I suspect that the Cardamom Brigade have been hard at work, stealthily making their way into my list of favorite baking ingredients, judging by the spice’s appearance in a number of desserts I’ve prepared this month.
Cardamom is a highly polarizing spice – you either love it or you don’t, and I definitely fall in the former category. I’m intrigued by its vivid aroma, with hints of mint, eucalyptus and citrus. It’s got such personality that deploying it in Western cuisine and desserts is a tricky task, which is why this recipe for a Walnut, Lemon and Cardamom cake from Moro: The Cookbook piqued my interest. With ground almonds, walnuts, lemon juice, zest and polenta, this distinctive spice perfectly balances the pungent acidity of lemons in a moist and crumbly tea cake. Each bite is a play of textures and tastes, as the nuts and polenta hold on to their firm consistencies as the flavor of sweetened lemons gradually morphs into cardamom.
Apart from marking the days in this 30-day challenge, the fact that I actually considered this recipe is a reflection of how my tastes have changed since we moved to the US. When this book landed on my lap before we left Singapore, I was more excited about their meat and seafood recipes as I lived through my Tapas/Mezze craze, hankering over anything with chorizo, olives and grilled calamari that was served in shallow round terra cotta dishes. Lemon was hardly attractive, and a lemon cake? Forget it.
Well, look who’s talking now as I happily baked this cake today and savor its crumbs while writing out a post. I guess our food choices are as reliable as the seasons, birthdays or anniversaries that we celebrate in marking the passage of time. They give us moment for pause, to look back and see how far we’ve come, and to be grateful for what we have and where we’ve been.
Served simply, this gluten-free treat is equally delicious with or without adornment, perfect for accompanying a hot pot of tea on a cold Fall day.
Walnut, Lemon & Cardamom Cake (adapted from Moro: The Cookbook)
Makes one 8-inch (20 cm) cake
1 stick plus 5 tablespoons/ 185 grams unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
6½ ounces/ 185 grams granulated sugar
5 ounces/ 140 grams walnuts, chopped
5 ounces/ 140 grams blanched almonds, chopped
4½ ounces/ 130 grams polenta
1 level teaspoon baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1½ lemons
2 to 3 level teaspoons ground cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325F/ 160C and line an 8-inch/ 20 cm springform tin with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, or using a wooden spoon, beat the butter and sugar together until light and very pale. Stir in the almonds and walnuts, then add the eggs, one at a time. Add the polenta, baking powder, lemon juice and zest and enough cardamom to taste. You’ll want the batter to have a nice balance between lemon and cardamom.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake in the preheated oven for 1½ to 2 hours, until the cake is golden brown and just firm in the middle.
Remove the tin from the oven and leave to cool before unmolding the cake from the tin. Dust with sugar (if desired) before serving, and consume with a pot of hot tea and a good book.