Pride and Prejudice: Seed Cake Drenched in Cognac

Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Rosamund Pike, Simon Woods
(PG, 127 min.)

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments." William Shakespeare

Pride and Prejudice, easily the best film of 2005, is the way love ought to be, the way it was destined and designed in our hearts. Built on the solid underpinnings of character, goodness, and honor, its fruition is evermore so sweet because it is so long denied.

Where did we go astray and assume that flesh is the substance of passion, that the erogenous zone is a fixture of our bodies and not our brains? Or that the distance between first encounter to bedding is an interval forever narrowing, instead of the long and arduous courtship ritual that tests both parties to prove their worth?

Pride and Prejudice reeducates the human heart and should be required viewing for today’s teens. What an antidote to a pop culture that celebrates and trivializes sex as a common denominator that diminishes both male and female, reducing their interactions to a bump and grind exploitation of what used to be called dance!

*****

Romeo and Juliet were two star-crossed lovers torn apart by their parents and a feud of long forgotten origins. Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), have only their wills to keep them apart, but this self-erected wall is far more impenetrable. 

Ironically enough, Elizabeth’s mother is all for matchmaking. In fact, with five daughters to marry off and a will that deeds the family estate to a distant male cousin upon the death of Mr. Bennet, the thought of her daughters’ nuptials seems to preoccupy her. When the very eligible bachelor Charles Bingley (Simon Woods) becomes their neighbor, Mrs. Bennet's mood and expectations rise. After all, he has a income of four or five thousand pounds a year.

It is at a ball that Bingley meets and promptly falls in love with eldest Bennet daughter Jane (Rosamund Pike). And such a ball! The dance itself says everything about courtship in late eighteenth century England. Two lines separate the sexes; the couples lock hands as they proscribe a very formal circle and then return to the line. Just enough to share a line or two of piquant conversation, the touch of hands interlocking, and then once again, separation. For second sister, Elizabeth, the brief encounter with Bingley’s friend, Mr. Darcy, is just as charged as that of her sister, except in the opposite direction.

Perhaps if Mr. Darcy had not coldly refused to dance, if Elizabeth had not unfortunately overheard his comment to Bingley that Lizzie is “tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me,” she would not have sworn to “loathe him for eternity.” If this were so, why the shot of Darcy’s hand tightening as if shaking off an electric spark, after it has touched Elizabeth’s? And why, at the second and grander ball set in Bingley’s country house, does Mr. Darcy follow Elizabeth with his eyes, tracing the arch of her head and her lilting laughter with almost jealous attention?

As he stalks the lonely moors in his flowing coat or turns round his black charger when he encounters Elizabeth in the company of young and handsome Lt. Wickham, we see a man fighting against his love for this young woman “of inferior birth.” Yet little by little Darcy’s mask of aloofness falls to reveal the pallor of one truly heartsick.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, seems to have everything under control. She does not suffer fools gladly and wastes no time with the unctuous William Collins (Tom Hollander) a self-important cousin who is in line to inherit the Bennet estate and “charitably” offers her marriage. Even when she is cut to the quick, Elizabeth has a fast recovery. We watch a storm emotions wash over her luminescent face like a quicksilver sky over the sea as Darcy first pricks her natural smile with his caustic remarks to Bingley. A cloud passes over her. The smile is quick to return but with an air of forced bravery. 

How long it takes these fools of love to admit what they strive so hard to deny is the beauty of the film. Each roadblock thrown up between the two-- whether it is the class conscious reproach of Lady Catherine, played with comfortable arrogance by the redoubtable Judi Dench, the misleading tales of Lt. Wickham, or the protective armor they both don-- renders the final kiss, tender and tentative, richly deserved and utterly fulfilling.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

One aspect of Pride and Prejudice that is somewhat incomprehensible to most equalitarian Americans is the fact that Elizabeth Bennet is “of inferior birth.” We look at the large and stately home where the Bennet family lives, we see the side of ham, pastries, and other dainties that grace a gracious wooden breakfast table which would demand a huge sum at an antique gallery, and find it hard to think of the Bennets that way. In particular I recall the grandeur of that breakfast which the whole clan accepts with such casual indifference. 

They cut slices from the huge ham, spread butter and jam on hot scones, and dally as they sip tea from porcelain cups. Oh, to be of inferior birth!

One special English favorite, enjoyed at breakfast, tea, or dessert, is seed cake, a delicacy that dates back to medieval times. Bake up and enjoy, no matter what your pedigree.

Seed Cake Drenched in Cognac

Often called nun’s cakes because baking them was one of the few leisure activities permitted medieval sisters, they continue to enjoy popularity in Britain. Along with tea and treacle tart, this confection is frequently mentioned in Agatha Christie’s writing. 

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup butter 
  • 1/2 cups sugar 
  • 6 egg yolks 
  • 3 egg whites 
  • 3 1/2 cups flour, sifted 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 tablespoons cognac 
  • Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Directions

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, beating well. Stir egg whites, breaking up just slightly, and add to mixture. Beat well for 1 minute. Resift flour, salt, and baking powder 3 times and fold into mixture gradually, alternating with the milk. Fold in caraway seeds and vanilla. Pour batter into buttered and floured 9-inch tube pan. Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 2 to 3 minutes, unmold, and invert to cool on a cake rack. Puncture the cake all over with a wooden skewer. Drench with cognac and allow to cool completely. Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover's Cookbook

This delightful recipe, as well as many other English pastries, can be found in Different Drummer's book. If you can't afford to fly to London for the holidays, let these recipes transport you there.