Growing wild in India, and the world's third most expensive spice, cardamom is one of the oldest spices know to man. It's renown for its healing qualities, especially when it comes to the digestive system. It's also known for its unique ability to cool the body when hot, and to heat the body when cool. A feast for all the senses, it's a powerful aphrodisiac. For that reason, it's said that Cleopatra bathed in water steeped with cardamom pods.
So, in this season of fertility and rebirth, I knew I wanted to highlight the sensuous, earthy flavour of cardamom in my Easter menu. Since cardamom pairs so very well with oranges, and I happened to have a few oranges left in the fruit bowl on my counter, I decided to combine the two in a rich but fluffy coffee cake, perfect for Easter brunch or any springtime celebration.
The method I use to prepare this coffee cake is a little different from that of other cakes in that the butter is "cut" into the flour with a pastry blender. This results in a light, pillow-y texture similar to that of biscuits. A salty, streusel topping melts into the cake as it bakes, and the poppy seeds are neatly suspended throughout, providing a tantalizing crunch and a hint of spicy bitterness in every bite.
Joyous Easter! Happy Spring!
Cardamom Spiced Orange-Poppy Seed Cake
for the cake:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
1 organic orange, zested and juiced
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp orange extract (optional)
for the topping:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 Tbsp poppy seeds
1 Tbsp softened butter
1/2 tsp coarse French grey salt or fleur de sel
for the icing:
3/4 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp reserved orange juice
Preheat your oven to 350 F (177 C). Butter a 6 cup loaf pan. Cut a strip of parchment paper that is about 7 inches wide by 11 inches long. Press this inside your pan with the edges overhanging (these will act as handles when you remove the cake from the pan). Butter the parchment paper as well.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in the poppy seeds and the orange zest (reserve the juice for the icing).
In a medium bowl whisk the egg, milk, and orange extract. Pour into the flour mixture and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.
Mix the topping ingredients in a small bowl with a fork until combined. Spread on top of the batter. Bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 45 - 50 minutes, turning the pan half-way through cooking.
Cool in the pan for 10 -15 minutes before icing the cake and serving.
To prepare the icing, mix the reserved orange juice with the icing sugar until it is a consistency that can be drizzled over the cake. If the icing seems too thin, add more sugar. If too thick, add more juice. With a fork, drizzle the icing over the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.