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

September 12, 2017

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. 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.

What emerged was the most intensely intoxicating aroma I've ever experienced.
Pastry Chef Charmaine McFarlane

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.)

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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.

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Top Comment:
“Toasted cardamom is now one of my favorite things! I’ve had this spice in many things, including ice cream at an Iranian restaurant...yum! I’m currently putting it into my Blueberry Lavender Lemon Shrub.”
— Stephanie P.

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.

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):

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Stephanie Poetter
    Stephanie Poetter
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  • Cassandra Brecht
    Cassandra Brecht
  • melissa
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Stephanie P. August 4, 2019
Toasted cardamom is now one of my favorite things! I’ve had this spice in many things, including ice cream at an Iranian restaurant...yum! I’m currently putting it into my Blueberry Lavender Lemon Shrub.
AntoniaJames September 12, 2017
Years ago, I was experimenting with new homemade curry-style blends, from various blogs out of India and the UK. Quite a few of them just called for cardamom pods, saying nothing about removing the seeds. So (always on the hunt for sensible shortcuts) I started grinding the living daylights out of the whole pods before adding the other seeds, etc. to the grinder, pulling out any stray husk-like fragments that sometimes remained. I haven't looked back, including when I grind cardamom for baking. (I toast the pods in a skillet on the stove, for improved flavor, as I do the seeds that go into my other Indian-inspired blends.)

I like the idea of having cardamom sugar on hand. Whenever I juice a lemon for hummus, dressing a salad, etc., I grate the zest into a pint Mason jar that's 3/4 full of sugar, give it a good stir, and then use that when baking muffins, quick breads, coffee cakes, etc. I bet that zested sugar plus cardamom sugar would be nice together . . . . . but I would grind the cardamom first in the grinder, then blitz it in the food processor with the sugar, to infuse the sugar even more. ;o)
melissa September 12, 2017
ooh, that's an awesome idea! i bet it would even be good in a beverage.
Cassandra B. September 12, 2017
Must try this . . .
melissa September 12, 2017
i love cardamom. this page is going to keep me busy!