled an 8″ round, so this would have been cake for a crowd.


The Recipe

seed cakes

To make a seed cake

Take the whites of 8 eggs beat them very well then
put the yolks to them & beat them very well together then
put to it a pound of sugar beat & sifted very fine & beat
it for half an hour then make it a little warm over the
fire & after that put in 3 quarters of a pound of flower
very well dryed a quarter of an ounce of carraway seeds
stirr it well together & put it into the pan it will take 3
quarters of a hour to bake it /

Our Recipe
(halved from the original)

4 eggs, separated
1 heaping c. (1/2 lb.) sugar
1 1/4 c. (6 oz. or 3/8 lb.) flour
1.5 tsp. (1/8 oz.) caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9″ round pan or other baking dish.*

In a standing mixer or with a handheld mixer, beat eggs whites until stiff but not dry. Then add egg yolks and beat until mixture is uniformly yellow and still fluffy. Add sugar and beat at medium speed for about 10 mins., or until light and shiny.* Scrape down bowl and stir in flour and caraway seeds with a spatula.

Bake for 45-50 mins., until top is dry and firm to the touch. Cool in pan 10 mins., then run a knife around the edges to loosen it and turn cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

*Note: I used an 8″ round pan and, as you can see, barely escaped a cake batter overflow disaster. 9″ would be safer.

**Note: I actually forgot the next step, to “make it a little warm over the fire”! This didn’t seem to detract from the final outcome, but you might set the mixing bowl briefly over a double boiler if you’d like to be thorough!

The Results

I’m always curious to try a recipe that we see come up, with minor variations, across multiple recipe books. But I didn’t have extraordinarily high hopes for this cake – eggs + sugar + flour + caraway seeds? I expected something blandly palatable, mildly sweet, perhaps dense and a little dry.

Instead, I ended up with something between a pound cake and an angel food cake: sweet without being cloying, moist, nicely chewy, with a sweet crackly crust. Hello, seed cake! Welcome to the rotation – I’ll be making this one again. And while the simplicity of the recipe is part of its charm, it also means that there’s plenty of room for experimentation with extracts, zest, different seeds in different amounts, perhaps even finely chopped dried fruit or miniature chocolate chips. Wrapped well, it stayed moist for several days. And it’s a lovely cake to have with tea or coffee.


11 thoughts on “To make a seed cake

  1. Pingback: Historische Rezepte | digithek blog

  2. baking it tomorrow for a 60th birthday celebration to serve w strawberries and blueberries. made the delightful “bilbo baggins’ seed cake by Amalia at last week. while it is a wonderfully nutty and tasty seed cake for winter feasting and snacking that sticks with you without being to stuffy; we are looking for something a little lighter in fare for the summer. the caraway seeds are a lovely surprise taste for a mildly sweet snack cake.

    hoping for success on the first try, keeping my fingers crossed.

  3. incredibly easy cake to bake…we loved the taste, the texture and the lightness of it…anticipate the flavor melding and improving by tomorrow. thanks so much…grateful to you for the work that you put into these recipes and for sharing…

      • hello Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia,
        I had to follow up and tell you how wonderful the caraway seed cake turned out following the recipe in this article. My husband loved it and insists I bake another immediately. This is without a doubt the easiest cake recipe i’ve ever baked, so simple and delightfully delicious both as a dessert and as a snack cake. your article is inspiring and dead on in your description.

        what an interesting angle to walk into history through recipes, you have captured my rapt attention.

        so now, the question on my mind: when are you publishing a cookbook? my advice; take your time and if this is any indication the recipes will be well worth it. my only request is that you publicize it sufficiently, so that i may purchase a copy.
        keep up the good work and thank you for this recipe,

      • Evelena, thank you so much! I’m so pleased to hear that this cake is in regular rotation in your kitchen and that you enjoy reading our posts. We love testing these recipes and writing about them here. I make “Lady Chanworth’s Jumballs” frequently and when it gets cold in the fall I put together a big batch of the “hot chacolet” mix to last me through the season. We’re taking our time with developing new parts of the project right now, but I will make sure that you and our regular readers know when we publish a cookbook. Best wishes, Marissa.

  4. Pingback: Sunday Baking: Apple Rose Tarts, Seed Cake, and Zoe’s Current Orange Cake | Mitigated Frenzy

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