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In late February, pennski proposed bringing a typical British cake to Eastercon to explore the hypothesis that British cakes, while dry, are redeemed by being consumed with tea. It seemed only fair that I bring a cake too, one representative of American cakes.

Thus it was that we, along with bookzombie, settled down with cups of tea (camomile in my case), improvised plates, and two cakes to investigate this pressing matter in the middle of Eastercon. Her madeira cake was dry, but flavored with lovely delicacy - and having it with a cup of hot tea made all the difference. The dryness really didn't bother me as much - but the tea was a necessity to compensate. They agreed that the apple cake I brought was much moister, suitable for consumption with drinks regardless of temperatures. It did not depend on a drink for completion.

Having proved we were both right about our respective cakes, pennski mentioned that friends of hers had been surprised that she was going to bring along a madeira cake. Surely semminel cake [sp?] simnel or seed cake would be more appropriate. Because there is never too much to know about cake, I turn to you: what do you consider the most typical British cake to eat with tea? Be specific.

(Also, relatedly, which is the best British cake to eat with tea?)


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 25th, 2008 02:05 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Interesting hypothesis...my cakes are never dry. I consider a dry cake to be a failure...(although still tasty, usually!)
Mar. 26th, 2008 11:44 am (UTC)
I wonder if our standards of dryness differ?
Mar. 26th, 2008 02:13 pm (UTC)
My guess would be almost certainly, yes. The cakes I've had in the US have a wholly different quality to them, an almost unnatural lightness, a faint taste of chemical (which I suspect is the raising agent) and then subsiding to a kind of chewiness in the mouth. They also seem to keep fresh for much longer than I'd expect.

In the UK, cakes should'nt be dry, exactly. But I can see why they might seem dry to someone used to US cakes. They tend to be heavier (even the lightest of Victoria sponges is heavier than, say, an angel food cake) and have a different kind of crumbliness. Sorry, my powers of description are now failing me. Must eat more cake...
Mar. 26th, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC)
a faint taste of chemical (which I suspect is the raising agent)

Has this been as much true of home-made as store-bought cakes in the US in your experience?
Mar. 26th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
To be honest, I don't know anyone here who would dream of making their own cake (unless from a packet mix, in which case the same taste issue is there). I've been really surprised by how acceptable it is to serve up store-bought cakes and pies for dessert even at special occasions. I don't really know anyone who bakes from scratch at home. I'm sure this is different in other parts of the US.
Mar. 25th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC)
Simnel cake is what I think you mean.

I have a student right now who's writing a research paper on Victorian food, and seed cake was apparently THE standard cake for with tea back then, for family consumption that is (tea receptions having very different expectations).
Mar. 25th, 2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
Simnel cake is an Easter (or Mothering Sunday, depending on who you ask) cake so is appropriate for the season rather than for the tea. It certainly isn't bad with tea but wouldn't spring to mind if you were eating it at any other time of year.

Seed cake can be drier than madeira, so would be good for testing the dry-cakes-plus-drink theory, but wouldn't be so good if you don't like caraway or were drinking something with a flavour that didn't go. It's not very common these days, and I've had to explain the concept to lots of people (some of whom have become converts).

Victoria sponge is perhaps the default cake but probably doesn't travel as well as madeira, especially if you've got a cream or buttercream version. My choice is generally raspberry jam, with sometimes buttercream as well if it's to be eaten promptly.

I think I'd have brought a madeira cake as well, with a victoria sponge (if not travelling far) or a light fruit cake* (if travelling further) as reserve choices, or perhaps a cherry cake if someone particularly liked glacé cherries.

*Possibly my mum's boiled fruit cake. (It's the fruit that is boiled, not the whole cake)
Mar. 25th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
My most typical cake to have with tea is victoria sponge, which I love if done well. My favourite is lemon drizzle cake, but only if made by sushidog (or at least to her recipe).
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
Simnel cake is supposedly traditionally eaten at Easter – so yes, very appropriate for Eastercon – but I don't know of anyone who actually eats it!

Madeira cake is, IMO, the best cake to eat with tea (but a high-egg recipe will ensure a lovely moistness; there’s no excuse or reason for any cake to be dry!) Failing that, a vanilla-flavoured cake such as a Victoria Sponge would go down well. I don;t like any fruit-flavour cake (eg lemon) with a traditional cup of tea, as I find the flavour combination to be uncomplimentary. A fruity cake would work with a fruit tea though.

I personally favour a biscuit over any cake because, although one can dunk cake, it’s generally frowned upon*, and the whole point of having tea with a biscuit is to wet the biccie :-). Cakes with icing / frosting are less good with tea as the icing offsets any dryness (thus rendering the cuppa pointless), and also prevents the cake from being dunked by uncouth hussies. (A blob of dissolving icing is a very unpleasant thing to land in one’s cuppa, as the tea instantly becomes both overly sweet and greasy!)

*this does not of course stop me, uncouth hussy that I am!
Mar. 26th, 2008 11:46 am (UTC)
I've had simnel cake before! (Even if I didn't know how to spell it.)

Does this mean you don't think of Victoria Sponge as being fruit-flavored, but vanilla by default?
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
I have no idea about English cakes, but man this post is making me salivate.
Mar. 26th, 2008 11:46 am (UTC)
Go forth and eat cake!
Mar. 25th, 2008 06:10 pm (UTC)
Neither of my favourite cakes for tea are British! Poppy seed cake and almond cake, both made with stuff you get in the kosher food aisle, are lovely. Simple, slightly dry cakes with a slight sifting of powdered sugar. Or a nice German apple cake.
Mar. 25th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
Victoria sponge with some kind of jam filling. Maybe even with icing if one is being decadent.

That's the only "proper" (ie, probably not british at all) british cake that I know of, as I assume the rest are definitely continental.

Cakes may well be dry, but the addition of jam and/or icing goes a long way to offsetting that, tea or no tea.

(the cake in my icon is a flour free lemon cake which, while lovely, is probably italian in origin)
Mar. 25th, 2008 06:23 pm (UTC)
The time has passed for simnel cake - it's either for Mothering Sunday aka Mother's Day UK style, which is in the middle of Lent, or for Easter.

I would probably serve a fruit cake - lots of currants, sultanas and a bit of candied peel, and some mixed spice mixed into the cake mix. Either that or a Victoria Sponge, two layers with either butter icing or jam in the middle.
Mar. 25th, 2008 07:26 pm (UTC)
Seed cake. Very dry, full of seeds. Get's a bad press but I love it. It even works in the Waitrose gluten free version.
Mar. 26th, 2008 11:47 am (UTC)
I'm not sure I've ever had seed cake before. Hmm.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )