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Sunday, January 18, 2009

pecan cardamom poundcake


Happy Birthday, my one true love!

Around here, almost all our birthdays cluster in a feverish clot around Christmas—even including extended family. Some of the birthdays fall before New Year’s, some after. Even as one of the guilty parties (a December baby), it feels like a bit too much sometimes, even when we keep the celebrations VERY simple (e.g., dinner of your choice + cake + card).

For my birthday, Dan and Meredith made a beautiful little gingerbread cake, and after dinner, I waited in the dark at the table while they conspired in the pantry for 10 minutes or so. When they finally emerged, they were carrying quite the bonfire; yes, they’d planted one candle for each of my 38 years. It was only an 8-inch cake, too, so you can imagine the inferno. By the time they had the candles all lit, and I’d made my wish and extinguished the blaze, many of the candles had burned down to their nubbins. So even after removing the candles, the cake was festooned with blue puddles of wax… You don’t see a birthday cake like that every day! It was the best one ever!

So Dan’s birthday is on Tuesday, which in addition to being Inauguration Day, is also our big baking day. Since we’re up at 5am and baking hard all day, it doesn’t leave much time or energy for celebrating, so we decided to celebrate his birthday today! He picked the pecan cardamom pound cake…  and I have to say, it’s an awfully good choice for a birthday cake. This cake has been called into service for most every other occasion, too: potluck parties, Christmas parties, car-camping trips, my friend Nicole’s wedding cake, and just general all-purpose yummy cake. It’s spicy and flavorful, and chock full of toasted pecans…  It’s very rich, but you can cut thin slices and feed an army with it. Or, it will work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a 3 or 4 day camping trip for 3 adults (with a few other staples thrown in).

We considered the hugeness and richness of this cake before Dan chose the cake. It really does feed a crowd…  and we weren’t in the mood for a big party. But then we remembered that this cake freezes really well! So anyway, don’t let the 6 eggs and pound of butter put you off. Just invite lots of friends over to share it, or freeze some for later! 


pecan cardamom poundcake

This cake is based on a recipe in the fantastic cookbook Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. Like I mentioned above—don’t be put off by all the butter and eggs—it’s a rich cake, but it feeds 16 to 20 people with seconds to spare. I use two and a half cups of brown sugar, but the original recipe calls for three. It’s quite sweet when made with three cups; l prefer it a little less sweet, but pump it up to three if you prefer. I of course also pump up the spices and nuts from the original recipe.

I like to get the cardamom and allspice and peppercorns whole, and grind them in my spice grinder (a coffee grinder devoted to that purpose). If you get the cardamom whole, make sure it is “decorticated,” which means the little black seeds are removed from the pods. You don’t want to be grinding the pods up into the cake (or picking the seeds out of the pods, either).

2 cups butter, at room temperature
2 ½ cups brown sugar (see note, above)
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups white flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
¾ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup strong coffee, cooled (you can cool it with the milk, below)
½ cup milk
2 to 3 cups pecans, toasted for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then chopped coarsely (but save several whole pecans for decoration)

coffee glaze

about 1/3 cup coffee
2 cups powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bundt pan and dust with flour.  (This step
2. In a large mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer for this), cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and blended.
3. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, and baking powder. Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
4. Add the coffee (or if you’ve combined the coffee and milk, add ½ cup of the coffee-milk mixture) and beat until smooth. Beat in the remaining flour mixture and then beat in the rest of the liquid. Stir in the pecans by hand.
5. Pour the batter into the greased and floured pan, and bake, checking after an hour. If a knife or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s done. If you have a convection oven and a dark pan, it will probably only take an hour. For conventional ovens, it might take 1 ¼ or 1 ½ hours. Let the cake rest for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Cool on a wire rack.
6. For the glaze, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Drizzle in enough coffee, while whisking, to make a glaze the consistency of heavy cream. (If you make the glaze too thick, it’ll chip and crack when you cut the cake.) When the cake cools, set it, still on the rack, over a plate. Pour the glaze over the cake and let it set up for a few minutes. Switch the cake and rack to a second plate, and pour the glaze from the first plate over the cake again. Repeat this a few times until it is glazed to your liking. After the final glaze, when the glaze is still wet, stick pecans on the top for decoration.


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