Cardamom is Captivating

cardamoncake.jpgFew spices can excite your taste buds as powerfully as cardamom. Have you ever noticed how someone will take a bite of a cardamom-laced dessert, declare instant love, yet not be able to identify the spice?

That's because cardamom is enigmatic. Think about it: Is it spicy or sweet? Citric or floral? Does it taste like lemon? Cinnamon? Anise? Christmas? Yes. Cardamom embodies all of these flavors in one glorious spice, which is why baking with cardamom is so popular.

As this Banana Apple Cardamom Cake bakes, it will permeate your home with the sweet and spicy aromas of cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and coconut. With mashed ripe bananas, butter, and coconut milk, this is an especially moist cake that is punctuated with bits of chewy raisins, crisp apples, and crunchy nuts.

It makes a sweet start to the day when paired with a mug of hot coffee or a relaxing afternoon snack with a cup of tea or a glass of milk. It also has the added benefit of tasting even better the next day.

Banana Apple Cardamom Cake with Cardamom Icing
Makes 2 (9-inch) round cakes; serves 16-20

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 sticks (12 T) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
1 1/4 cups chopped fresh apple, peeled (such as Fuji, Rome Beauty, or Honey Crisp)
1/2 cup raisins (or chopped dates)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Icing and Garnish:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
several droplets of milk

1.  Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter or coat with cooking two (9 X 2-inch) round cake pans.

2.  In a medium size bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger.

3. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugars and beat at medium speed for a couple of minutes. Add eggs and beat well. Add the honey, vanilla, and coconut milk, and beat until batter is silky. Lower the speed, add the bananas, and beat briefly.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients, and mix until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir in the apples, raisins, coconut, and nuts. Divide the batter evenly between the pans.

5. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cakes are a deep golden brown. You'll know they're done when a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans.

6. Meanwhile, make the icing in a small bowl by whisking together confectioners' sugar and cardamom. Add a few droplets of milk and continue whisking until the icing is smooth and thin yet clings to the back of a spoon. When it's ready, pour it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any tiny clumps of confectioners' sugar.

7. Invert cakes onto a rack, then turn right side up. Using a spoon, drizzle the icing over the top of the cakes, and spread it with a thin, metal spatula. Sprinkle each cake with 1/4 cup of toasted coconut, and 1 tablespoon chopped pistachios. Allow to set for at least 15 minutes before slicing.


Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of  Recipes Every Man Should Know and The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.