Dhaka, Bangladesh
Rachel Roddy's recipe for caraway seed cake

Rachel Roddy's recipe for caraway seed cake

As a day girl, I was intrigued and terrified by the boarding houses at my senior school. I felt both envious of and sorry for my friends whose beds were at the top of the staircase above an office. Envy triumphed at tea time. While two thirds of us stuffed text books and damp, smelly games kit into school bags, the boarding third, liberated from their green uniform and slouching in jeans and sweatshirts, were already in the dining room eating toast, cake and buns with a rug of white icing. Occasionally, a rehearsal or match meant we, too, could go into tea, pull a long bun from the tray of 25, hopefully with some of its neighbour's icing. The buns were usually slightly underdone, as much dough as bread, which I loved, despite the mild indigestion. They not only filled you up, but acted as a sort of cork on hunger that lasted the entire match/rehearsal. It is nostalgia that makes the Roman yeasted buns, or maritozzi, from our local bakery so appealing; they remind me of the sticky buns from school. Their plain cake, too - the size of a small tyre and sold by the slice - is just the right side of sweetness, as are the fennel-seed biscuits: part delicious, part hard work. "All food is inevitably linked with home or place, with our nearest and dearest," says Florence White's introduction to her joyous and pioneering 1931 book, Good Things in England, a 1968 edition of which I found at Bridport Book Shop a month ago. It is a book that celebrates traditional English food, and one that has made me think about how much traditional English and Italian cooking have in common, especially when it comes to the breads, buns, biscuits and cakes, and the uses of spices and seeds. Until writing this, I knew little about caraway seeds, other than being aniseedy, citrussy, almost woody nubs of flavour, used in rye bread, Prussian cheese and my grandma's favourite cake. I now know theycome from the Carum carvi species, which is similar in its feathery-leaved appearance to its cousin, the carrot plant. Caraway are not actually seeds at all, but tiny crescent-shaped fruits; they are also known as meridian fennel and Persian cumin and, in Italian, carvi or cumino del prato. Some people think you should just add a pinch of caraway to a seed cake. I think a rich cake mixture - for example this recipe, which blends Florence White's and Fergus Henderson's - can handle two tablespoons of seeds, their distinct taste providing happy jolts of flavour hiding in the rich crumb. Seed cake 250g butter, at room temperature 250g sugar 5 eggs 340g plain flour 2 tsp baking powder 150ml madeira 1-2 tbsp caraway seeds Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork and add them, little by little, to the butter and sugar mixture, beating well between each addition. Add the flour and baking powder and beat until well mixed, then add the madeira and caraway seeds and beat again until smooth. Scrape the mixture into a lined bread or cake tin, the bake for 45 minutes, until the cake is puffed up, golden and a skewer or strand of spaghetti comes out clean. Leave to cool a little before turning out on to a cooling rack.

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