Walnut, Lemon and Cardamom Cake (gluten-free)


IMG_1936I 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.

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)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a springform pan with parchment paper. 
  2. 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.IMG_1905
  3. Add the butter and 1 and 1/4 cup of the sugar to the mush and beat until it is pale and combined.IMG_1916
  4. Stir in half of the chopped walnuts and all the almond meal.
  5. Stir in the eggs one at a time.
  6. 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.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  8. 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, or 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!IMG_1959 

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Hello ~
    This cake sounds wonderful, and I can’t wait to try it. . . I love how you layer flavors and gild the lily!
    I wondered if you have ever considered when baking to replace the sugar with real maple syrup and decreasing the butter from 16 tab. to 3-4? I am going to try these reductions , and will let you know how it comes out.
    My latest baking trick, has been to add a slurry gel (3 tab. chia to 1/2 to 3/4 c. H2o to replace 2-3 eggs)
    in a recipe and now we are all addicted to the lovely light and sponge-like texture the amazing chia seeds give any baked good or griddle cakes etc. If you, like me are new to Chia seeds you are in for a treat as they give so much energy, make your nails super strong, great snack in a beverage or as pudding, or pre-workiout snack. For anyone interested ~ here is a short bit on the wonders of Chia Seeds:

    Thank you Erin & Silvi for all the lovely recipes esp. the GF ones, your lovely photos and commentary!

    Love & Happiness,
    ~ Nell, Trevor & Jess

    1. Let me know how your substitutions go! I do like chis seeds very much. I mostly eat them in pudding and have only used them in bread recipes. I’ll have to try them in some other baked goods. My mother can’t eat egg whites, so it could come in handy!

      1. Hello~
        I will let you know how it works out..
        I have been using chia in cakes etc. for a bit now and it has worked great.
        Reducing the butter in recipes is usually unnoticed due to the moist spongey texture the chia gives. I do oil the pans with butter for additional flavor. Perhaps you would like a great recipe for Irish Soda Bread, ( GF, egg-free, etc.) that started the whole chia / egg switch . . . . I was visiting my daughter and we ran out of eggs while baking.
        When using chia seeds, If you don’t want a slight poppyseed type of texture in your baked goods, you can always blend the chia gel before using it in a recipe.

  2. Glenda says:

    I must try this using the chia seeds instead of egg white. Cardamom and lemon are so yum.

    1. Hi Glenda,
      Heres a few tips for using chia to replace eggs:
      When using chia seeds to bake with, I’ve found that the end result comes out better if you make the chia gel fresh as your mixing up your wet and dry ingredients for your baked good.
      First thing I do is mix up the water and chia, stir well for 30 seconds or it will layer up and get very firm. Then proceed with your recipe (the chia gel takes about 10-15 min. to fully hydrate).

      If you add the seeds dry (non-hydrated) to a recipe, I found that they didn’t make a nice springy texture, similar to the texture with eggs, and there was this slightly dry gritty texture at the bottom of the cake from the non-hydrated chia seeds settling.
      The baked product will also have some nice energy if you mix up the chia right as your baking.
      It will last in the frig for 3-4 days in a glass jar. (I read that it lasts 2 weeks refrigerated but after trying that, we definitely noticed that this chia gel did not taste as though it had a lot of energy anymore).

      Pet Food Addition: We have been adding 1/2 tsp. of the chia gel to our cat’s food at each meal and they absolutely love it! Their coats of fur are 20% thicker & shinier. We refrigerate a jar of it to last a 2-3 days and add it to our smoothies, baked goods, griddle cakes, corn bread etc. and our cat’s food.

      The seeds planted grow very easily and can reach a height of 275 meters!
      Check out the book: “Born To Run” it’s all about the native Mexican people who run all day, up mountains without shoes and literally live on chia.

      Happy New Year!

  3. This looks unbelievably delicious! I might try baking this cake for my birthday.

    1. Let me know how it turns out for you and Happy Birthday!

  4. Glenda Berry says:

    Thanks Emily, I will try your chia method and will give some to my cat, Dewey!

    1. Your welcome, Glenda. I hope Dewey enjoys the chia!

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  6. Wow, I like all of these flavors; I bet this is delicious! It doesn’t taste too overwhelmingly walnutty though? (I ask that even though I do like walnuts, like in quickbreads and in salads…) I guess the almond meal and cornmeal would balance out the strongish flavor that walnuts can sometimes have. I love the lemon and cardamom combination!

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