Movie Bites: The Hobbit’s Seed Cake
Seed cake: perfect with a glass of Middle-Earth ale – or a nice cup of tea
“Take one hobbit, 13 dwarves and one wizard, bake slowly over three interminable hours, then singe with dragon fire . . . sorry, this doesn’t look like my seed-cake recipe.”
“But I don’t mind some cake – seed cake, if you have any”
The dreaded dragon Smaug has made his appearance in Peter Jackson’s second screen installation of Tolkien’s beloved tome The Hobbit, subtitled The Desolation of Smaug and currently playing in a cinema near you. Bilbo has found his courage – or so he tells Gandalf – and the dwarves have come closer to their homeland and the precious Arkenstone that they so desperately want to retrieve.
Our recipe is inspired by a scene from the first film when Thorin and company take advantage of their hobbit’s hospitable nature by showing up at Bag End with Gandalf in tow. In the film, Bilbo’s pantry is mainly relieved of its cheese. In the book, however, Balin specifically requests seed cake.
It’s well known that Tolkien based the Shire on his idea of a picturesque rural England. Seed cake, a simple, fluffy cake flavoured with caraway seeds, was hugely popular in Victorian times, making it an unsurprising treat to find in a hobbit’s pantry. It keeps very well and is a sturdy, portable cake, so it’s highly likely that Bilbo left the Shire with a parcel of seed cake in his back pocket to help fuel his courage as he set out on the adventure with 13 dwarves and a wizard.
In Victorian times, the cake was made using butter, sugar, flour, eggs and caraway seeds to create something perfect for a picnic or high tea. We like Delia Smith’s version, which provides an extra layer of flavour with the addition of almonds, both ground and flaked.
We made this cake in a loaf tin. But if you want to stay true to Bilbo’s round seed cake, simply double the measurements and bake in a round, 18 cm cake tin at 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4 for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes away clean.
110g butter, softened
110g caster sugar
1 level tablespoon caraway seeds
25g ground almonds
150g self-raising flour, sieved
2 tablespoons brown demerara sugar
1 tablespoon flaked almonds (optional)
Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. Line a 25cm x 12cm (or thereabouts) loaf tin with greaseproof baking paper.
Using an electric whisk, beat the softened butter and caster sugar in a large mixing bowl until fluffy and pale in colour. Keeping the whisk at its lowest setting, whisk the eggs into the mix one at a time. Don’t worry if it goes a bit lumpy; when you add the flour it will all come together again.
Add the caraway seeds and ground almonds to the batter. Now, using a metal spoon, fold in the flour, being careful not to overmix it.
Spoon the mixture into your prepared loaf tin and use the back of the spoon to level out the top of the cake. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top. Break the flaked almonds into smaller pieces before sprinkling those over the top.
Bake in the preheated oven for between 50 minutes and an 1 hour, or until the cake is golden and risen, and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes away clean. Allow it to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.
Best enjoyed with a glass of Middle Earth Ale. If that’s unavailable, a cup of tea will do very nicely.