And so to the opposite end of the challenge spectrum, from martial arts to home baking. This was a suggestion made by my judo coaches, having heard about my brush with karate. I think they are hoping I’ll take the cake in to judo tomorrow and give it to them.
I have made many cakes in my time, but never a seedcake. So seedcake it is. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea. They always had one on the go in Swallows and Amazons. It was one of their staples, along with pemmican. When my mother read the books to us when we were little I always pictured seedcake as the thing budgies ate, a compacted lump of sesame seeds, perhaps formed into the shape of a bell, and hanging in the cage beside the cuttlefish. (Our next door neighbour had a budgie called Wee Jockey. ‘Wee Jockey!’ was one of the things he could say, in his odd little creaky Scots accent. He would also address himself rhetorically in his mirror: ‘Who’s a pretty boy, then?’ Actually, he was the campest budgie I’ve ever encountered.)
It turns out that seedcake is quite different from how I’d imagined it. I followed the recipe from my grandma’s old baking book, Cake Making in Pictures, by Muriel Downes of the Cordon Bleu Cookery School, first published in 1957. The recipe is called ‘Grandmother’s Seed Cake’, as you may just about be able to see from the photo. I doubt my gran ever made a seedcake in her life. She was a more a cream horn and brandy snap kind of woman.
The recipe was clearly one of those things you made when your hens had laid more eggs than you knew what to do with, in week when you couldn’t afford to buy any dried fruit. 5 eggs, half a pound of butter, 13 oz caster sugar, 1/2lb plain flour and three teaspoons of caraway seeds. I had to buy the caraway seeds specially. They have ‘a nutty, delicate anise flavour and a pungent aroma with notes of orange peel’, according to Schwartz. And they are ‘delicious with vegetables.’ ‘Why not try stir frying with cabbage and bacon and a knob of butter?’ the label muses further. ‘Because I am Muslim/Jewish/vegetarian/vegan’ springs to mind. I can’t help noticing the total absence of reference to cakes here. But this is arguing from silence. Neither is there a health warning saying ‘For God’s sake don’t put them in a cake, they taste disgusting!’
The cake is in the oven as I type this post. A 'very moderate' oven, GM 3. (I'm going to file 'very moderate' alongside 'rather unique' and 'extra virgin' in my baffling phrases list.) It will be ready in an hour and half. I daresay it will be delicious. And if not, I’ll give it to my judo coaches.