- Food & Drink
"We endeavour to give people anything they ask for." "Including seed cake and muffins – yes, I see. To each according to his need – I see... Quite Marxian." Chapter 1, At Bertram's Hotel
I remember the day I though my local library had run of out Agatha Christie books. I was 14 or thereabouts. I stood in the library, which was stuffed with volumes, and not one – as far as I could see – contained a murder in a locked room or a snowbound country house massacre that I hadn’t already read.
I believed this till my late 20s, until Murder One opened up on Charring Cross Road (now closed in the real world but alive online at www.murderone.co.uk). They had an entire wall of Agatha Christie’s. The library had simply been small and I’d just been very accepting when it came to disappointment.
There was more Christie for me to read. Lots more. And not only that – other people had written books with murders in pastoral settings. There’s a good chance I’ll get to the end of my life and there will still be gruesome killings in country lanes that I haven’t pondered over a cup of tea and slice of cake.
Talk of cake brings us back to Agatha and At Bertram’s Hotel. It’s one of my favourites, partly because the plot goes halfway towards making sense, but mainly because the idea of Bertram’s Hotel is a very pleasing one.
A hotel lounge where you can gossip, eavesdrop and generally carry on disgracefully is a happy prospect. Especially when there are batteries of teapots and proper cakes. Slice of nice, buttery sponge, and none of that patisserie nonsense. Of all the cakes we don’t make anymore, seed cake is the best.
200g butter, softened, plus extra to butter the tin
200g caster sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 tbsp whole milk
200g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tbsp caraway seeds
Nutmeg, freshly grated, to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Butter a 15cm round cake tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment. Set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together until combined and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the milk. Sift in the flour with a pinch of salt and beat to combine to make a smooth batter. Stir in the caraway seeds then grate in nutmeg to taste (I grated to the count of 20).
Scrape the cake batter into the tin and level the top. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes until golden, risen and spring to the touch. Cool in the tin. Serve in slices with a cup of tea.