Bilbo’s Seed Cakes

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Bake an authentic seed cake and read The Hobbit.

Of all literature, JRR Tolkein’s Middle Earth tales, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, top the list for enrapturing my entire family. From my little girls to my older-than-me husband, we Fishers all love the hobbit folk and their funny ways.

Sometime this month, we’re going to head to the movie theatre to watch the first installment of The Hobbit. But, before we do, we’re testing out a number of hobbit-like recipes.

A few weeks ago, I posted my beloved SamWich. Over on the Mushroom Channel this week, I shared a breakfast to tempt any of the Shirefolk. Today, I present authentic seed cakes, worthy of any dwarf.

Seed cakes figure prominently in the Unexpected Party that Bilbo hosts for the band of dwarves that come knocking at his door. I did a fair amount of research about the cake before I made one. I was surprised to find out that the seed involved was caraway! Nowadays we associate the caraway seed with rye bread, but in olden days it was standard in a cake, much like a pound cake.

I took a seed cake recipe from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861, and updated it for modern times. The result was quite interesting. Here’s the original recipe:

A VERY GOOD SEED-CAKE.1776. INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of butter, 6 eggs, 3/4 lb. of sifted sugar, pounded mace and grated nutmeg to taste, 1 lb. of flour, 3/4 oz. of caraway seeds, 1 wineglassful of brandy.Mode.—Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour; add the sugar, mace, nutmeg, and caraway seeds, and mix these ingredients well together. Whisk the eggs, stir to them the brandy, and beat the cake again for 10 minutes. Put it into a tin lined with buttered paper, and bake it from 1–1/2 to 2 hours. This cake would be equally nice made with currants, and omitting the caraway seeds.

Time.—1–1/2 to 2 hours.

Average cost, 2s. 6d.

Seasonable at any time.

My kids love rye bread with caraway seed, so it was hard to get over that savory association. You can certainly make the cake without caraway or substitute poppy seeds, something we might try next time. Or as Mrs. Beeton suggests, use raisins instead of seeds.

But this is a more authentic “seed cake,” similar (I hope) to what the dwarves might have been expecting as they sat in Bilbo’s parlor.

What’s your favorite food in The Hobbit?

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About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Heidi says

    do you think this would work in a big springform pan? I love this idea, but don’t have individual pans. My son would get a kick out of this, they are reading that book this year in school and took a field trip to see the movie. and I’ve got everything on hand to make these tonight!

    • Jessica says

      @Heidi, Yes, it should. Just check for doneness and add time if you need to.

    • Carol the Dabbler says

      The four 4-1/2 inch pans called for by this recipe have exactly the same footprint area (64 square inches) as one 9 inch pan. How convenient!

  2. Sue R says

    We will try these as soon as the heating element arrives for my oven. BTW we saw “The Hobbit” last Friday at the theatre and loved it! Merry Christmas!

  3. Stacy says

    Was it good? You said it was interesting. I’ve heard of seed cakes and I recall you posting about it a week or two ago, but I’ve only ever had a poppyseed cake.

    • Jessica says

      @Stacy, if you eat a lot of seeded rye bread, there is an odd flavor expectation. But, it’s not bad. I’d say it’s good. Especially with tea.

  4. So have you seen The Hobbit yet??? We saw it and all my guys loved it!

    • Jessica says

      @Angela, we did! Right after Christmas. Loved it. I thought it was slow going, though, and my men thought it was all action. Weird.

  5. Deesselisa says

    Been wanting to try these since you first posted, but we live in a dry county, so it took me a while to get ahold of the brandy. These were so good. We used mace and nutmeg as in the original recipe but followed yours the rest of the way, sprinkling with cinnamon sugar at the end. I think the mace was fantastic, you should try that way too. Also, we used a muffin pan and cooked for 25 minutes. My kids didn’t mind the taste of the seeds, they just didn’t like them in their teeth, so next time I’m going to try the currants for them. But the kids enjoyed the experience as I served them on the china bread plates with mulled cider in the tea cups and saucers for breakfast. Thank you so much for the recipe and fun!

    • Jessica says

      @Deesselisa, so fun! Thanks for sharing your experience. Love the feedback on the muffin size, too.

  6. I used your wonderful recipe at my 4 year old daughter’s Hobbit party a couple weeks ago, and just started blogging about it today (including a link to this post). Thank you so much–everyone loved it! Post with the link:

  7. Lisa says

    I made Bilbo’s Seed Cakes tonight in preparation of his birthday party tomorrow, and they are magnificent! Thag you very buch for this wonderful recipe!

  8. Sean Showalter says

    So, I am currently reading The Hobbit and was curious as to what seed cakes are. I wanted to try one! After doing a google search, I found this page from a seed cake image! How cool! I will have to make these and share with some friends. Thanks!

  9. Sherry 717 says

    If you don’t want to use alcohol, what would you suggest as an alternative?

    • You could use milk so that it’s not too dry.

    • Carol the Dabbler says

      Or fruit juice, since that’s what brandy is made from.

      Jessica, thanks so much for the “translated” recipe! I’m planning to make this for Bilbo’s birthday on Monday (along with a nice potful of mushroom stew).

  10. Liz Mccue says

    I just began reading The Hobbit – I know I’m a little late to the party – and at the mention of Bilbo’s seedcakes I was immediately intrigued. I am laughing now because I see I am not alone in this! Could you please help me out here? I am not sure what the volume wine glass is in ounces or liters.
    Thanks for the recipe. I will be trying it.

    • Scroll down. I translated the vintage proportions into normal measures. My son makes these all the time. 😉

  11. CookingLikeClockwork says

    I just love these! The sweet and savory is just right. Might I also note that fennel seeds can also be used. I like to bake mine as cupcakes so they’re nicely portioned for afternoon tea.

  12. Robbie Hobbs says

    I never have Brandy on hand so I use apple juice.
    Also I make it in a regular cake pan.
    I’ve been making this recipe for years and just made it again for Bilbo Baggins’ Birthday tomorrow!
    Thanks so much for sharing this recipe, I’ve made it many times and never commented. My husband loves it!

  13. A Roz says

    I made this today and it didn’t rise at all. Should there be any baking powder in the recipe? Thanks!

  14. Mary says

    I made some changes in the recipe. Changed the flour to 1/2 whole wheat with about a tablespoon of buckwheat flour– a little buckwheat goes a long way and I love the taste of it. I did use caraway, but also poppy seeds and about 1/4 cup of raw sunflower seeds, and a 1/4 cup of homemade candied orange rind that I had in my freezer. I left out the cinnamon, replacing with mace, cloves, and cardamom. I changed the sugar to 1/2 brown sugar, and added 1 teaspoon of vanilla. It is a bit more rustic and hearty, but DANG, it is GOOD. Fairly certain that Bilbo would have approved.

  15. Jean McKern says

    How many 4 1/2″ springform pans does this seed cake recipe fill? I need to be prepared. Is there some reason to not make it in a larger spring form pan?

    • You can make it in a larger pan, just check to adjust for the cooking time. We use four of the smaller pans because they’re cuter for tea. 😉

  16. Rick says

    I’ve always wondered about the Hobbit seed cakes and was really excited to find this! I wanted to make them but not serve them for 1-2 days. What would be the best way to keep them for that time, and do you think this is a good idea, or are they really best served right away? Thanks!

    • I would cool them completely on wire racks and then wrap securely in plastic wrap and place in ziptop freezer bags. Store them in the freezer if making more than 1 day in advance, lest they dry out. They’ll thaw in a few hours, wrapped, on the counter.

      • Rick says

        Thanks a lot! I made them and froze as you suggested and they came out great! Everyone at our party was a huge fan. The caraway seeds really provide a unique flavor in a cake like this and we all thought it really worked.

  17. Shannon Kobayashi says

    Making this in advance for Bilbos birthday, Sept 22, this was one of the two recipes my 13 year old demanded i make, the other being Beorns honey cakes. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe and everybody else, thanks for the recipe adaptations!

    • This is one of my kids’ favorites! We need to retake photos soon, though. Have fun!

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