Cardamom seed pods, lightly crushed with the side of a knife (like peeling garlic) reveal a bunch of little black or brown nuggets, aromatic ingredients that are the basis of our chai and incorporated into sweet and savory dishes. Like star anise, cardamom imparts a characteristic but elusive aroma and flavor, and has a lingering presence, slightly hot, slightly sweet. I associate cardamom with Indian food – chutneys and chicken – or with Scandinavian food, mostly baked goods, but I’ve been known to incorporate it into strawberry jam come canning season.
For this month’s Spice Rack Challenge, I poached winter pears – Anjou, but I could have used Bosc — in a simple syrup rendered fragrant and flavorful with lightly crushed cardamom seeds. This tasted as great as it smelled. I folded some of the pears into a cardamom quick bread batter. Since I was making the quick bread in two medium-sized loaf tins rather than a full sized loaf pan, I had the luxury of changing fruits, so added cubed fresh mango to the second loaf. Both were great with tea steeped with a crushed cardamom seed, not quite chai but delicious and refreshing.
To cube mango, peel it and slice it lengthwise and crosswise into squares the size you want. Starting at one end, cut the cubes out by placing the knife with flat side against the pit. The first couple of pieces are hard, like prying the first brownie, but they slide out later.
If our local organic grocery market hadn’t run out of bulk cardamom pods, (is everyone doing the same thing?) I might have made a chicken dish with cardamom. I sure hope someone in the Spice Rack Challenge does since I could use a good recipe or method.
By the way, you should consider buying tiny amounts of spices from a purveyor with a healthy turnover who sells spices by the pound and not the jar. The spices stay much fresher and less prone to lose their vitality aging in the drawer. Whenever possible, grind your own spices. For the cardamom bread, I used pre-ground cardamom that I happened to have on hand.
Fruited Cardamom Quick Bread
½ c butter, softened
½ c light brown sugar
½ c granulated sugar
1¾ c flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 c pears poached in cardamom syrup and cubed (or mango cubes)
1 c poached pears, cubed and 1 c mango cubes
1 c chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two medium sized loaf pans (approximately 4 x 8 x 2 ½ inches).
Cream the butter until light and fluffy and gradually add the sugar, creaming until light. Add the eggs and thoroughly combine. Sift the dry ingredients together and fold into the butter-sugar-egg mixture. The batter will be thick. Carefully fold the fruit and nuts into the batter, trying to distribute them evenly. (If making this with two kinds of fruit, put half the batter in a separate bowl and add the fruit. Repeat with the other half. Turn the batter into the pan and bake for about 35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, and unmold onto a rack to cool. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and store in an airtight container.
Poached Pears in Cardamom Syrup
This recipe can be varied by adding different flavorings (vanilla bean, for example) or no flavoring at all.
6 cardamom pods
2 c water
¾ c sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
4 ripe Anjou or Bosc pears
Piece of parchment paper cut to fit the pan
Crush the cardamom pods gently with the side of a knife to release the seeds from the husk. Lightly crush the seeds with a mortar and pestle.
Bring the water, sugar, and cardamom seeds to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Peel and core the pears and slice them lengthwise into six pieces, dropping them into a bowl containing the lemon juice. Place the pears into the poaching liquid, cover with parchment paper to keep the pears submerged, and let simmer until just tender and not mushy, about 5 minutes for Anjou (or Bartlett) pears and around 10 or so for Bosc pears. If they are still crisp, you can cool them in the liquid. Otherwise, remove them to a plate to cool so they don’t disintegrate.