The siren call of the sunflower seed

Funny how life can come full circle. Things from childhood, that in your teens and early twenties seemed so passé, suddenly become desirable or enjoyable.

One particular blast from my past, has always left me stone cold. The sunflower seed and its hippy chicky cohort, the pumpkin seed or pepita, as it is also known. Mum tried to sneak those little buggers into everything. Little parcels of them appeared in our lunch boxes, whereas other lucky children may have scored a chocolate teddy bear biscuit. They also crept into cookies, cakes, salads, breakfast cereal (not really but I bet she would have if she thought she could have.) These wee kernels stood for everything that, at the time, I totally didn’t get. (Physically and metaphorically.) Homemade, nutritious food in abundance, when all I really wanted was a store bought white bread tomato sandwich. And a Mars Bar.

Our parents grew radiantly yellow sunflowers in our garden and we watched with fascination as they grew tall, blossomed and withered. We would watch their seeds darken, harden and grow as the flower matured. They also grew pumpkins, in varying shapes and sizes. Not even these living miracles convinced me it was natural to consume their kernels.

For many years I have staunchly withstood the squeaky siren call of the sunflower seed. Until that fateful day, when the decision was made to throw together a gluten-free granola for The Yak. Packets of those grey and green coloured things were purchased. After a good toasting, there was a tasting (because a good cook should) and guess what? I liked them. I really liked them.

Full circle. Sorry Mum.

This gluten-free recipe is from The Gluten-free Kitchen cookbook by Sue Shepherd. It is definitely what you would classify as a ‘health cake’ and The Yak (self-proclaimed taster) and cohorts have all proclaimed it as a toothsome and moreish concoction. Dense and fruity with an intense blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves that will make your head spin. This cake is savoury, earthy and studded with a plethora of seeds and nuts. A small piece goes a long way and your body will thank you.


1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup tart dried cherries chopped, (or raisins, I like the sourness of these cherries.)
1/2 cup glacé pineapple (125g), chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
30g butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
140g brown rice flour
90g buckwheat flour
2 tsps gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbl ground flaxseed or 1tsp Xanthum gum. Both are optional but I used flaxseed.
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin (pepita) seeds
3 tbls sunflower seeds, extra for sprinkling
3 tbls pumpkin (pepita) seeds, extra for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line with baking paper.
Combine the sultanas, cherries (raisins), pineapple, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, butter and sugar and 1 1/4 cups water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. (Smells like Christmas when the fruit is cooking.)
Stir until the sugar has dissolved , then increase the heat and bring to the boil.
Boil for 1 minute, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool to room temperature.
Sift the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and flaxseed/Xanthum gum (if using ) into a bowl. Repeat this process three times to ensure they are well combined. Or whisk really, really well.
Add the eggs, pecans, sunflowers seeds and pumpkin seeds to the cooled fruit mixture, then stir in the sifted flour mixture.
Pour into the prepared cake tin and sprinkle the extra sunflower and pumpkin seeds on top. Cover with foil and bake 50 minutes, then remove the foil, rotate the cake tin and bake for a further 10 to 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Remove onto a wire rack, let the cake sit in the tin for 15-20 minutes, then remove carefully onto the wire rack and let cool completely.
Store in an airtight container.

If allergic to nuts you could substitute the pecans with extra dried fruit and seeds.
Rotating the cake tin ensures more even baking.
I have also been reading about about grinding sunflower seeds in a spice blender or NutriBullet type doohickey, and adding them to baking. Kids, watch out.

Recipe from The Gluten-free Kitchen by Sue Shepherd. Published by Viking, Penguin, 2009. (With one or two minor changes.)

30 thoughts on “The siren call of the sunflower seed

  1. Hahhaa, Full circle. Will you pop a slice in the lunchboxes of the Junior Yaks? I’m with your Mum- we old hippies knew more than just smoking the odd herb occasionally. It looks really tasty.

    • Ha! You sure did! 😁 It’s a real keeper this one! No, the Junior Yaks wouldn’t have a bar of it..I am looking forward to grinding them up and adding them to biscuits. Yup, full circle. 😂

  2. Sounds like we had quite opposite childhoods, although now share similar tastes. I grew up on a steady diet of cookies, candies and chocolate bars, so I turn with joy to the newly discovered health food treats like nuts and seeds. This cake certainly looks lovely, although the ingredient list is rather daunting. Maybe I’ll get my sous-chef of a son to tackle it!

    • Different paths, same destination Mel! It does look a tad daunting but it’s not too bad. It really is a cake worth baking. The pineapple and tart cherries add a wow factor. Sounds like a job for the sous chef!

  3. Pumpkin seeds! Unlike your good self I used to have a serious addiction to these morsels during high school – I would buy the seeds still in the shell and covered in salt and eat and eat and EAT until they were all gone. YUM. This cake looks so good! I love cinnamon and pecans and sunflowers seeds…

    • Wow, hope this doesn’t kick off another sunflower seed addiction Mrs H! If you are a fan of these ingredients you will really enjoy this cake. If you don’t care about gluten free, you could just substitute the flour for the same weight of a mix of plain and wholemeal flour. And see what happens, I haven’t tried doing that yet!

      • Having never baked with GL-free flour I often wondered how I could use regular stuff. A straight swap sounds easy enough! Alas, I cannot indulge in seeds todays as I fasting #BooToMondays

      • Boo to that! It won’t be a straight swap with cups but if you have weight, then you usually swap the flour out, depending on what you are swapping with. Ie swap
        buckwheat or sorghum for a wholemeal
        flour. Or a regular gf blend with a plain flour. 😁

  4. This does have echoes of Christmas fruit cake which I confess I’m not a big fan of but this has more nuts than Xmas cake, so I could be convinced. Husband is the fruit cake lover in our house (and baker, too, since I don’t really like it) and he takes a couple of slices with him when he goes x-country skiing, almost like an energy bar. Your photos are beautiful and tempting!

    • Thanks Susanne, the light was really good that day. Yes, it does have echoes but is probably more ‘loaf-like’. I never really liked Christmas cake either but it’s growing on me, as long as it doesn’t have
      glacé cherries in it….urgh. Maybe you can convince hubby to bake it and sneak a slice for yourself! (Surely, he won’t take the whole cake when he goes adventuring, although it is good. So you never know!)

      • Double urgh – glacé cherries. Does the loaf keep forever like Christmas cake? I’d definitely have a slice if it was just kicking around, looking nutty and yummy in the fridge.

      • It will last a few days but not much longer than that. Fruit cakes containing a lot more dried fruit and alcohol last longer as they are self preserving due to the booze and the lack of water in the dried fruit content, meaning it keeps longer. This cake has a lot of seeds and nuts so it is generally a bit drier.

  5. A Mars bar!?!
    Wow! Your mom was not playing around and just as well because now look.
    Look what you gone and did.
    Made this yummy loaf crammed with these things, making ol Cake over here suddenly hungry.
    But I’m still in my jam jams (aka bed) so the struggle is definitely real…


  6. Like your mother used to I’ll happily scatter seeds into and over my food. Mostly in salads. I just don’t want to shell either of them, as I tried to roast pumpkin seeds last year – what a nightmare to shell!
    Fruit cake is on the list of things to make. Hopefully soon.

    • I am finally on that scattering seeds page too but deshelling them is far too much hard work! Good on you for giving it a shot though? This was a quick and easy fruit cake and I will be baking it quite regularly. Good luck with your fruit cake, those lists of things to cook are like the Neverending Story!!

    • Thanks Kate, I will go check it out! I love tricking the wee rascals. Although the ‘caramel mudcake’ that was actually made of roaste, pulverised sweet potato and dates was taking it too far. The horror on their faces when they tried it (and mine too after I tasted it….blech….)

      • LOL at the caramel mud cake. You can fool some of the Yaklets some of the time… I like the sound of all the fruit and nuts in this cake. Definitely a good breakfast item. I’m very fond of sunflower seeds too (and sunflowers) but I’ve always had trouble with pepitas. They seem more husk than seed.

      • I know..I had such high hopes for that cake but the texture was just revolting. Gack. 😂 This really is a great wee cake and I am surprised I like it as much as I do! I still don’t think I would eat a handful of pepitas alone either but I don’t mind them mixed in with another bunch of stuff!

  7. Not having the hippy association that you have (although other things spark that connection), I’ve always liked sunflower seeds (pumpkin seeds, too, but nothing will induce me to try to extract the kernels after once trying). We use them a lot – mostly in place of nuts as there is a nut allergy in the family. Love this cake (in spite of the pecans, which I personally adore, but usually have to leave out). It is really wonderful that you can use something from your childhood and come full circle – more a spiral as we never are in the same place twice – and make something delicious that everyone will enjoy.

    • Thanks KW and so true, more a spiral. Nut allergies would mean no pecans but I think extra fruit and seeds, maybe throw in some hemp seeds too for good measure and it would be just as lovely. Yes, shelling those wee kernels is not for the faint hearted!


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