It’s not exactly the way I wanted to break a month of blogfasting, dear friends, but I keep headbutting against false starts, incomplete sentences and general pretension. I’ve been doing this for the better part of a day, even though there are tales to tell, tales ranging from our preparations for the Big Move West to the superb four-day weekend I spent in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. For some reason, though, the words have been stubbornly resistant, but it is only now that I know why: There is cake to be had, and cake will not wait its turn.
Credit for the return of cake must be given to Ragnvaeig, who triumphed over jet lag and a bad cold to meet me in the city on the stickiest, swampiest Saturday in years. Once upon a time, I promised her a cardamom-lime cake to call her own, and on Saturday she finally got one. Long-time PTMYB readers may remember that cardamom-lime cake was going to be the signature cake of my bakery, the one I spent years trying to open, but didn’t due to insufficient financing. I’ve written about it for years in this space, but I didn’t realize until now that I never, ever posted the recipe for it. Until I made Ragnvaeig’s cake, I hadn’t baked one for a long time, and I wondered whether my memory was burnishing this cake, imbuing it with virtues it didn’t necessarily have, making it better than it really was. You could have heard me exhale for miles when Ragnvaeig deemed it good. (Thank you, dearest.) In short order, two friends requested the recipe. The cake, dear friends, is back.
For all that I like to pat myself on the back for this cake, it’s not like I slaved over three hundred variations, testing crumb variables with different amounts of eggs or baking powder; nope, for this cake, I stood on the shoulders of giants. The “base” cake is a basic buttermilk pound cake, flavored with citrus juice and peel, baked in a tube pan and soaked, post-bake, with a citrus juice/sugar syrup. Maida Heatter uses this basic formula for her Lemon Buttermilk Cake, as does Gale Gand’s tangerine cake in Butter Sugar Flour Eggs. My version of this cake, as the name might indicate, involves subbing lime zest and juice for those of the other fruit; I also add cardamom, and lots of it, about a tablespoon and a half of cardamom pods. (I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never measured the cardamom post-grind. If you prefer to use pre-ground cardamom, I’d go with a scant tablespoon, but I promise that if you have something interesting to watch on tv while you shell the cardamom pods, the work goes quickly, and the resulting cake tastes amazing.) Whenever I confess to abundant use of spices, I receive counsel that sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Sometimes, the advisor is right, but in this case, I don’t want to hear it. When it comes to cardamom, particularly in this cake, less is not more.
For the cake:
1 1/2 tablespoons green cardamom pods
Zest of 3 medium limes (I use a Microplane to get the finest shavings possible; if you have a zester, you may want to zest the limes, then chop the zest into fine julienne)
3 tablespoons lime juice
345g (12 ounces/3 sifted cups) all-purpose flour (or plain flour, for UK/Commonwealth bakers)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
230g (8 ounces/2 sticks) unsalted butter
403g (14 ounces/2 cups) granulated or castor sugar
3 large eggs
250ml (8 fluid ounces/1 cup) buttermilk
Shell the cardamom pods and grind them in a spice grinder until powdery.
Preheat oven to 350F/160C/Gas Mark 4. Set a rack one-third up from the oven floor. Grease a 10-12 cup tube or Bundt pan and dust it with fine dry bread crumbs. (You can also use a starch-based release spray, like Baker’s Joy, but I think the crumbs give it a nicer, more even color, and the cake releases better from the pan, too.)
In a small custard cup or ramekin, combine the lime zest and juice. Set aside. Sift or stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. (Sifting will aerate the ingredients more, but stirring will incorporate everything better. I generally stir unless I’m making a cake without a chemical leavener; then I hedge my bets by sifting.)
Cream the butter, sugar and cardamom together in an electric mixer, using the flat paddle (or your regular beaters if you are using a hand-held mixer). When properly creamed, the butter will initially cling to the beater, then separate from the beater and settle on the edge of the bowl, looking pale and fluffy. Once the butter and sugar are fully creamed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping the bowl sides after each addition. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix just until combined; then add half the buttermilk, the second third of the dry ingredients, the other half of the buttermilk and the last third of the dry ingredients. Mix to blend after each addition. When everything is incorporated, remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the lime zest and juice by hand. Make sure to scrape from the bottom of the bowl to make sure no big bits of unblended butter are hiding there.
Turn the batter into the tube pan and smooth the top. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes. I usually turn the cake around after 45 minutes; much earlier and you run the risk of deflating the cake. Once the cake is in the oven, make the glaze (recipe follows). When the cake top is golden brown, a cake tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean, and the batter has stopped making a gentle crackling sound, the cake is done. Let it rest in the pan for five minutes before you turn it out.
For the glaze:
125ml (4 fluid ounces, 1/2 cup) lime juice
54g (1.875 ounces, 1/4 cup) granulated or castor sugar
This is a doddle. As soon as you put the cake in the oven, combine the juice and the sugar. Stir them a bit, walk away and do something else, come back and stir them again. Eventually the sugar will dissolve and you’ll have a very tart, sticky, sweet syrup.
After the cake has rested in the pan for five minutes, turn the cake out onto a cooling rack. Place the rack over a large piece of foil, large enough for you to fold up the edges around the rack. While the cake is still hot, brush the syrup all over the top, sides and center hole of cake. Pay special attention to the sides near the cake bottom, which will be dryer than the sides near the top. Let cool completely before eating. No, really. You’ll want to cut into it while it’s still hot, but doing so will leave you with a gummy, fragile crumb. Wait until it’s cool. You’ll be glad you did.
Now that we have cake, more can be told. And it will, too.