Early Monday morning I found myself in the kitchen, baking this pound cake. It was almost as if I didn’t have a choice; my mind and heart had been there all night, anyway, stirring and sifting flour, breaking eggs and pouring cream. The evening before our hearts had been broken: the lovely and dear Michele passed from this world. It is one of those tragic stories, the kind that you can never come to terms with, the kind that make you wrestle for answers. She was in her early 40’s, a mother to eight children, and had suffered the past 18 months from an inoperable brain tumor [glioblastoma]. Now she is gone, resting at last, but we are here, here on the other side of the door. Here letting our tears fall into cake batter.
Several years ago Michele asked me for this cake recipe. She smiled her sweet smile, asking for a recipe with cardamom to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. I had been making this pound cake for years at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, where the recipe had been snagged off the back of a spice container. I emailed it to her, and soon it got sent around from one friend to another; everyone was falling in love with cardamom. When I saw her months later, she came up to me and gave me a small bag, a gift. I was instantly aware that the tiny sack was full of ground cardamom – the smell wandered to my nose and overtook me. Ever since she placed the spice in my hands, whenever I add cardamom to anything, there is a moment where Michele comes to mind. Michele, with her dark, thick hair, Michele with her honest and sincere smile, Michele with her steadfast heart. Michele, in the kitchen, baking cakes for her children.
Baking this cake, so early Monday morning, brought me some comfort. The cardamom filled my kitchen and washed over my senses. I talked to my little ones about her as we creamed the butter, as we added the eggs one at a time; remembering her as we moved hands and arms to bring things together; all of this easing my heart for a moment, silencing the questions. In those few scattered hours making cake in her memory, I was acutely aware of the significance of food, of caring about food. There is an importance to what specific ingredients we put in our bodies, but there is also such value to what we are actually making. The dishes and meals we make for loved ones, and the act of preparing them: to cook and bake and eat them together connects us beyond the physical. It’s not about eating or creating just for the sake of doing so. There is something deeper, something soul-ful that happens when we slice the cake, when we break the bread. There is taste and smell that draws out memories, binding us to those present, those past. There is purpose in our food: both the physical and the unconscious, the labor of our hands, the labor of our heart. This, to me, is real communion: the act of sharing, the act of receiving.
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Cardamom Pound Cake with Orange Glaze
Adapted from The Spice Hunter.
The original recipe doesn’t have baking soda, salt, or sour cream, and uses a full cup of heavy cream. I’ve slowly tweaked this over the years and like where I’ve ended up below. This cake tastes good on the first day, but I like it better on the second. The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom, but I bumped it up to 1 tablespoon. If you want a milder tasting cake, use less.
1 cup (2 sticks | 227g) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (594g) granulated sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
3 cups (420g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cardamom
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup (99g) granulated sugar
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cardamom.
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, and preheat the oven to 325F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated, scraping down sides of the mixing bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and mix on low to combine. Add the 1/3 of the flour mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined. Add the sour cream and mix until the batter is just combined. Add another 1/3 of the flour and mix on low to combine. Add the heavy cream and mix until the batter is just combined. Add the remaining flour, and mix on low until just combined. Use a spatula to scrap down the bowl and make sure the mixture is completely combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to even out the top. Bake the cake for 60-75 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Move the cake to a wire rack with a piece of parchment underneath the rack, and let cool for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack. While the cake is still warm, pierce all over with a long skewer or a fork. Apply glaze with a pastry brush. Let the cake cool before slicing/serving.
Mix the orange juice and sugar together in a small sauce pan. Boil gently until a light syrup forms, about 10 minutes.