Colonial Seed Cake

Sometimes you stumble upon buried treasure.

An old friend was in town recently. I've known her for more than 40 years. Our fathers worked together and her family lived in Spain when we did and then our families both lived near each other in the North of Canada. She was at my parent's wedding when she was just 4 years old. We grew up together. Now adults, we don't live in the same city or even the same country but we've managed to stay in touch over the years. Sometimes the bond of shared history is one of the strongest. 

So when we met recently,with our extended families over dim-sum, there was lots of reminiscing. And lots of those memories involved food. My friend's mother was always hosting us for tea or organizing gourmet picnics in the snow, and I remember many a happy hour spent at her house with tea and biscuits and delicious things of all kinds. Sadly her mum passed on far too young. She was a lovely lady and taught me a lot about food and flowers and enjoying life for the simple things. She taught us to make antipasto with a recipe that we still use today.  I remembered that we had some of her recipes in among my mum's recipe collection.

I went looking for a few of them and came across this one that I hadn't remembered. The name intrigued me: Colonial Seed Cake. It seemed such a thing of the past. I had visions of ladies in India making this cake in the 1800s. It is in fact a poppy seed cake and tastes just as good today. It was lovely to find the hand-written recipe. Today we share our recipes on twitter, on blogs on instagram,  but it's not as if we invented it. Sharing was going on on long before - the old-fashioned way. The yellowed and stained paper is a testament to that.

The method is simple and not quite usual for most cakes I've made. The poppy seeds are steeped in milk for 3-4 hours, presumably for both flavour and a softening effect. There's no creaming together of sugar and butter first. The ingredients are simply mixed together all at once. Would it make a difference to do it the other way? Probably. But I have no complaints about the results of this method. It is perfectly scrumptious.

Colonial Seed Cake
Colonial Seed Cake


I haven't edited the recipe at all, except to add the bracketed metric measurements.

I know we have loved it for the sense of rediscovery as well as the memories of the lady who made it but the taste is pretty good too. I hope you enjoy it.

Colonial Seed Cake

1/2 cup (2 oz)* poppy seeds

3/4 cup (180 ml) milk

3/4 cup (180 g) butter

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsps baking powder

2 cups  (304 g) sifted flour

Combine poppy seeds and milk in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature for three to four hours. Let butter and eggs warm to room temperature for easy mixing.

Grease and flour an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 pan. Preheat oven to 350.

Add butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, baking powder and flour to poppy seeds and milk. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer for 1 minute, scraping side of bowl with plastic spatula. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in a moderate oven (350) for 1 1/4 hours or until centre springs back when lightly pressed with fingertips. Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes. Loosen around edges, turn out to cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

*my friend's handwritten recipe called for 1/2 cup  or (2 oz) but when I measured out 1/2 cup poppy seeds  I found this to be closer to 3 oz or 85 grams. All other bracketed measurements in grams are my own conversions using the volume amounts provided in the original recipe.

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