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A Quick, No-Sweat Tip for Wildly Fragrant Fall Baking

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The most remarkable kitchen innovations are born as often from endless, meticulous tinkering as they are from mishap, merriment, or laziness (see: Stella Parks' roasted sugar). Laziness, though, is often, at its core, resourcefulness. (Laziness just needs a rebranding!)

Keep your eye on that green-ish sugar in the top center—that's our star.
Keep your eye on that green-ish sugar in the top center—that's our star. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Because when you're tasked with producing food on a large scale, like slicing twelve quarts of cherry tomatoes or zesting forty lemons for custard pies (exhibit A and B, ladies and gentlemen), you'd be wise to find a better, faster, some-might-call-it "lazier" way to get the job done.

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And the latest example of a serendipitous fluke? The intoxicatingly fragrant, freshly toasted cardamom that's making an appearance on the menu at the all-day café Golda in Brooklyn. In hopes of making cardamom pods easier to crack open, pastry chef Charmaine McFarlane decided to toast the whole pods, rather than just the seeds inside. But then she threw caution to the wind, bypassing any pesky cracking in favor of tossing the entire spice into the oven and then the blender.

What she came away with was more aromatic than typical ground cardamom, with a sweeter, earthier, warmer flavor profile that's particularly suited to baked goods—cookies, cakes, cobblers, steamed puddings, and the tahini linzer tarts and custard buns at Golda. (For frozen and/or refreshing desserts—like ice creams and custards, where she wants to emphasize the spice's cooling sensation—she'll return to convention, discarding the pods and grinding just the seeds.)

When I made the whole ground cardamom in the Food52 kitchen, the scent was more intense than I could have predicted—one whiff was like the first look through a pair of newly-cleaned glasses, like I had never really experienced cardamom before. (I had trouble concentrating on anything else with the open container nearby.)

Rather than attempt to copy any of of McFarlane's masterful desserts, I decided to use my ground cardamom in a much simpler way: a version of cinnamon toast that trades the cinnamon-sugar for cardamom-sugar and, as a nod to her cardamom bun's custard center, the butter for cream cheese, which bubbles and oozes in the oven.

I prefer a wheaty bread, like the honey-whole wheat variation of Alexandra Stafford's No-Knead Peasant Bread, but brioche or white sandwich bread would be just as delicious. And if the idea of spreading cream cheese on a non-bagel carb gives you the heebie-jeebies (why? why is this? discuss in the comments below!), switch back to butter.

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Fresh, Fragrant Cardamom Toast

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Serves 4 (ish!)

For the cardamom-sugar:

  • 1/4 cup cardamom pods
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt (small pinch!)

For the toast:

  • 8 or so slices of bread (I used whole-wheat peasant bread)
  • 4 to 8 tablespoons cream cheese, softened (depending on how crazy you'd like to get)
  • Cardamom-sugar, from above
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You can keep the whole toasted cardamom pods in an airtight container for up to one month. Once ground, use the cardamom within a week for optimum freshness. To prevent the ground spice from clumping, you can store it mixed with sugar; start with 2 or 3 teaspoons of cardamom per 1 cup of sugar, then use that sugar in your next cake batter or cookie dough. Alternatively, use your freshly-ground cardamom wherever you would normally tip in the jar of store-bought powder—I'd recommend starting with a bit less than the recipe calls for (this is potent stuff!).

Once you've made your fair share of cardamom-sugar toast, put your stash to work in the recipes below (and get ready to make your kitchen more fragrant than you've ever smelled it before):

Cardamom Doughnuts

Cardamom Doughnuts by Amanda Hesser

Cardamom Crumb Cake

Cardamom Crumb Cake by Dorie Greenspan

Cardamom Currant Snickerdoodles

Cardamom Currant Snickerdoodles by fiveandspice

Pistachio Cake with Lemon, Cardamom, and Rose Water

Pistachio Cake with Lemon, Cardamom, and Rose Water by Sarah Jampel

Leila Lindholm’s Classic Swedish Cinnamon & Cardamom Buns

Leila Lindholm’s Classic Swedish Cinnamon & Cardamom Buns by The Curious Pear

Pistachio Meringue Cake with Citrus, Candied Kumquats, & Cardamom Caramel Sauce

Pistachio Meringue Cake with Citrus, Candied Kumquats, & ... by Food52

Carrot Halva with Cloves, Cardamom, and Fudge

Carrot Halva with Cloves, Cardamom, and Fudge by Sumayya Usmani

Lemony Hazelnut Cake with Fall Fruit & Cardamom

Lemony Hazelnut Cake with Fall Fruit & Cardamom by Sarah Jampel

Padma Lakshmi's Clouds of Cardamom & Cashew Cookies

Padma Lakshmi's Clouds of Cardamom & Cashew Cookies by Food52

Cinnamon-Sugar Cardamom Rolls

Cinnamon-Sugar Cardamom Rolls by Posie Harwood

Pistachio Cardamom Nutella

Pistachio Cardamom Nutella by Madhuri Sharma

Smoky Cardamom Ginger-Molasses Cookies

Smoky Cardamom Ginger-Molasses Cookies by Carey Nershi

Andrea Nguyen's Cashew and Cardamom Fudge (Kaju Barfi)

Andrea Nguyen's Cashew and Cardamom Fudge (Kaju Barfi) by Genius Recipes

Sour Cream Cardamom Pear Cake

Sour Cream Cardamom Pear Cake by Posie Harwood

Citrus and Cardamom Baklava with Pistachios and Walnuts

Citrus and Cardamom Baklava with Pistachios and Walnuts by Alexandra V. Jones

Cardamom Lemon Sticky Buns

Cardamom Lemon Sticky Buns by fiveandspice

What's your favorite spice to add to baked goods? Tell us in the comments below.