The town where I was born and raised does not have a bakery. Yup - no joke. There is no bakery. Actually there isn't even a downtown. To be fair, I didn't grow up in a city. It isn't even large enough to be called a town. It's technically a village, and our downtown is an outdoor mall. I know that sounds cringe-worthy, and to be completely honest, the village I grew up in is made up of *gasp* gated communities. So, that should give a little more perspective on the lack of a bakery where I grew up. That being said, the towns surrounding my village are much more quaint and traditional - with genuine downtown areas, and plenty of mom-and-pop businesses including bakeries.
One of the bakeries my parents' favored is called Ingram's Busy Bee Bakery. Our hands-down favorite item from the bakery was cardamom bread (we simply called it "hard bread"). It's day-old bread (I'm not quite sure what type of bread - maybe it's a brioche) that's toasted then sprinkled with a generous amount of granulated sugar (I think it may actually be sugar scented with vanilla beans) and ground cardamom. My parents enjoyed it with tea, and we loved dipping it into a cold glass of milk.
Looking back on our love for cardamom bread, it makes me appreciate the range of tastes and spices we were exposed to as children. One of the first cups of tea I ever consumed was when I was maybe seven or eight. It was a chai (tea mixed with milk) that was pink (yes, pink!) and it was infused with cardamom, cinnamon, and served with chunks of green pistachios. When most of my classmates were excited to have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, I always looked forward to a soup made of brown lentils garnished with fried cumin seeds, garlic chips, and fresh coriander. To say the least, my earliest food memories are unique.
Without even consciously thinking about it, I've exposed the little Y to a wide variety of foods (I think she's consumed nearly every lentil in existence in nearly every form - fried, stewed, sprouted, steamed, baked, and raw) and spices. Here's our spice drawer:
There's everything in there: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, nigella seeds, mustard seeds (black and yellow), cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns, curry leaves, turmeric, black and green cardamom, dried red pepper and it's flaked version, fenugreek, smoked paprika...the list goes on and on. Since I spend so much time in the kitchen, the Y has been poking around the spice drawer since she was probably ten months old. I've let her smell the spice containers and taste quite a few of them. (She particularly loves the smell of the black cardamom which I think smells horribly strong and musty). When we go out to restaurants the Y often asks to have "mashki daal" (steamed lentils with turmeric, chunks of ginger, cumin, coriander, and garlic) or biryanni (probably the most famous Indian/Pakistani dish in the west - rice pilaf laden with spices and meat). My parents and in-laws love witnessing the Y's connection to her cultural heritage through food (and to be honest, I feel just as grateful because when we visit the homeland, we feel like and are seen as tourists more than locals.)
The cardamom bundt was the result of searching for a suitable birthday cake for my dad. Every year when my dad's birthday rolls around, I know that the usual crowd-pleasing chocolate cake will not cut it. For all the years I've been baking cakes for my dad's birthday, I'd never really come across a cake that he has fallen head-over-heals in love with. He loves the play between sweet and savory - thus he enjoys gingery, peppery, desserts more than syrupy sweet confections. So, I went a hunting for a cake with bolder flavors, and when I came across this recipe for a cardamom vanilla bundt, I knew I hit the jackpot. My first thought was "hard bread," and my next thought was I think it'll be a crowd pleaser for all the adults in my family because of the strong food memory we all had with cardamom toast.
Instead of buying cardamom powder, I made my own by opening up green cardamom pods and grinding the little black seeds. I ground them by hand, but it could have easily been done using a coffee grounder reserved for spices. My sister in-law shared an extremely helpful tip about cleaning out spice grinders - she said to place one teaspoon of uncooked white rice into the grinder in order to remove any residual oils left by the spice previously ground in the coffee grinder.
The batter is light and fluffy once all the ingredients are creamed together.
I used a 12 cup bundt pan. In this photo, you can see little specs of orange peel in the batter. I tried one version of this cake with one tablespoon of orange peel. It tasted fine, but the orange overpowered the vanilla and it even muted the cardamom taste.
The original recipe for the cardamom vanilla bundt cake can be found here. I made a few changes:
1 - Reduced the butter to two sticks
2 - Reduced the sugar to one cup
3 - Substituted buttermilk for the plain milk (and I kept the lemon juice)
4 - Omitted the topping
5 - Baked it for 50 min.