The meaning of expensive taste
I am inexorably drawn to the most expensive item in a department store. It seems to be my sad fate that I have both incredible and expensive taste. I don’t look for the designer handbag, and I certainly have no interest in the ostentatious labels that seems so perplexingly popular. I’ve never found the Louis Vuitton pattern to be very attractive, as example, because I don’t like the idea of my expensive leather being branded more than cattle. What I do always seem to gravitate toward is the even more expensive, sleek and classic beauty of say some clean Prada lines. I don’t even know it’s designer usually until I see the price tag. My natural inclination toward expensive tastes seems to apply to food as well—or more specifically spices.
Most people are familiar at least by name with Saffron, the most expensive spice by weight in the world and I’m sure everyone knows what Vanilla is. Betcha didn’t know that “basic” flavor is actually the second most expensive thing you can buy though did you? Not unless you ever looked at the cost of that vanilla bean in the spice aisle. The third most expensive spice in the world is also one that I’m completely obsessed with. Cardamom. Delicious. Exotic. Ancient. As in biblical (Revelations 18:13 apparently) It’s one of my favorite things to use in foods lately. I always go through my own kitchen fads where I become obsessed with one ingredient for a short period of time but I don’t think my cardamom love is going anywhere anytime soon.
Not familiar with this spice? I don’t blame you. 80% of the world production goes to the Indian-Arab world, primarily to add flavor to their coffee called Gahwa. It also is said to have medicinal properties that aid in digestion, throat soreness and inflammation—hardly surprising for a plant in the ginger family.
The next 10% goes to, of all places, Scandinavia. You might remember from my recipe for Swedish Meatballs that Scandinavians seem to be particularly fond of some of the more Middle Eastern spices. While the seeds of this ginger related plant are mentioned in the New Testament, there doesn’t seem to be much recorded history of cardamom in use in Europe until the middle ages. The spice growth erupted in the early 20th century when German immigrants brought it to the new world—making Guatemala the largest producer of the plant today. India, the natural source of cardamom, is second.
It has a very distinctive flavor and anyone who has eaten Indian food will most likely attribute this spice to that unique taste. It manages to be both woodsy and citrusy so it works exceedingly well in savory and sweet dishes. The green variety has a “cleaner” flavor, more citrusy, and is light and aromatic. The black cardamom is the “bull in a china shop” version and less intense/complex. This makes the green better suited for delicate dessert recipes but in very small quantities. It doesn’t take much, thankfully, considering that this is the third most expensive spice you can buy. Don’t let that spook you away from my recipe today though. It is well worth it and it’s not nearly as bad as a single vanilla bean at $10-$16 dollars a bean. If you can locate a store with bulk spices you can get just enough for this recipe and spend less than a dollar. Ground cardamom is also much cheaper than the pods themselves.
This recipe works as a muffin mix but it also makes a fantastic coffee cake. As I said earlier, cardamom is a natural pairing for coffee in the Middle East, and if you are a fan of the bitter caffeinated beverage, you’ll really enjoy this duo for breakfast. I think you’ll love the cake even if you hate coffee.
Cardamom Crumb Cake
from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from my home to yours
For the crumbs:
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ tablespoon stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 2/3 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup whole milk
- ½ cup strong coffee, cooled
- 1 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet.
To make the crumbs: Put all the ingredients except the butter in a bowl and toss them together with a spatula just to blend. Add the butter and, using your fingers or the spatula, mix everything together until you’ve got crumbs of different sizes. It’s nice to have a few big pieces, so don’t overdo it. Set the crumbs aside. (The crumbs can be made up to 3 days ahead, covered and refrigerated.)
To make the cake: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom, and espresso powder in a large bowl. Turn the dry ingredients out onto a sheet of wax paper, and put the sugar and zest in the bowl. Rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange strong, then return the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk to blend.
Put the remaining ingredients in another bowl and whisk them to blend. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir – don’t beat – to mix. Stir only until you’ve got an evenly moistened batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and top with a thick, even layer of the crumbs. Pat the crumbs ever so gently into the batter.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake has risen (it will crown), the crumbs are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool in the pan before serving warm or at room temperature.