There and Back Again, A Hobbit’s Menu, Part 1: Seed Cake
It’s now under a month until the first installment of The Hobbit comes out in theatres. I, for one, am ridiculously excited. I’m currently re-reading The Hobbit in preparation for the big day. I’m planning on at least a trip or two to Denny’s to try out their Hobbit-inspired menu. But I’m also making a few recipes of my own. Of course.
The Hobbit, though not among my most-re-read books, is up there among my favorite books. I read it when I was in grade school, and at least once more when I re-read The Lord of the Rings. I think that one of my favorite things about it is that it so easily enjoyed and understood by both children and adults. Deluded by this fact, I attemptedThe Lord of the Rings when I read The Hobbit the first time. Attempted being the key word.
Bilbo Baggins is the perfect hero for children (and adults, really), because he’s not a hero at all. All he wants is to sit in his hobbit-hole, smoke his pipe, have second breakfasts, and listen to the kettle sing. But instead, he is descended upon by dwarves (who eat all his food, drink his beer, and leave him with a kitchen-full of dishes) and quite unexpectedly swept into a dangerous and long journey. Bilbo doesn’t want to go in search of treasure. He doesn’t want to fight goblins and trolls and dragons. But he does, and he overcomes all his trials. Perhaps because he never sought them out in the first place. He is pure of heart, and is a sensible and honest hobbit. He is not particularly brave or clever. He is like the reader, making do with the circumstances given him and muddling by with moments of greatness.
I’m rather fond of hobbits. They like nice clothing, a good smoke, and good food (and lots of it). They’re rather similar to my husband, really. In fact, while we were both still in college, Alec was outside in the campus Triangle smoking a pipe one day. Our campus pastor came by with his small daughter and stopped to talk with Alec. “Grace,” he said, “this is Alec. Alec is a hobbit.”
So, I married a hobbit, albeit a tall one.
And now, in the big lead-up to the movie release, I’m going to cook a few things from The Hobbit. Seeing as hobbits have a wonderful appreciation of food, it’s no surprise that Tolkien mentions a lot of food (and the lack of it) throughout the book.
First up, from the first chapter, and the first adventure of the book, “An Unexpected Party.” Bilbo finds his pleasant day interrupted by a visit from thirteen dwarves, and Gandalf, who proceed to order food and drink, including “two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.”
Seed cakes are a traditional British food. Recipes exist back into the 1500s. It is a sweet bread-like round cake, usually flavored with caraway seeds and sometimes bits of citrus peel. Modern versions tend to resemble a light lemon bread loaf or bundt cake with a sweet glaze.
For this recipe, of course, I’m sticking with a traditional recipe based on cake receipts from A.W.’s Book of Cookrye (1591). (Can I admit that I picked this recipe because it uses warm ale to dissolve the yeast? Because I did.) And it is dense. This cake will fill you up. While it is still tasty on it's own, after my first few slices, I made a lemon-flavored glaze to drizzle over the top and lighten it up a bit.
1 1/2 tbs caraway seed (or other flavorful seed, like anise, coriander, cardamom)
1/2-1 c. milk
Preheat oven to 350F.
Sift the flours and salt into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm ale, along with 1/8 tsp of the flour mixture. Let sit for approximately 5 minutes, until the yeast has turned creamy. (If this does not happen, your ale may have been too warm and will have killed the yeast. Use a candy thermometer to check the temperature of the ale if necessary.)
Crush the seeds, either with a mortar and pestle, or with a coffee grinder.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the crushed seeds.
Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the yeast mixture.
Fold the flour into the yeast with a spatula until roughly combined (it will not be smooth), then fold into the butter mixture. Slowly beat in the milk, starting with 1/2 cup and adding more as needed, until you have a smooth, thick batter.
Pour into an 8" greased cake pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a cake rack to cool completely.
Drink with the rest of the ale. No sense wasting it!