This Underrated Spice Is the Key to a Better Bundt Cake

And to a unique holiday showstopper.

December  4, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

One of the country’s best spice shops opened a branch about a mile from where I live in Berkeley, California. Suddenly, I’m in and out of Oaktown Spice as often as a religious convert goes to church. I’ve given up buying spices in quantity in the name of frugality—it seemed cheaper but inevitably led to an inventory of ancient spices (and guilt).

My conversion to fresh spices in small quantities was confirmed several months ago, when I made Marcy Goldman’s renowned honey cake. All of the spices I used in it were fresh from the spice shop. The flavor of that cake (a great recipe to start with) knocked me sideways: The spices and honey were so alive with flavor, they seemed almost to dance on my tongue. Then, I was embarrassed—I realized that I had not been giving spices the same respect I'd given every other ingredient I use in my baking. From that moment on, I renounced past sins and swore fealty to fresh spices. I’ve even increased the number that I buy whole, and grind as needed.

I’ve also become more curious about less familiar spices. Coriander seed is a great example. This spice is the seed from the same plant that produces the leafy herb that we know as cilantro—but the two flavors are worlds apart. If you hate the leaf, don’t count on hating the seed. You’ve probably tasted coriander seed as one of several spices in savory Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern dishes. It’s usually a member of a spicy chorus—such as the Indian spice blend, garam masala—rather than a solo voice or flavor. But what if it were on its own? I wondered.

Taste a couple of coriander seeds—you can do this without trepidation—and you’ll find the flavor delightfully bright, citrusy, a little like grass or hay, and marvelously floral. I hate to say, "Who knew?" (Especially when it’s me who didn’t know.) But: Who knew?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Enjoyed reading about your "discovery" of coriander seeds in cooking. Did you know that in Mexico the seed is at the core of a sugary candy? They're called "Colacíones". They're small knobby balls, mainly white, but are flecked with bright colors; pink, yellow, aqua, and light green. When fresh, they are soft; chewable. Then they harden and you just let the candy melt in your mouth. Good job of describing it's flavor. And the cake sounds great!Thank you for this creative use.”
— Tom V.

Once I did know, it was easy to run with. I imagined coriander seed in all kinds of baked goods...

My first thought was to use it as one might use mace, or nutmeg—alone, in a simple pound cake or butter cake or Bundt cake, then go on to butter cookies, sponge cakes, the like. I started with a Bundt cake and imagined finishing it with coriander caramel icing or coriander toffee sauce. It turns out coriander is delicious in both of those toppings, but I found that each overwhelmed the lovely flavor of the cake. Go figure.

A little dusting of powdered sugar instead? So simple, so perfect! Indeed, coriander sugar was the big bonus of the day. (I caught myself dipping fingers in to taste it—and taste it again—all morning long.)

As versatile as cinnamon sugar is, I urge to try my coriander sugar (powdered or granulated sugar combined with ground coriander, to taste) on anything from snickerdoodles to shortbread, pancakes, waffles, and whatever. You could even make cinnamon toast with coriander seed instead of cinnamon.

If you hate the leaf, don’t count on hating the seed.

One last thing, for which I must apologize for in advance: In my zeal to explore an unfamiliar spice (unfamiliar to me, anyway), I tried versions of the cake with toasted and with untoasted ground seeds. Predictably, my favorite was the version that included both: ground toasted seed in the cake and plain ground (untoasted) seeds in the topping. The former have richer and nuttier flavor notes that resonate perfectly in the cake, while the latter are brighter and more citrusy, perfect for the topping.

If you do it my way, you’ll have to start with whole seeds and toast them yourself before grinding them for the batter, then grind untoasted seeds for the topping or use purchased ground seeds (which will not have been toasted) for the topping. If all of that sounds like too much to contemplate, you can default to using ground (untoasted) coriander seed for both parts of the cake, and you can either grind whole seeds yourself or purchase them ground.

See? I do try my best to be easy to get along with.

Have you ever baked with coriander? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sanet December 11, 2018
This is a wonderful cake!! Thank you for the recipe. I regularly use coriander in citrus baking and in granola and caramel popcorn. I habe even used it in a fresh orange cheesecake!
Author Comment
Alice M. December 11, 2018
Thanks for new ideas! Glad you enjoyed the cake.
Lynnie December 11, 2018
Alice, I too live near Oaktown Spice Market and it changed my cooking life as well, much as you describe. It was a joy to read what you wrote. And love this great riff on coriander. Thank you for this great recipe. (And for all your insanely great cookbooks, most all of which I have!)
Lynnie December 11, 2018
Ooops... meant Oaktown Spice Shop ...
fuzzytop December 9, 2018
I've sprinkled (sparsely) whole coriander seeds on top of butter cookies and shortbread.<br />Don't want to overdo it, though.<br /><br />As to ground coriander - I find it hard to grind finely enough in a stoneware mortar. And I hate having to clean my (repurposed) coffee grinder just to grind a tablespoonful of seeds.<br /><br />Any suggestions ?
Wendy B. December 10, 2018
I have found myself in the same situation. So I either grind the tablespoon worth or I grind more and save in jars in the freezer.
Adina A. December 10, 2018
I have two small electric coffee grinders: one for coffee, and one for spices. You can clean them by grinding a handful of white rice.
Author Comment
Alice M. December 11, 2018
I don't mind (at all) that my freshly ground (in ridges stoneware mortar) coriander is not as fine as commercially ground. I don't think it hurts a thing. I just enjoy it for what it is.
BohemianCottage December 9, 2018
I often wonder when savoring a delicacy who was the first person who ever thought of putting these flavors together? Was it on purpose or by accident? I’m going to have to try this recipe for your gem of a discovery!
Wendy B. December 9, 2018
I have loved using a spiced sugar, for toast and sprinkling on top of warm fruit compote that tops vanilla ice cream, for about 20 years. Started as an accident and became a family favorite. I use a large spice shaker from the spice isle, you know, one of the LARGE plastic containers on the bottom of the shelf. I fill it 3/4 of the way with extra fine sugar and just start dumping in spices. I love using coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of black pepper. Shaking that on top of hot buttered toast with a cup of tea really makes my day!
Tom V. December 4, 2018
Hi!<br />Enjoyed reading about your "discovery" of coriander seeds in cooking. Did you know that in Mexico the seed is at the core of a sugary candy? They're called<br />"Colacíones". They're small knobby balls, mainly white, but are flecked with bright colors; pink, yellow, aqua, and light green.<br />When fresh, they are soft; chewable. Then they harden and you just let the candy melt in your mouth. <br />Good job of describing it's flavor.<br />And the cake sounds great!Thank you for this creative use.
Eric K. December 5, 2018
So interesting, never knew that. Thank you, Tom.
Author Comment
Alice M. December 11, 2018
Thank you for sharing this! I will look for colaciones in my local Mexican market.