Sugar, Spice & Everything Nice – Rediscovering Cardamom

We read a lot of food blogs at our Maryland bed and breakfast, so sometimes it’s hard to remember where a bit of interesting information comes from. For example, we keep hearing  about turmeric being “the new kale”…surely you’ve heard it too? Turmeric is the “it” food right now. Whether you get it in the food you eat, or you take a supplement, it’s a great anti-inflammatory, and it has been shown to help prevent and even inhibit the growth of certain cancers! Combined with ginger, cayenne, honey and lemon, it makes a healthy and delicious drink.

While turmeric might be all the rage at the moment, there’s another spice that we think deserves some attention: cardamom. This is that very aromatic powder that may have been in the back of your spice cabinet for years because you bought it for a recipe way back when and haven’t used it since. If that’s the case, you probably should throw it out and start fresh, but it’s definitely worth it. Cardamom is intense: the flavor is strong so a little goes a long way. As is the case with most things, the less processed the better, so if you can get whole pods and grind the seeds inside yourself, go for it. But if you already have the ground stuff (and it’s not ancient) then go ahead and use it!

By Didier Descouens, via Wikimedia CommonsCommonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, cardamom recipes are typically thought of as savory dishes.  But we have found that it is right at home in baked goods.

Cardamom is a very nice addition to a classic shortbread cookie. It adds a hint of spice to round out the sweet.  Add a little bit to some sour cream along with a bit of brown sugar and a splash of vanilla extract and you have cardamom cream: delicious on top of a grilled or roasted pear.  In fact, pears and cardamom seem to have a natural affinity for one another, like apples and cinnamon do.  So if you want to bake something just a tad different, something that will have people asking,  “Mmm,  what is that flavor that tastes so good?  I can’t quite place it…?”  we’ve got just the recipe for you.

A good coffee cake is an excellent standby when you have a pot luck or a holiday party and you’re not sure what to bring.  Everyone loves coffee cake, it’s a safe bet.  But everyone expects the cinnamon crumb topping or maybe some nuts are hidden inside.  Why not shake things up with a little spicy cardamom?!?  If you  have a favorite coffee cake recipe, by all means use it and simply add the filling from our recipe to yours.  Otherwise,  this is a good old standby that is easy, moist and delicious.

 Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Pears, Walnuts and Cardamom

1 large pear

1/2 cup ground walnuts

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (freshly ground if possible!)

6 tablespoons brown sugar

3 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

2 cups sour cream (or greek yogurt if you prefer)

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

the grated zest of one orange

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 10 inch bundt pan, or spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Don’t worry about over-doing it here, because you really want this cake to come out of the pan easily! Remember that the bottom of the pan is the top of the cake.

In a small bowl, mix together the walnuts, brown sugar and cardamom. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.   Add the eggs and mix together, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice.  Add the sour cream (or yogurt), vanilla and orange zest and mix together.  Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, on low speed, and scrape the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Peel, core and quarter the pear.  Slice each quarter into long, thin slices.  A mandolin works great for this, but if you don’t have one, simply try and get the slices as uniform and thin as possible.  Set aside.

Spread half of the batter into the prepared bundt pan.   Sprinkle half of the walnut mixture on top of the batter.  Place the pear slices on top of the walnuts, and then sprinkle what’s left on top of the pears.  Carefully spread the remaining batter on top of the filling.  This layer should completely cover the filling.

Bake in pre-heated oven for about an hour, checking at about 45 minutes.  Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack.  Let cool completely in the pan.  Pan should come off easily!

This coffee cake is rich and doesn’t really need any embellishment, but if you are taking it to a party, it always looks nice with a little glaze.  Simply take about 3/4  cup of confectioners sugar, add a pinch of cardamom and a tiny splash of vanilla.  Add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time, stirring the mixture vigorously, until it’s smooth and pourable.  Drizzle over the cooled cake.  Let it set up before packing the cake to go.

Last step:  enjoy the party!!!

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