Cake was an important part of afternoon tea, and saved many a visitor from an awkward silence during a visit. In Pride and Prejudice, Georgiana Darcy discovered the value of having something to do when shyness prevented her from making much conversation:
"The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place till after many a significant look and smile from Mrs. Annesley to Miss Darcy had been given, to remind her of her post. There was now employment for the whole party -- for though they could not all talk, they could all eat."
Jane Austen doesn't tell us what sort of cake it was, but it could well have been seed cake, as seed cake was very popular at the time. Here's a recipe for anyone who wants to try it:
125g / I stick butter
150g / 2/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp caraway seeds
150g plain flour / 1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
25g cornflour / 3 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1. Cream the butter and sugar.
2. Stir in the caraway seeds.
3. Beat in the eggs, a bit at a time.
4. Stir together the remaining ingredients then fold them into the mixture with a metal spoon.
5. Transfer to a tin and bake at 350 F / 180 C / Gas Mark 4 for 50 mins, or until a skewer put into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Eat for afternoon tea at about 4 o'clock!