The Old Cookbook Experiment, Part 2

The Old Cookbook Experiment, Part 2

Last month, I left with plans to make an old-fashioned seed cake from the following Margaret Dods recipe:

Of course, first I had to go figure out what a hoop is and how to butter it, but that turned out to be quite simply a round cake tin, of which I have plenty of different sizes! ‘Butter a hoop’ can be translated to ‘grease and base line a round cake tin’.

My next task was to translate the measurements into metric, which I’ve reproduced below for any other bakers who fancy giving this a go.

2 lb flour = 900g

1/2 lb sugar = 225g

1/2 pint milk = 235 ml

1/2 lb butter = 225 g

1 oz. carraway seeds = 30g

‘Milk sufficient to make the whole of a proper stiffness’ turned out to be about 600 ml.

‘A little allspice, ginger and nutmeg’ = 1 tsp of each.

2 tsp. dried active yeast.

Now, I looked at those ingredients and thought, gosh, that’s a LOT of flour and that’s gonna be a BIG cake. While I absolutely do have a 12″ cake tin, I didn’t particularly want to bake that much cake in case it turned out horrible (pessimist in action here), so I pulled out an 8″ tin instead and HALVED everything in the list. The only thing I had to buy was carraway seeds, which honestly I’d never heard of but were right there in the supermarket spice aisle along with everything else.

Now, I’ve never made a cake using yeast before, but in the days before self-raising flour, this was the usual method for getting one to rise, and I’m pretty comfortable with bread-making, so I mixed up the ingredients as the recipe called for and hoped for the best! I knew the yeast was still active because after having been left to sit, the milk was bubbling up through the flour (you can just see it in the blue bowl in the picture on the left above), so once the batter was mixed up, I poured it in the tin and popped in the oven which I’d set on Keep Warm mode, and lo and behold, after half an hour it had risen right up to the edge of the tin!

I took the cake out in order to bring the oven up to proper heat (180 degrees Celsius, and my oven isn’t fan-forced) and then it only took about 25 minutes to bake before it looked deliciously golden and ready! I poked a wooden skewer in to test it was cooked in the middle, and left it to cool completely in the tin before turning out. Yes, by the way, that is a springform tin. Makes it so much easier to get the cake out without sticking!

And to my delight, it looked absolutely DELICIOUS.

Long experience of cake-making has taught me that even a chocolate sponge is pretty dull and dry by itself, though, so I decided to mix up some simple lemon icing to pour over the top. My lemon icing is basically the juice of a lemon mixed with enough icing sugar to make it a thick, just pourable consistency, which is then poured over the top of the cake and allowed to drizzle down the sides.


To be honest, I was the only person in the family who liked this. My eldest son did eat a whole slice, but declined another when offered later. My younger son took one bite and announced he didn’t like it. I do think it’s an acquired taste; it’s definitely not what you’d expect from ‘cake’, being more savory and spicy. There was a vaguely gingerbread-y taste, which I put down to the ginger and nutmeg in it. The icing was definitely essential, as otherwise it would have been very dry, and if I were to make this again, I’d probably slice in half and fill with a lemon buttercream icing to increase the moistness. It was very good with a traditional cup of English tea to wash it down!


Undoubtedly I’ll find something else to bake next month, but I admit I’ve been a little caught up and not delved through the cookbook deeply enough to find something yet. I do, however, have another recipe to share, this one brought to you by the National Trust website, for a traditional Twelfth Night cake., a recipe which features in a story I have in an upcoming anthology. Called Phoebe and the Pea, the story features governess Phoebe, forced to play queen for a day in a noble household when she finds the traditional pea in her slice of Twelfth Night cake, and Major John Randwyck, the former military man who finds in Phoebe the queen of his heart.

The anthology is called Weird and Wonderful Holidays (I chose Three Kings Day, or January 6, when traditionally the Twelfth Night cake was eaten) and features stories of all stripes, from paranormal to historical, sexy to sweet, but all of them featuring that most romantic thing of all – a happy ending. Just 99¢, you can preorder the anthology now for release on November 5th and enjoy some fun new holidays before the holiday season begins in earnest! Click the image below for a preorder link!

9 Responses to The Old Cookbook Experiment, Part 2

  1. My husband has been watching YouTubes put out by James Townsend of Townsend and Sons in Indiana. The man is addicted to everything 18th c america and has his own store. At any rate, he gives demos of old recipes popular during that time period which are all very interesting, but not necessarily foods I want to eat. Ha Ha. Thanks for your post.

  2. I think we’ve somewhat lost the appreciation for not-sweet things. There’s so much sugar in our world now and we expect it. We need more different flavors 🙂 It sounded tasty to me 🙂

    • Yes! I always used to love my mother’s ginger cake, which really wasn’t all that sweet, and this reminded me of that quite strongly. You might like to try the recipe out, Summer!

  3. Sounds like an interesting cake! An acquired taste as you said as it does sound unusual. It was nice that your family tried it even if your youngest didn’t like it!lol

    • My sons are in that stage of growing where no amount of food can possibly be enough 😀 I’ve always insisted, too, that they’re not allowed to say they don’t like something until they’ve had AT LEAST one proper bite of it.

  4. You were very brave. Brava!! Your family was very kind to at least try/taste this new recipe for you. Many would take on look and simply shake their head and say, ‘no thanks.’ It did look good. I wonder how they served it? Was there a sauce that could be poured over it? It looked lovely in that pan. Thanks for sharing and blessings on the launch of your anthology. I pre-ordered and look forward to reading this.

    • My guess is that it was definitely served iced and quite possibly filled, with a basic buttercream (beaten butter and sugar) icing. Possibly a thin layer of jam in the middle too – I suspect it would work quite well with strawberry or raspberry jam.
      If I made it again, I actually think I’d do something like mini-muffin sized bites, and adapt the recipe to be more modern with self-raising flour. In bite-sized bits I reckon it’d actually be really nice.

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