Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kitchen Thoughts

Baking delights me - there's so much magic there! Today we have ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, eggs; tomorrow, a cake on the table - healing wounds and filling bellies. Like all household tasks..it brings life into order; and like all household tasks, that order never lasts. Yesterday, I pulled a Cardamom coffee cake from my collection of ingredients - a cake with buttery, creamy, coffee and spice frosting; caramelized walnuts, and ground almonds..it lasted the night. We enjoyed it, we shared it with my husband's parents. Nothing lasts forever. 

I thought again on The Quotidian Mysteries as I frosted my little cake: "striving for wholeness is, increasingly, a counter-cultural goal." Too many times we strive for one thing or another - "Things exercise a certain tyranny over us." We strive for health, for money, for beauty, or babies, or perfection in some aspect of life.. but wholeness is never quite attainable, except in snatches: a perfect afternoon, a pot of tea, a moment in Liturgy; Wholeness can never be stagnate..it will always end. But in the daily things, repeated again and again, "like liturgy..never completed, but only set aside for the next day" it is born anew.

Cardamom Coffee Cake 
       with Caramelized Walnuts

  3/4 cup Butter
  3 Eggs
 a little over 3/4 cup Caster Sugar - use white, or natural, but lighter in texture and flavor than turbinado
  1 cup Self-Rising Flour (or add...
  1/4 cup Ground Almonds
  1 Tbs Instant Coffee in 1 Tbs hot water - I know, don't give me that look..I actually used a splash of regular coffee, and it actually did effect the cake..definitely acceptable, but not ideal..you can get away with it, unless you're really picky.
   1 heaping teaspoon Cardamom
   1/4 cup Chopped Walnuts


   1/3 cup Butter
   2/3 cup Powdered Sugar
   Splash Coffee (again, the recipe calls for instant- in the same amounts as above - this time though, there is no trouble at all with using a splash of real coffee)
   1/2 teaspoon Cardamom
   1 Tbs Heavy Cream

Caramelized Walnuts

about 1/4 cup chopped Walnuts
1/2 cup Caster Sugar
1 cup water

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes (test it with a little stick or something!). Let the cake cool completely before frosting it.

The mixing together is pretty basic - do what you would for any other cake (cream butter, sugar until fluffy - add eggs one-by-one..then everything else. I do recommend blending in the coffee last - if you don't use instant [if you do use instant..add it with the eggs]..adding it earlier gives the butter mixture less cohesion).

The frosting is also basic. Make butter-cream frosting, just beat in coffee and cream [together] at the end.

The Caramelized walnuts are not as basic, but very do-able...and if you fail - you still have sugary walnuts. To make them: Place the walnuts on a greased baking sheet [or one lined with baking paper]. Dissolve the sugar [1/2 cup, remember?] in the water, over a gentle heat, stirring with something either wood or metal, not plastic or rubber or silicone [I'm sure there's a reason beyond aesthetic, the recipe is very insistent]. Bring to a boil, and wait for mixture to turn thick and golden. Then plunge the pot into a sink (or bowl) of cold water, and drizzle the caramel over the walnuts. Let them sit until the cake is all frosted and then decorate.  

(you can tell from the photos that this batch of walnuts didn't caramelize so much as just sugarize..what did I do wrong? I was too enthusiastic in plunging my pot of caramel into cold water..water got into it and I had to re cook it down..the color and texture were lost though..only the flavor remained. Don't be too enthusiastic! Careful plunging is best.



Recipe adapted from The Simple Things Magazine and from Fiona Cairns' Seasonal Baking.


  1. There are no liquid ingredients listed on your recipe... :) Can you add these, thanks.

    1. Oops, Thanks KelLee..I've edited to include the 3 missing Eggs!