I think that I am supposed to be sharing healthful recipes for foods that will assuage the guilt of the holidays. But I am not feeling particularly guilty about having eaten well over the last few weeks, so I’m sharing a cake recipe instead. However, as an afterthought, I can say that this recipe does make a few concessions to the post-holiday focus on health. For one thing, as cakes go, this one is probably pretty good for you, since it’s not too sweet and full of protein rich nuts and vitamin C rich citrus. More importantly, this cake rewards self control. Make this cake and eat it slowly at tea time over the course of the week. It tastes better after a day or two… or three. The aromas blend, and it somehow the lemon gets more lemony.
The basic recipe is from the excellent cookbook Moro by Sam and Sam Clark, which lovingly features the cuisine of Spain and North Africa. The recipe was already gluten-free (actually the desert chapter happens to have many excellent gluten-free recipes). It uses a meal made from ground almonds and walnuts with a little bit of cornmeal and it had the most wonderful cardamom and lemon scent.
I made it three times in three weeks, so clearly I like it, but I was also adapting it a bit. The first time, I made it, I had done so in part to use up a few tablespoons of freshly crushed cardamom seeds that I had leftover from another project. The second time I made it, I used pre-ground cardamom seed from a jar. In a regular grocery stores you can usually only find cardamom pods (it takes a LOT of cardamom pods to get this many seeds folks) or pre-ground cardamom. I love cardamom, so in addition to keeping pods and pre-ground cardamom around, I actually buy whole cardamom seeds already popped out of their pods from Patel Brothers or Kalystuan’s. It is really, truly worth it to crush fresh cardamom seeds for this cake.
I also tried this cake with regular lemons and Meyer lemons and it is way better with regular old sour lemons! Part of the charm of this cake is that it is really not that sweet. Also, regular lemons are cheaper.
The first two times I made this cake I loved it, but I found it was a bit dry. I have a very good, very moist corn bread recipe (from Cook’s Illustrated) and I wondered if some of the techniques from the excellent cornbread recipe could be applies to the cake. It worked! You take a little bit of the cornmeal and make it into a mush with boiling water and bake the cake at an unusually high temperature.
Finally, I wanted the cake to have some sort of topping for texture and appearance, so added some more walnuts, cardamom, sugar and lemon peel to the top!
Adapted from Moro by Sam and Sam Clark
- 1 and 1/4 cup corn meal
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 2 sticks soft butter
- 1 and 1/2 cup sugar (1/4 cup set aside for topping)
- 1 and 3/4 cup whole walnuts, measured and then roughly chopped
- 2 and 1/4 cup almond meal (blanched almonds ground in a blender are fine. The texture does not have to be fine).
- 3 eggs
- 1 level teaspoon baking powder
- finely grated zest of 2 lemons (one tablespoon set aside for topping)
- juice of 2 large lemons
- 4 level teaspoons of cardamom seeds, smashed fresh in a mortar and pestle or whirred in a spice grinder (one teaspoon set aside for topping)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a springform pan with parchment paper.
- Measure 1/2 cup of the cornmeal into a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup boiling water all at once and stir until a thick mush forms.
- Add the butter and 1 and 1/4 cup of the sugar to the mush and beat until it is pale and combined.
- Stir in half of the chopped walnuts and all the almond meal.
- Stir in the eggs one at a time.
- Stir in the remaining 3/4 cup of corn meal, baking powder, all but 1 tablespoon lemon zest, the lemon juice and all but 1 teaspoon of the cardamom.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Finely chop or grind the remaining walnuts and combine them with the set aside quarter cup sugar, tablespoon of lemon zest and teaspoon of smashed cardamom seeds. Sprinkle the topping over the cake and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes until the cake is golden and just firm in the middle. Let the pan cool before opening the tin. If you can stand it, wait until the next day to start eating it!