Cardamom Cake

By • October 26, 2012 0 Comments

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Author Notes: This cake is more like one of the classic pound cakes of the 20s and 30s that was a staple at drugstore luncheon counters and served by the slice in waxed paper. They were only leavened with eggs back then, in the case of this cardamom cake, baking powder is used for leavening.

The pound cakes of that era were decidedly dense, as you can imagine, since the only leavening came from a batter that has been beaten extensively. This is all to say that this cardamom cake, as you can see, is almost like a bread, perhaps a slightly sweeter sister of brioche. It is indeed only modestly sweet with a decidedly dense crumb (though far from dry) and a hearty exterior as you can see from the photos. I like to eat it plain with tea, though the pound cakes of yore begged to be toasted and slathered with butter and jam. This here is an 'adult' cake, if you will, one with some maturity, and a pleasant heft.

If you are craving one of those glaze-drizzled pound cakes with a very sweet, almost sticky crumb, then this is not the one for you. For all others in the mood for something a little more atavistic, with just a touch of sweet to go with coffee or tea, then preheat the oven. I can think of nothing better than this cake, a cup of earl gray, and a good book on a rainy afternoon.

This cake began with Dorie Greenspan's pound cake recipe, but has been dramatically changed, even the ratio of core ingredients. Have a look:
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Makes 1 loaf

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 TB ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 green Szechuan pepper corns (see note)
  • 3 rasps fresh nutmeg
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temp
  • 1 TB + 1 tsp rose blossom water
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  1. * I used green Szechuan peppercorns which are decidedly different and much more floral and fragrant than the brown variety. They are very strong, so you only need a few, as you can see. If you don't have access to them, feel free to use 1/8 tsp. fresh, finely ground black pepper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Fit a 9x5" loaf pan (the one shown here was baked in a vintage pan that was 8 3/4 x 4 3/4. I have also done this cake in two smaller vintage pans measuring 7 5/8 x 3 7/8. Vintage pans are always funky sizes, and so now you know all the different sized pans you can get away with when baking this recipe) with a strip of parchment as photographed so that it comes up the sides. This parchment will act as a handle, and prevent the batter from spilling over the loaf pan. Butter the sides. Set aside.
  4. Whisk together all the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, sea salt, cardamom, ground Szechuan pepper or black pepper if using, and the nutmeg. Set aside.
  5. Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until fluffy, add the sugar, and cream until the mixture is pale yellow and aerated. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat into the mixture well so that it's fully incorporated before adding the next. Give the bowl a scrape at least once after each added egg. Add the last yolk. Add the rose blossom water and vanilla after the last yolk is added. Hey, listen, it may look like your mixture is broken a bit at this point. I've made this a few times, sometimes it looks broken, sometimes it does not. I'm no pro, so I'm not sure why it happens one way or the other, but FORGE ON. It will work nonetheless. Once you fold in the flour, it will all come together.
  6. When the mixture is thoroughly amalgamated, fold the flour in by hand in two passes, gently, carefully, so as not to overwork the batter. The batter will be quite thick. Don't freak out. It's supposed to be like this.
  7. Place on an insulated sheet pan, or two sheet pans stacked, slip into the oven and back until the golden and when a thin blade inserted into the center of it comes out clean. My cake took an extraordinary amount of time. 1 hour and 40 minutes. Don't freak out if yours seems to be taking forever. When baked in the smaller pans, they took 1 hour and 10 or 15.
  8. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan on a wire rack before turning it out of the pan.

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