Whenever I want to feel like I’ve wasted my entire life, I look at my bookshelves and spice collection. If I’m murdered in my home by, I don’t know, hipsters taking over my beloved neighborhood, and a forensics team has to dust every single one of my books for fingerprints, they won’t find a single smudge on War and Peace. Crime and Punishment, which I was supposed to read in college, is forever dog-eared at pg. 50. My one accomplishment is Anna Karenina, and I will lean on that for the rest of my life.
My spice collection is a similar source of embarrassment. Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and herbs de provence get the heaviest play; poppy seeds, poultry seasoning, white pepper, cream of tartar, and caraway seeds will die gentle deaths in the back of a cabinet before I can even remember them. They will go the way of the garam masala.
But what taunts me the most are the cardamom pods. They’re expensive as hell and I look at them every day on my hanging spice rack. At the time I bought them, I had Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking in my Amazon cart and dreams of masala chai. But that book got bumped to the wish list and I’m stuck with the little green bastards.
I soon discovered the solution to my problem was in the French yogurt cake I’ve been making since Smitten Kitchen’s 2010 post on a lime version with blackberry sauce, though I prefer lemons over limes and olive oil over vegetable oil. I’ve always loved this cake. It is a cake Marie Antoinette would’ve eaten with gusto in the gardens of Versailles while a servant fanned her with an ostrich plume and peasants threw voodoo dolls of her beheaded likeness over the gates.
Except. Well. Lemons and blackberries are never in season together, and it’s hard to get a decent lemon outside of January through April. And there was still the matter of those cardamom pods…
So I pulled a few Valencia oranges out of the fridge, ground up a teaspoon worth of cardamom, decreased the amount of flour to correct a slight dryness in the original, and candied orange slices in syrup infused with cardamom and orange blossom honey to top the cake. The result was moist, springy, slightly savory, and warmly perfumed throughout, with the oranges providing just the right amount of tang and sweetness. It almost made me forget that I never finished The Brothers Karamazov.
A tip: save the syrup from the candied orange slices. It’s perfect stirred into seltzer or muddled with an orange slice in a lowball glass and topped with an ounce and a half of gin and a splash of soda.
Orange Cardamom Yogurt Cake with Candied Orange Slices
Syrup recipe from Bon Appetit
For candied orange slices:
3 c. water
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. orange blossom honey
1 orange, thinly sliced crosswise
3 T crushed cardamom pods
Bring water, sugar, and honey to a boil in a heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally. Add orange slices and cardamom pods. Reduce to a simmer for 40 minutes until the orange slices are tender. Remove the orange slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet. Bottle the syrup for drinks!
Note: I only had 1/4 c. of the orange blossom honey in my pantry, so I used 2 c. of sugar and reduced the syrup for an additional 15-20 minutes after I removed the oranges. You could certainly nix the honey and use 2 1/2 c. of sugar, but the honey adds a lot of depth to the syrup. Use it if you can get it.
1 c. whole milk Greek yogurt (I prefer Fage for this)
1/3 c. olive oil
1 c. sugar
zest of one orange
1/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 t freshly ground cardamom
large pinch of table salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9″ round cake pan.
Grind the black cardamom seeds with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
In a large bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, olive oil, sugar, zest, and juice. Whisk in the eggs one by one.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and table salt. Fold into the wet ingredients until just combined.
Pour into the cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top and inserted knife/fork/toothpick in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Cool for 30 minutes, remove from pan, and top with candied orange slices.