Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Cardamom Cream Cake

The first time I ever used cardamom was for Hamam Mahshi bil Burghul, an Egyptian preparation of stuffed small birds that requires marinading in spices (principally, cardamom and cinnamon but also a bit of allspice), onion and a combination of oil and lemon juice. I was first surprised by the inclusion of cinnamon since I had only ever had it in desserts, but I got over that when I first smelled cardamom. I did not know what to expect of it because I had had no known experience with the pods (I say 'known' because it has probably appeared in its ground incarnation in many curries I have eaten in Indian restaurants). I was soon entranced during the process of pulling the seeds from their pods and of grinding them, a process which releases an aromatic transformation at every step.

I am a fan of spices and herbs decidedly and judiciously used to either give flavour to or augment the flavours of protein. However, for the longest time I have wanted to put a niggling question to bed: Why do Scandinavians use cardamom in their breads, cakes and pastries? Understanding that my worldview is affected both by my upbringing and education, I did not ever pass judgment on this baking norm, but I could not but help think it an intriguing thing to do. But the Vikings and the Scandinavians, centuries on, could not be wrong. Clearly, there was something in this application to be learned.

When buying cardamom pods, look for tight ones with papery husks the lightest of olive greens (though in Europe and the North America they are sometimes bleached). You may want to bear in mind the green cardamom is more commonly used for Scandinavian baking, as opposed to black cardamom, which is closely related and is used in African cookery. Once removed from their husky capsules, the dark pellets immediately smell of ginger, which is no surprise given they are from the same family. Once ground, the specklings are redolent of Eucalyptus. And while this might not sound appetising, another transformation occurs once heated.

The usage of freshly ground cardamom is imperative in order to get the lingering lemon flavours of the cardamom that imbue baked goods upon the introduction of heat. Pre-ground cardamom will leave too little trace, potentially nullifying its addition in the first place. And since it is one of the most expensive spices in the world (third to saffron and vanilla), it is not something you should want to waste.

A pretty tube pan is suggested for this cake, ostensibly to give it some presence, for this is, at the end of the day, a plain cake - at least only in terms of appearance. I used a bundt pan, not having a tube pan on hand. If you do not have a cake pan with a hole in the middle, do not lose sleep over it. I would use a loaf pan instead, which is what I did for Toasted Ginger Cake.

Cardamom Cream Cake
(from Beatrice Ojakangas' Scandinavian Feasts)

2 cups flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom, freshly ground
1 pinch salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups/12 fl. oz heavy/double cream
icing sugar, optional

1) Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F.
2) Butter and flour a 24cm/9" cake pan.
3) Combine flour, sugar, baking power and cardamom in a bowl.
4) Using an electric mixer, blend in the eggs on low speed.
5) Add cream and beat on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure the mixture is incorporated. Look for the texture of softly whipped cream.
6) Turn the batter into the prepared pan.
7) Bake until done, approximately 50-60 minutes. A toothpick/skewer test is a good way to assess this.
8) Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before inverting onto a rack.
9) To dress up the cake, lightly dust with icing sugar before serving.

The cake has a dense centre, which I suppose is attributed to the fact that there is no creaming required to make it. The crumb is quite closed, dense, as opposed to the open crumb of sponges and some pound cakes. The texture is yielding in the mouth on account of using so much cream.

It occurred to me while eating this cake that citrus fruit is not widely grown in Scandinavia, so including cardamom as an ingredient allows one to get a mild yet uplifting citrus hit, which is what some of us crave for from time to time.

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Cardamom in sweets is just as divinely devastating as in savories. Most of us are in agreement on that score. It's really not a surprise that Scandinavia would take to it after the Vikings sacked Constantinople and brought it back w/ them. Much of the world owes its intro to spices via early marauders; obviously the trend was not to "grow local." ; )

Shaun, I personally think a bundt pan is much more decorative than a tube, while serving the same purpose. Good choice with nicely dense, rich and aromatic results.

P.S. - Have a care when using black cardamom. It is dangerously smokey in flavor and much more suited to judicious use in savories - think lapsang souchong left to steep too long.
I got that book just a fortnight ago, and was flipping through the pages trying to decide what to make first. Thank you so much for making that decision for me:)
I love love love these sorts of cakes! Thank you for introducing me to Beatrice's book!
Thanks for sharing this with us. My mother is half Swedish and as such, uses cardamom in her baking with abandon. I love its warm flavor--did you know it is a close relative to ginger? My family makes a yeasted cardamom bread around the holidays every year, but that takes quite a bit of time, so I'm so happy that you've shared this relatively quick recipe with us! I'll definitely use it.
Susan, lovie - You're right about the black cardamom. I was wondering how much to say about cardamom but decided I would go off-topic if I rattled on too much. Besides, there are great books out there that explain its properties and uses better than I could. I just wanted to stick to cardamom in Scandinavian baking, my latest voyage of discovery, as it were. I have ear-marked a few recipes in Ojakangas' book, which I will cross reference with other sources before trying and writing about, so I have something to add to this post. I hope to have a profile of experience in this field over time.

Pille - There are many great treats in this book. For me it is the coffee cakes and entrees that speak to me most. It seems like Scandinavians take socialising quite seriously, as do I. It is nice to make a little fuss over guests. I think it makes it clear that their presence is special to the host.

Ivonne - This is my only Beatrice Ojakangas book, but I intend on getting The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, which was inducted into the Cookbook Hall of Fame by the James Beard Foundation in 2005. I learned about her through Nigella Lawson, who has used her recipes in How To Be A Domestic Goddess and Feast.

Christina - I'm glad that you have such a personal relationship to baking with cardamom, for I hope it means you'll be sharing your knowledge with us in your posts. It is my latest food obsession.
I promise to share my favorite cardamom bread recipe closer to the holiday season--I'm sure you'd love it. Have a great day!
oh I am glad you tried cardamom in a cake... it is one of my favorite spices, both in savory and sweet dishes... your cake looks and sounds yummy!
Christina - I am greatly anticipating the holiday season, then!

Sig - Thank you for stopping by my blog - I love yours. The cardamom is very effective in this cake, showing how truly versatile it is. I am finding that spices have great latitude; the question is just how many to use when and in what application. It is the safest way of discovering new frontiers, as it were.
A lovely cake :) This has reminded me of some cardamon buns I have marked, they are cupcakes, but called buns for some reason. I must get round to them soon!
It was very interesting to read this post as I took cardamon in breads and buns for granted...I might look at it with new eyes after this and perhaps even enjoy those goods more :)
I wanted to say for quite a time now that I like your pics! I love these pastel backgrounds, you had some lilac( you call it perhaps purple?) background a few times that I liked a lot. Reminds me a bit of Miami Vice...those were the times :D
Thanks for the comment you left on my food page. I was really pleased with the results of the Pluot Tart.

I noticed in your profile that you list Lidia as one of favored food writers, just last week my sister was in Pittsburgh on business and was lucky enough to eat at Lidia's restaurant there. She enjoyed it very much.

I will, when I have a bit more time, look through your archives, I can always use some insiration to get me behind the stove.
Kelly-Jane - I'm willing to try anything with cardamom now. Let me know how your "buns" come along because I might quickly follow your lead.

Vonsachsen - Yes, Central and Northern Europeans make great usage of cardamom in baked goods, but I'm sure it is such a norm that no one gives it much thought. From my end of the world, though, such inclusion is quite exotic. So you see why I had to try it.

Thanks for the comments on the photos. Yes, the backgrounds are a little 80s in colour, which is surprising to me considering I'm not really a retro person, especially when it comes to fashion. These colours work well with the good though and are a life-saver when I can't be bothered to clear a nice space on tables etc.

Catboy aka Charles - How wonderful that your sister was able to go to one of Lidia's restaurants. I love her cookery books because not only are they very informative but there are many interesting recipes I have never heard of. Even the simplest thing can be the most beautiful. It is odd that I'm so comforted by her food given that I'm not even remotely Italian.

I hope to see your comments here again.
This looks divine :-) One to try out this week for me. You really seem to have gotten into your food in such a short time. What a great blog. One I will certainly be coming back to check ;-)

Greetings from a cold and wet London
Anthony - Welcome to the blog! This is a very easy cake to make with a delightful taste to it. On a cold and wet day in London, this is perfect with tea or a fruity coffee (beans from Africa are best suited to this). I hope to see you here again.





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