(This is another recipe lost in the archives I’m bringing back to life – it’s a great cake to make around the holidays. I’ve kept the original text.)

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.

I know
Not these my  hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
like these.
-Adelaide Crapsey

(Pretty blush pink Bundt pan from Nordic Ware/Amazon Kitchen)

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

glaze
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.

orange glaze
Mix the orange juice and sugar together in a small sauce pan. Boil gently until a light syrup forms, about 10 minutes.

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26 Responses to cardamom pound cake

  1. Kasey says:

    What a lovely tribute to your friend. It’s amazing how much our sense of smell can bring us closer to people, places and emotions. I shall have to bake up a cardamom pound cake soon, and think of this beautiful post. xo

  2. Sacha says:

    Although it has been a long time since I’ve experienced loss, this post really spoke to me. You summarized why I do what I do and what food means to me. I’m thinking of you.

  3. Renee says:

    Just lovely. So sorry for your loss.

  4. Rebecca says:

    This was a lovely post – rest in peace to your friend.

  5. Oh Sarah, my deepest and sincerest condolences about your lovely friend Michele. You have such a way with words and you’ve paid so much respect to your loved one. What a beautiful recipe that you’ll be able to keep as a memory forever. My thoughts are with you and Michele’s family. xo

  6. london bakes says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. This is such a wonderful tribute to your friend.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What a beautiful post. So true.

  8. Reading your post gave me goosebumps. I love that quote at the bottom of the final photo. This is so simple, and yet so beautifully photographed and told. Life can be so tough, but at least memories live on.

  9. Kate says:

    So very sorry for the loss in your life. The comfort of food has soothed for generations, and will continue to do so. I’ve made a Nutmeg Bundt cake that I love dearly, as Nutmeg reminds me of my mother, passed now for nearly 18 years. The idea of cardamom in a bundt cake is delightful and I know I’ll have to make this.

  10. Melody says:

    Love you Sarah. Thank you for this post – it’s beautiful.

  11. Dianna says:

    Your post touched me deeply. What a wonderful tribute to a dear friend! Life is so fleeting and our memories are what makes life bearable after suffering a great loss. My thoughts are with you and your family and circle of friends. I know she is taking comfort in your remembrance and is still with you, not only in your thoughts but your cooking. God bless you for being a dear friend!

  12. linda mueller says:

    So very lovely, Sarah.
    She was a remarkable woman.

  13. Ann Leibrock says:

    You must continue to write Sarah. You express yourself well. I must make this cake and when I do, I will think of Michele and all the wonderful friends who are loving and caring for her babies. A lovely tribute from your heart.

    Ann Leibrock

  14. Linda C. says:

    Lovely story, and the Adelaide Crapsey quote was touching. It was all touching, as I have lost my Mother to cancer. She was a baker, along with many other talents. She knew the values you spoke of. Thank you.

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Linda. I got teary-eyed reading your response; life is so bittersweet. Somehow baking is a small moment of comfort.

  15. […] pie, because it reflects so many of my daily adventures: chaos mixed with laughter. And Cardamom Pound Cake, which reminds me when I read it how bittersweet this life can […]

  16. laurasmess says:

    I found your post via my friend Heidi at ‘Apples Under my Bed’ and I just had to leave a comment Sarah. Thank you for sharing these intimate thoughts with us. You write so beautifully, full of the weight of loss but with joy and lightness at the same time. I am so sorry for the loss of beautiful Michele. She sounds like one who was a blessing to know. I am glad that you can remember her through this cake and the heady and lingering scent of cardamom on the air. Although I didn’t meet her, I do think that from now on, I will think of her when smelling cardamom cake too. I definitely agree that we invest our hearts, our love and generosity into our baking. You sum it up so well.

  17. […] ? This cardamom pound cake. I saved this page for the recipe because, well, cardamom…but then I read the post. […]

  18. […] Adapted slightly from Emma Gardner’s Maple Nutmeg Mini Madeleines (with flavors inspired by Sarah Kieffer’s Cardamom Pound Cake) […]

  19. Miranda says:

    So much of what I love about life is the food we share, the recipes we make & pass on & return to, our celebrations. I found this recipe looking for a birthday cake for myself. I made it using gluten-free flours & buttermilk, switching orange glaze for a cardamom buttercream with salt, pepper & maple. It was lovely & was loved. I’m making the original recipe tomorrow, baking for a food truck for the homeless. Sounds cheesey but a few colleagues said the cardamom reminded them of tea – I figure that might be nice for someone with no kitchen to walk to, flip the kettle on & make themselves a brew. I’m so glad you were able to share this recipe with Michele & with us in her memory.

  20. Mary says:

    Thank you for sharing this story Sarah, it brought me to tears.
    The cake looks divine and cardamom has an amazing scent.

  21. Elizabeth says:

    I am newer to your blog and this cake I baked yesterday (I admit I changed it but I could not of made it without the recipe, your inspiration and instructions) …I baked 2 batches of it in smaller bundt pans + 1 mini loaf pan for Christmas gifts… the story you told of your dear friend is beautifully written and captured here for us. How wonderful it is to have such kind woman mothering her children in such nurturing ways, including by baking. My Grandmother is always baking for others and she is one of my biggest inspirations. Clearly your friend is a woman who loved deeply and lavishly. May her memory be eternal!

  22. Rene says:

    Such a sweet moment you shared with the world. The passing of a dear friend and then the remembering. The remembering part is so important and a beautiful aspect of the grieving process. And yes, the sense of smell is the strongest for memories. Sharing food with those around us and encouraging them with a gift from your kitchen is almost a forgotten art. Thanks for reminding us to keep it going.

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