Not Without Salt

Cardamom Cake, Plum Jam + Coffee Buttercream

To be perfectly honest, I’m not much of a cake person. In fact for my wedding I put in a request for pints of Ben & Jerry’s to be served in lieu of the traditional towering cake but was vetoed. I’ve since made up for that disappointment by eating my fair share of ice cream. My cake of choice – ice cream cake. The sort with no actual cake present.

But there are days when I’m struck with the intense urge to bake a cake. I’m not talking about snack cakes, by which I mean the kind where fruits and vegetables linger in the batter. I love those. I’ll take a slice of Grandma’s banana bread heavy with whipped butter slathered over top any day. That cake is different. Here I mean the kind that towers on a pedestal like royalty and something to be looked upon with honor. The sort with frosting that requires a pound of butter and sugar cooked to soft ball stage and forces me to dig out my old piping bag and tips to adorn the cake with a flourish that is worthy of its stature.

There wasn’t a birthday to celebrate when the urge hit, no grand occasion for such a cake but the ordinary day, as most of them are, was suddenly made remarkable by the presence of this cake. Most often we use food to bolster the occasion but I sometimes prefer the food to determine the occasion, to subtly and sweetly remind us that there is much to celebrate in the mundane. Our everyday is worthy of attention and looking on with fondness. A cake can help us mark the occasion of a snow day, or the day in which we are all healthy again, or just because it’s Thursday which is almost Friday and around here that is indeed a thing to be celebrated.

This cake comes from my friend Sarah’s gorgeous baking book, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. It’s full of all the things I crave with soft twists that make me smile. Like this cake; heady with cardamom and iced with a bittersweet coffee buttercream. Of course those two flavors are natural mates as they cozy up in a cup of traditional Thai coffee – or the sort I’ve had at least but never have I thought to pair them together in a cake. Then for some reason I was reminded of the plums I had in the freezer and thought the brightness of a tart jam would sandwich the layers nicely. We loved this cake so much it has turned not one but two ordinary days into ones marked with the memory of a stunning cake and joy in the everyday.

Cardamom Cake with Plum Jam and Coffee Buttercream




Yield 10 - 12 servings

Cake recipe adapted (oh so subtly) from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book


Cardamom Cake

3 large eggs

2 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the buttercream)

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup sour cream

2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

Plum Preserves

1 pound fresh or frozen plums, pitted and halved

1/4 cup sugar

Coffee Buttercream

1 1/4 cups sugar

5 large egg whites

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso


For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 8 by 2-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Whisk together the eggs, yolks, vanilla, and sour cream in a liquid measuring cup or medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and orange zest (if using). Turn the mixer on low and mix until everything is combined. Add the butter while the mixer is still running and continue to mix until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Slowly add half of the wet ingredients and beat until combined. Add the remainder of the wet ingredients, speed up the mixer to medium speed then beat for 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, with a spatula. Finish the batter by stirring with the spatula a few more times.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the top.

Bake for 17 to 22 minutes or until the cakes are golden brown and pulling away from the edges of the pan ever so slightly.

Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment and let cool completely. Once cool, the cakes can be wrapped in plastic. Well wrapped the cakes will keep in the freezer for one month. OR let’s get frosting!

For the jam:

Combine the plums and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes or until the plums start to break down and the juices look like warm honey.

For the frosting:

Combine the sugar and about 1/4 water in a small saucepan.

Bring the sugar to a boil then cook until 238° (soft ball stage) or until you can blow a sugar bubble through a fork (be careful!)

While the sugar cooks whip the egg whites to soft peaks.

Carefully stream the sugar down the side of the bowl with the machine running on medium speed.

Increase the speed and whip until stiff peaks form and the bowl is no longer hot.

Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Whip until smooth.It may look like a mess but keep whipping until it comes together.

Add the vanilla extract, coffee (or espresso) and salt.

Pipe a border around the edge of the first cake layer. Fill with the jam. Add the other cake on top then cover the layers in frosting, starting with a thin layer just to cover the crumbs. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or until the frosting is firm. Add another layer of frosting then decorate however you like.

Our first cake was topped with a light layer of salty sprinkles which was completely delicious.

Courses dessert