Jane Eyre Cardamom Seed Buns

by Cara Nicoletti on October 15, 2010


My friend Willa loves Jane Eyre so much she re-reads it every year. As much as I liked Jane Eyre once was certainly enough for me. My college boyfriend and I had a book club that we took very seriously (I know, it’s tough) and one sweltering summer I made him read it–something I look back on and kind of cringe.  As great as the Brontës are, their novels aren’t exactly light beach reading. In Jane Eyre, as in many Victorian novels, hunger is a major topic and usually represents some deeper yearning. Jane is searching for nourishment both physical and emotional throughout most of the novel. She is so terribly mistreated at her aunt’s house she is actually excited to be sent to a charity school, but when she gets there the misery of her aunt’s tyranny is replaced by the misery of constant gnawing hunger and the bullying of desperately hungry girls.

full pods

open seed

The scanty supply of food was distressing: with the keen appetites of growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid. From this deficiency of nourishment resulted an abuse, which pressed hardly on the younger pupils: whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would coax or menace the little ones out of their portion. Many a time I have shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown bread distributed at tea-time; and after relinquishing to a third half the contents of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears, forced from me by the exigency of hunger.

crushed seed

Oftentimes the food that is given to the girls is so inedible that even the hungriest and sickest amongst them can’t stomach it. At one point the girls show up to breakfast only to find that the porridge they are being served is burnt—an offering which is apparently even worse than being offered nothing at all.

Ravenous, and now very faint, I devoured a spoonful or two of my portion without thinking of its taste; but the first edge of hunger blunted, I perceived I had got in hand a nauseous mess. Burned porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon sickens over it. The spoons were moved slowly. I saw each girl taste her food and try to swallow it, but in most cases the effort was soon relinquished. Breakfast was over, and none had breakfasted. (45)

empty seeds

Amongst all of this misery, however, Jane does have a few moments of happiness. After Mr. Brocklehurst announces to the entire school that Jane is a liar and makes her stand on a stool for a half-an-hour, Miss Temple invites Jane and her best friend Helen over for tea, and it is here that one of the most joyful scenes in the novel transpires.

dough kneed

Having invited Helen and me to approach the table, and placed before each of us a cup of tea, with one delicious but thin morsel of toast, she got up, and unlocked a drawer, and taking from it a parcel wrapped up in paper, disclosed presently to our eyes a good-sized seed-cake.

“I meant to give each of you some of this to take with you,” said she; “but as there is so little toast you must have it now” and she proceeded to cut slices with a generous hand.

We feasted that evening as on nectar and ambrosia; and not the least delight of the entertainment was the smile of gratification with which our hostess regarded us, as we satisfied our famished appetites on delicate fare she liberally supplied (73)

raw dough aerial

raw rough side

Traditional Victorian seed cakes had the texture of a fruitcake and were usually prepared with seeds like coriander and caraway. Sometimes candied citrus peels and overly-sweet liquors were involved. No matter how much I tried to psych myself up to make one of these authentically Victorian cakes I kept envisioning dense, brandy-heavy fruitcake. I knew I had to think of something else for this very important food scene.

In May Willa and I traveled to California to visit friends and wander around and eat and eat and eat. One morning while we were staying in Santa Rosa, Willa’s aunt and uncle brought us home a bag full of pastries from a place called Village Bakery. Amongst the goodies were three enormous buns lined with butter and cardamom and cinnamon and studded with pearl sugar. I had never had cardamom in anything other than savory dishes and I was skeptical at first, but after one bite I was a convert. Willa and I devoured all three and then talked about them intermittently throughout the rest of the day (and for weeks to come).  I was in the grocery store last week halfheartedly searching for caraway and coriander to make a cake that I knew I wouldn’t like when I saw a jar of cardamom seeds. Smelling them I was brought right back to that sunny front porch in Santa Rosa with my very dear Jane-Eyre-loving friend, cutting in half seed bun after seed bun and sharing them with each other and I decided that a seed bun that can be shared amongst friends would do much better for this scene than a seed cake that no one wants to eat with you.

side bun

Jane Eyre Cardamom Seed Bun Recipe:
From Epicurious

  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (105°F.)
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • two 1/4-ounce packages active dry yeast (5 tablespoons total)
  • 3 large eggs beaten lightly
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup powdered nonfat dry milk
  • 5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons cardamom seeds, ground in a mortar with a pestle, or in an electric spice/coffee grinder
  • an egg wash made by beating 1 large egg with 2 tablespoons water
  • Pearl Sugar (optional)


Jane and Helen feasting with Miss Temple. Illustration by John Huehnergarth 1954

In a large bowl combine water, butter, and sugar. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand 5 minutes, or until foamy. Stir in eggs, salt and dry milk until combined. With a wooden spoon stir in 5 sups flour, 1 cup at a time, and stir mixture until a dough is formed.

On a floured surface, knead dough about 10 minutes, adding enough of the remaining 1 cup flour to make dough smooth and elastic. Put dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat, and let rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and on floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll into a 15- by 20-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough and sprinkle with granulated sugar, cinnamon and cardamom.

With a long side facing you, roll up dough jelly-roll fashion and cut crosswise into approximately 1 1/2-inch-thick slices with a cut side down. Working with 1 slice at a time gently twist opposite ends of slice around twice to form a figure eight. Crimp ends together. Arrange rolls, a swirled side up, on a buttered baking sheet about 2 inches apart and let rise in a warm place until increased 1 1/2 times in bulk, about 1 hour.

While rolls are rising, preheat oven to 350F.

Brush tops of rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake rolls in middle of oven until tops are pale golden, about 25 minutes.

1 seedbun



Anne of Green Gables Raspberry Cordial

by Cara Nicoletti on September 21, 2010


So I’ve been a little stalled lately and haven’t been posting very much. The summer was slipping away from me so quickly—and so so very hotly—that I simply couldn’t muster the strength to bake or cook in my nine-hundred-degree kitchen.

But now it’s starting to feel like fall in New York and I’m getting nostalgic for all kinds of “back to school” books from my past and wanting to bake a million varieties of appley cinnamony confections. For some reason the fall always makes me want to re-read Anne of Green Gables. Maybe it’s because of all the beautiful autumnal colors in the PBS adaptation of the novels, or the number of days I played hooky from school to watch it, but I think most likely it’s the plethora of comfort foods cooked and eaten throughout the book.


Lucy Maud Montgomery novels are so full-to-the-brim with cooking and eating scenes they could fill an entire cookbook on their own. In Jane of Lantern Hill there’s Mrs. Meade’s butter cookies, Jane’s Irish stew and Mrs. Snowbeam’s rice pudding, in Pat of Silverbush there’s iced melon balls, lemon coconut cake and pea soup, but my favorite of L.M. Montgomery’s food scenes comes from Anne of Green Gables. Oh, it’s so hard to choose between this one and the mouse in the plum cake scene! But for now we’ll focus on this one–plum cake with Marilla’s pudding sauce some other time.

Halfway through the novel, Anne invites her new “bosom” friend, Diana, over for an elegant tea party. She’s excited to feed her fruitcakes and cherry preserves but mostly she’s excited that Marilla said they could drink some of her famous (non-alcoholic) raspberry cordial.


Be sure to label bottle clearly if your sister/roommate tends to throw out anything remotely questionable in your refrigerator

“Marilla is a very generous woman. She said we could have fruit-cake and cherry preserves for tea. But it isn’t good manners to tell your company what you are going to give them to eat, so I won’t tell you what she said we could have to drink. Only it begins with an r and a c and it’s a bright red colour. I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other colour” (172).

Anne has never tasted cordial before so she has no idea when she pours Diana a generous glassful that she is actually giving her currant wine. Diana, feeling “awful sick” from all the alcohol, stumbles home to her prim and proper mother who blames Anne for Diana’s drunken state and forbids Diana to ever see Anne again.


While Marilla’s cordial in the book isn’t alcoholic the recipe given here certainly is. It’s a perfect recipe to make now before good summer raspberries disappear into winter. And since the cordial has to soak for a minimum of two weeks, by the time you do drink it you’ll be neck-deep in chunky sweaters and needing a reminder of summer.


Photo credit: Juddy Magee

Anne of Green Gables Raspberry Cordial:

  • 2 pints raspberries
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 2 tbs triple sec
  • about 28 oz. good vodka


Boil raspberries and sugar in a sauce pan until soft, smushing berries with the back of a spoon. Let berry sugar mixture cool and funnel it into a 32 oz. container. Add 2 tbs triple sec and fill remainder of the bottle with vodka. Shake and let sit for a minimum of 2 weeks.

After at least 2 weeks strain using a fine mesh sieve or a coffee filter. Be sure to squeeze berry mush thoroughly to get all of the good stuff out. Enjoy!



Miss Havisham’s Toasted Almond Cherry Bride Cake

by Cara Nicoletti on August 19, 2010


Great Expectations is the novel that, years ago, sparked the idea for this blog. While I have always been oddly intrigued by cooking and eating scenes in literature, Miss Havisham’s bride cake was the first literary confection that I ever dreamt of replicating. I was a Freshman in high school when my English teacher assigned the novel and I immediately became obsessed not only with Dickens in general, but specifically with the character of Miss Havisham.

2raw almond

It was a muddy, cold, gloomy New England spring when I started reading Great Expectations and the wound from my very first devastating heartbreak was still raw (many more to come), which probably has a lot to do with why I found her so intriguing. In the novel, Miss Havisham is jilted on her wedding day and decides not only to remain in her wedding regalia and stop all of the clocks throughout the entire decrepit, crumbling mansion, but also to keep intact the entire wedding party set-up, food and all.


Rather than fearing becoming like her I was somehow fortified by her unwillingness to move forward and her unabashed display of the very scene of her greatest humiliation and sadness. She turned her heartbreak into a freak-show, a circus attraction, she made it the very center of her universe and for whatever reason I found that immensely comforting.


By the time Pip sees Miss Havisham’s bride cake it is no longer recognizable as such and he is unable to make out exactly what he is seeing until she tells him.

The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centerpiece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstances of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community.

“I can’t guess what it is, ma’am.”

“It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!” (158-159)


Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “This is not appetizing, I do not want to make this cake.” But you do. I promise you you do.

Victorian wedding cakes were traditionally pretty disgusting. Usually they were unswallowably dense nut and candied fruit cakes covered in thick fondant icing. I couldn’t bring myself to make a cake like that (blech!) but the following cake gives a nod to the traditional Victorian wedding cake using homemade almond flour and sweet and sour soaked cherries and is, I think, incredibly delicious. I used funny-sized cake pans to make my cake look like a wedding cake but this recipe will make enough batter for a one-tiered layer cake consisting of three 9×2” cakes.



Miss Havisham’s Toasted Almond and Amarena Cherry Bride Cake
Adapted from Gina DePalma

2 cups raw sliced and blanched almonds pulsed in a food processor until it resembles a coarse meal. Don’t pulse too much or you will make nut butter! I took mine out while still chunky and crushed with the back of a spoon until the texture was right. (you can buy almond flour but it’s usually pretty expensive and not as flavorful as homemade. If you do buy it make sure it’s blanched—Trader Joe’s is not and this will make a difference).


  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 10 ounces almond paste, broken into small chunks
  • 24 Tbsp. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • Finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon, about 2 tsp.)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract


Mascarpone and Amarena cherry filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups mascarpone
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon (optional)
  • 2 cups amarena cherries in syrup, well drained and coarsely chopped (Found these at Trader Joe’s after searching endlessly for them and almost buying a $23 jar off Amazon)
  • 3/4 cup cherry jam



Adjust 2 oven racks to divide oven into thirds. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 3 (9″ x 2″) round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper; grease paper and dust pans with flour, tapping out excess. Pulse blanched almonds as directed above (in ingredients section). Spread almond flour on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until toasted, stirring once, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together almond flour, all-purpose flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Combine sugar and almond paste in a food processor and blend until almond paste is finely ground with the texture of fine sand.


In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine almond paste mixture and butter. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs one at a time until well blended. With mixer on low speed, beat in milk, lemon zest, and vanilla until well blended. Beat in flour mixture, scraping bowl. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 30 seconds. Divide batter among prepared pans and spread evenly. Stagger pans on 2 racks in oven so pans are not directly above one another. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around sides of pans and turn cakes out onto wire racks. Remove parchment paper and flip again; cool completely.


To make filling: In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, combine mascarpone, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, and 1 tablespoon bourbon (if you want). With mixer on low speed at first and increasing to medium, beat just until firm peaks form; do not over beat. Fold in cherries. Refrigerate 30 minutes. In a bowl, stir together cherry jam and remaining 1 tablespoon bourbon.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract



In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

To Assemble Cake: Spread 1 side of 2 of the cake layers with jam. Place one cake layer, jam-side up on cake stand or plate. Spread with half of mascarpone filling. Top with second cake layer, jam-side up. Spread with remaining filling. Top with third cake layer, top-side up (I wrapped the layers and let them sit in the fridge overnight so the filling would soak into the cake, but if you don’t have time just wait about 10 minutes for the jam to soak in before adding the mascarpone cherry filling). Frost cake with about 1 cup cream cheese frosting to crumb coat cake; refrigerate 1 hour. Frost cake with remaining frosting. Serve immediately or refrigerate; if refrigerated, let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.