If you read a lot of British novels, you've probably come across references to something called seed cake that is served when the vicar comes to tea. I'm back at the Time-Life books with a vengeance and while flipping through The Cooking of the British Isles yesterday, saw a recipe for this mysterious and enticing cake. Since it was simple to make and we had all the ingredients (flour, butter, sugar, egg, caraway seeds, baking powder), I put on my apron and 7 minutes later the cake was ready to go in the oven, which was still heating.
I've since looked at other British cookbooks to see how they handle seed cake. Jane Grigson has a version that incorporates ground almonds which she says "make all the difference." Fergus Henderson's recipe calls for more eggs and consuming the cake at 11 a.m. with a glass of Madeira, a delightful idea that would ruin the rest of my day. Leon Baking and Puddings calls its seed cake "Madeira cake" and that made me think of Nigella Lawson's recipe in Domestic Goddess for "My mother-in-law's Madeira cake." I wonder if that was her first or second mother-in-law. Poor Nigella. I looked up her recipe and it doesn't contain seeds, but she does offer a seed variation.
All this is academic, though, because for a mature American palate, seed cake has a fatal flaw: caraway seeds. I associate caraway seeds so strongly with rye bread, that I can't appreciate the flavor in a dessert. Neither could Mark. It's just too confusing. This seed cake is in no way repulsive -- it is like a dense, soft shortbread -- and I will continue to nibble at it for the next few days, but it is not something I ever need to bake again.
Speaking of novels, when I was pulling the pictures of the seed cake off my camera, I found the photos I took last week at The Mount, Edith Wharton's house in western Massachusetts. I don't think any of the furnishings were original, including that pretty cane bed, but I was interested to learn that Wharton used to do most of her writing in bed.
I, too, often write in bed. When I'm writing anywhere else (on the sofa, at a desk) the impulse to stand up and do something practical, like run the dishwasher or sweep or fold laundry, makes it dangerously easy to quit writing. But when I'm lying down, I want to stay lying down so much that I keep writing, even when the writing gets hard. It's one of the few times I can make laziness work to my advantage. Try it some time.