Cardamom Pistachio Pound Cake
I have long been drawn to the exotic flavour and aroma of cardamom and other Indian spices. It was in our tiny remote village in northern Nigeria that we were first introduced to Indian cuisine, which at that time was not yet familiar to Vancouverites. I was invited into the kitchen of teaching colleagues, Indian expats, where they taught me over a wood stove how to cook curries and chapatis, and the accompanying mango pickles and raita.
I am also a believer in the medicinal benefits of Indian foods. When my husband was ill with malaria at the end of our two year posting, and while I had been fussing around with western concoctions like smoothies and scrambled eggs, our Indian friends produced curries that tantalized him more and that gradually and miraculously brought him back to health. What was it that was so appealing and so healing? Perhaps it was the combination of being cared for in such a special way by friends, that the food fit the climate so naturally, and that the very ingredients worked their magic, first with the aromas and then with the flavours and the subsequent tingling sensation of the spices lingering lovingly on the palate.
There were many experiences in those days that contributed to my philosophy of food and how it can nourish and connect people in unexpected ways. Sometimes it is a single recipe that evokes a memory, or promises a new taste sensation with its combination of ingredients, or it is just the right thing to make for a particular occasion. This one, from American Masala, by Suvir Saran, fulfilled each one of those criteria for me. The only adjustment I made to his recipe was to reduce the sugar and to increase the vanilla.
Cardamom Pistachio Pound Cake
1 c. raw, shelled pistachios
1 stick plus 5 T. unsalted butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks for cake, 1 T. for coating the pan)
1 c. all purpose flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1 t. ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground: see note and photo below)
1/4 t. salt
3 large eggs
1/2 t. vanilla
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
1 c. icing sugar
1 t. ground cardamom
1 T. plus 1 1/2 t. lemon juice
1 t. milk
Preheat the oven to 425º. Place the pistachios on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and browned, about 5 minutes. Cool and then pulse in food processor until they are very fine (do not over-process or you will make pistachio butter). Reduce oven temperature to 350º.
Note: The flavour of cardamom is stronger and richer if you take the time to split the pods, remove the seeds, toast them and then grind them in a spice or coffee grinder. You will need about 15 pods to make up the required 2 t. Alternatively, if you are using commercially ground cardamom, make sure that it hasn’t been sitting around for so long that its flavour has diminished.
Grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan with 1/2 T. butter. Place a long strip of parchment paper in the pan bottom. Grease the top of the parchment with 1/2 T. of butter.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup, then whisk in the vanilla.
With electric mixer, cream the remaining stick and a half of butter and sugar until they are light and airy. Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time, beating between additions to incorporate and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla. Alternate adding the flour and the milk, starting and ending with the flour and mixing until the batter is just nearly combined between additions, scraping the bowl as necessary. Fold the pistachios into the batter by hand, then transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Bake the cake until cake tester inserted into the cake’s centre comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack and turn it so its top faces up. Let the cake cool completely.
While the cake cools, make the icing: Sift the icing sugar and mix it with the cardamom in a medium bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice and milk. Spread the icing over the cake, letting it drip over the sides.