Cardamom is a pungent and astringent spice used primarily in Indian recipes and spice blends, in Scandinavian sweets, and in Arab countries, where green pods are ground with coffee. It is common in Indian cooking and pairs well with simple butter cakes and chicken, cinnamon, coffee, coriander, dates, curries, ginger, oranges, almonds, rice, and tea.
I only recently became a convert to cardamom, perhaps because in my earlier experiences the baker was heavy-handed with a spice that can overwhelm when used in the wrong form or too much is added. Now I love including it in my holiday biscotti, along with dried cranberries, pistachios and orange zest, before dipping them in white chocolate.
The cardamom coffee cake recipe came from my friend Kate Rooney, by way of the Greyston Bakery cookbook, with a little modification. It’s a delicate yet buttery rich cake that makes a perfect simple dessert but is equally a pleasure with morning coffee. After dinner party tonight I’ll garnish the cake with a chai-spiced crème anglais (a light “pouring” custard sauce). Chai combines black tea with cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and other aromatics.
From the ginger family cardamom pods hold tiny, brown aromatic seeds that have a strong, unique spicy-sweet taste that is slightly aromatic. The smaller green cardamom (Elettaria) is the one we use most often in baking cooking. In Sweden it has become a more popular spice than cinnamon, where white cardamom is used to season baked goods such as Christmas stollen, cakes, cookies, muffins and buns. Green cardamom is preferred in India and the Middle East. The larger brown cardamom pod is commonly called black cardamom. Unlike green cardamom, black cardamom with its smoky flavor is rarely used in sweet dishes. In India both green and black cardamom are important ingredients in meat and vegetable dishes.
It is better to purchase spices in their whole form and freshly grind what you need. However, high-quality ground cardamom is inexpensive and readily available. When buying cardamom make sure that the pods or seeds smell and look fresh, and have a strong aroma. Indian markets sell the seeds already removed from the pods. To use whole cardamom, remove the seeds from the pods and grind them in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Cardamom pound cake with chai crème anglaise
Small amount of butter and flour for preparing pan
2 cups all-purpose flour (I substitute 1c light whole wheat)
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
Ingredients for chai crème anglaise
4 T. sugar
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 c. whole milk
1 chai tea bag or 1-2 t in a fine mesh tea ball.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare one 9 inch fluted pan; lightly butter the pan and dust with flour.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Start by placing the butter in the bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed begin by beating the butter about 1 minute until it is smooth and light in color.
With the mixer still on medium speed, slowly add the sugar to the butter in a very slow steady stream, beating until the butter and sugar are fully incorporated and the mixture is a light, or pale yellow color, with a fluffy texture. While adding the sugar, stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the mixture off the paddle and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula so the mixture blends evenly.
Add eggs one at a time, beating until thoroughly mixed. Each egg should be fully incorporated into the mixture before adding the next egg, taking about one minute to blend in each egg.
With the mixer on low speed, add about one third of the flour mixture, mix just until the flour is almost completely blended. Scrape the bowl down, and add about one half of the sour cream, blending just until mixed. Scrape the bowl down again and continue alternating with the flour mixture and sour cream, ending with the last portion of the flour, and stirring just until blended.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with the back of wet spatula. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until a long toothpick or wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place pans on a cooling rack to cool for 10 to 15 minutes then remove cake from the pans and place the cake on the wire cooling rack to finish cooling.
Chai Crème Anglaise
4 T. sugar
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 c. whole milk
1-2 t. loose chai tea
Combine the sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk, set aside. Add chai tea bag to milk (or add tea to a steeper and add to milk). Heat milk with chai in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat to 180F or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Add ¼ c hot milk to the egg mixture, whisking to blend, and then add another ¼c of milk and whisk. Gradually add remaining hot milk to egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Place mixture back in the pan; cook over low heat stirring constantly with a whisk for 6 minutes or until mixture thickens “ coats the back of a spoon.” Strain crème anglaise through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Set bowl in ice water bath and stir crème anglaise until cooled. Keep refrigerated until ready to use, up to 1 day.
Spoon a puddle of crème anglaise into the center of the dessert plate, place a slice of cake partially in the puddle, off-center at a slight angle. Garnish with a dusting of confectioners sugar, a sprig of mint or fresh berries.
The first link I found as I started my research into cardamom was a report in The Business Standard, dated Feb 26, 2011. “Cardamom futures dip 3.80% on adequate supply, weak demand. Press Trust of India / New Delhi February 25, 2011.”