Incorporate these tiny powerhouses into baked goods and reap a bounty of flavor, texture, and richness.
Seeds of Glory
With all the recent buzz about the nutritional benefits of seeds, it can be easy to overlook what really makes them a staple of cuisines all over the world: They work culinary magic. Replete with healthy fats, seeds add not only moisture and density but also a satisfying crunch and a distinctive flavor—further enhanced by toasting or grinding—to all kinds of dishes. In fact, these little superstars have been quietly sustaining people for thousands of years; think sesame tahini in the Middle East or a cumin-laced curry from India. But it is arguably in baked goods and sweets that seeds reach their greatest potential, imparting a nutty, fragrant essence to all manner of cookies, breads, and pastries.
The richness of seeds, bursting as they are with flavor and nutrition, is not surprising when you consider that each little capsule is essentially a plant’s embryo, containing everything needed to begin life (given the right temperature and water). Their cultivation as a foodstuff spans history and the globe, from flaxseed fields in 3000 B.C. Babylon to pumpkin seeds in pre-Columbian America. East Indians not only ground fennel seeds for sauces and curries, but also chewed on them whole after meals to aid digestion (traditions that persist to this day). And evidence found in Swiss lake dwellings shows that caraway seeds were used there five thousand years ago. From Europe, caraway and other seeds, including poppy and fennel, were carried north, where they have long held the spotlight. Caraway is used to flavor aquavit, the Nordic spirit that takes its name from the Latin “water of life”; the ubiquitous knaeckbrod, or crispbread, boasts three or four different seeds; and poppy seeds—whole or ground into a paste—appear in both sweet and savory breads and pastries.
More recently, many of these little pods have been hailed as superfoods, packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial fatty acids. They’re easy to use, whether raw, roasted, or baked into a dish, but their oil content makes them especially perishable. Buy yours at a grocer where turnover is high, and store them in resealable bags in the freezer to keep them from going rancid. Then get creative—fold them into a batter, sprinkle them on a homemade yeast roll or pastry, or toast them as a topping or snack—to enjoy them in all their splendor.
Seeded Saratoga Torte
The traditional version of this classic, which hails from Australia, incorporates crushed sweet crackers into the meringue cake for texture. Here, seeds—including ground toasted sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame—contribute a subtly nutty essence and crunch to both the cake (which is spread with cherry preserves) and the whipped cream on top.
Seeded Savory Quick Bread
This robust loaf—chockablock with caraway, flax, sunflower, and black sesame seeds—comes together in a snap, no yeast or rising required. Spread it with butter and jam for a simple and delicious breakfast, snack on it toasted and topped with ricotta, or layer on a thin piece of hard cheese and avocado slices for an open-faced sandwich.
How to Make Seeded Savory Quick Bread
These thin, almost lacy crackers are made with four flavorful types of seeds and rye and wheat flours. They add a hearty, healthful crunch to any salad (and are great on their own).