Enjoy traditional seed cake with your tea on St. Patrick’s Day

Seed cake on the tea table. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.

Drinking green beer is not the only way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in San Jose! While the Irish pubs in the area like Rosie McCann’s at Santana Row and O’Flaherty’s in San Pedro Square will be doing a brisk business all weekend, why not stay out of the rain and cold with a cup of Irish Breakfast tea and a simple treat?  San Jose-area Lucky’s grocery stores carry Irish Soda Bread this time of year, but there are plenty of other traditional recipes.  If you’d like to make a simple, traditional Irish treat, why not make a seed cake to go with your tea? Seed cake is a very traditional recipe from the British Isles, like a pound cake with caraway seeds in it, which add flavor and aid digestion. Here is a recipe that the South Bay Ladies’ Tea Guild baked for one of their recent teas:

Rich Seed Cake
8 oz. plain [all-purpose] flour
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 oz. caraway seeds [or to taste]
8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. caster [granulated] sugar
4 eggs, separated, tepid

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature or slightly warmer. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan and line it with baking parchment. Sift the flour, nutmeg and cinnamon into a bowl, add the caraway seeds, and combine. In a large, warmed bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat the egg yolks thoroughly in a separate container, then add gradually to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well. In another container, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, and then fold the beaten whites into the egg and butter, alternating with the flour, in 4 to 5 additions, gently sifting in the flour. Mix the batter only until combined, to avoid deflating the batter. Empty into the prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.
— source: The Experienced Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald (18th century).

Seed cake is dense and rich,  but not dry, and will last for over a week, wrapped in plastic wrap or in a tin with a tight-fitting lid.  Caraway seeds are, even today, recognized as a remedy for indigestion, bloating, and intestinal gas by some doctors. Imagine eating a piece of cake to improve your digestive health! Considering that tea was originally thought of as an herbal medicine and is still one of the healthiest beverages around, a cup of tea (with milk and sugar) and a slice of cake may be the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon!

Copyright 2012, Elizabeth Urbach.

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For more information:
“Have tea with the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day”
“Review: Twinings Irish Breakfast Tea”
“Tea and food pairings for black teas”
“Are tea-drinkers automatically ‘teatotallers”?”
“What you need to make a good pot of hot tea”
“Tea 101: How to brew a pot of hot tea using loose tea”
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of a good-quality black tea”
another Caraway Seed Cake recipe
Irish Culture and Customs
Irish Recipes and Baking
“Irish Tea Traditions” by Brenda Hyde
Irish Scones recipe
Soda Bread
San Jose Dublin Sister City Program


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Filed under History, Holiday, Recipes

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