Cardamom Layer Cake with Marmalade Mascarpone

Recently, I failed spectacularly at something. Not only did I fail, but I did so in front of one of my heroes. Want to hear about it? Of course you do. Schadenfreude is real. So get comfy, keep reading, and consider this a gift.

A few weeks ago I saw that my favourite bakery in London was in need of a new baker. Despite never having worked in a professional kitchen or having attended a cooking school, I decided to say what the fuck and give it my best effort. I composed the most thoughtful and succinct email I could and sent it off, never expecting to get a response.

Imagine my excitement when I received a reply inviting me to an interview and instructing me to bring along two different baked goods to taste. I thumbed through all my cookbooks for inspiration. I reread my recipes here. After days of waffling, I decided on a lemon chess pie or what I like to call a Blue Horizon pie and something completely new.

I wanted to bring in a layer cake as this bakery specializes in them, and while I do the classics rather well, I wanted this one to have a touch of the exotic. Cardamom sponge with marmalade mascarpone is what I made. The sponge was Melissa Clark’s from her Cardamom Cream Cake recipe featured in The New York Times (with omission of the rosewater), but the syrup to soak the sponge and the marmalade mascarpone were all mine.

The morning of my interview, Storm Doris was blowing up a gale. And there was a tube strike. I left the flat at 7:15 which I thought left me ample time to get to the bakery by 9 a.m. Keep in mind that my arms were full of an enormous cake box and a pie. Both of which I managed to carry north of the river and through three train stations without a hitch.

When I exited the last train station, I figured I’d get a cab the rest of the way. Nope. There wasn’t a single one. So I thought I’d do what any person living in a city in 2017 would do. I ordered a pickup from Uber. Due to the weather and the strike, traffic was terrible. The car took forever. My heart felt relieved when I got a notification saying it was arriving. Then, I got a notification saying it was cancelled.

The driver cancelled! I didn’t even know that was allowed. And I’d been standing in the rain. Holding a cake box and a pie. I didn’t know what to do so I just headed in the general direction I needed to go. That’s when I saw a cab. Who drove right past me.

I checked the time. It was 9 o’clock. I called the bakery to say I was so sorry but I’d be at least another 20 minutes. I kept walking. Finally a good Samaritan asked if I needed help. I explained everything to her and she said she was taking a bus to that area and I should follow her.

As I boarded the bus, a manchild with an enormous backpack pushed past me and I dropped my cake, I dropped my pie, and I almost started to cry. After picking them up, I reached into my pocket for my ATM card which is how I swipe in and out of public transportation these days. It wasn’t there.

I begged the driver to let me off. I took a minute and screamed like a madwoman in the street then I started to retrace my steps. Mercifully I found my card on the pavement three blocks back in the same spot where I had pulled out my mobile. As I stood there in my soggy coat, with my frizzy hair, and my busted baked goods, I thought about calling it a day and going home.

For whatever fool-headed reason, I decided to keep going. Call it my Elizabeth Warren moment because. . .

Nevertheless, she persisted.

When I made it to the bakery and they asked who I was I said I was the hot mess who was embarrassingly late to meet with the owner. Believe it or not, she ate my broken cake and my pie. She even had her staff sample them too and I got called in for a trial day. I didn’t get the job and if I’m honest, I never expected I would. Actually, I never expected an interview. But I am very proud of this particular failure. Without it, I wouldn’t have this story to share nor this recipe. I hope you enjoy them both.

Broken cake is the best cake.

Sponge ingredients:

170 g softened butter

330 g 00 flour

4 large egg whites

240 ml whole milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

300 g caster or granulated sugar

20 grams baking powder

the contents of 12 cardamom pods ground to a powder with a mortar & pestle

1/4 tsp salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350°F/177°C/Gas 4.

Grease, flour, and line two 9″ cake tins.

In a medium bowl, lightly whisk together the egg whites, milk, and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and salt with an electric mixer on a low speed. Only about 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and 1/3 of the milk-egg mixture. Mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium and beat until everything is smooth.

Add the remaining milk-egg mixture in three batches.

Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 25-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in the tins on a rack for 20 minutes before unmolding them.

While the cakes finish cooling, make the syrup.

 

Syrup ingredients:

The juice of 2 oranges

the contents of 4 cardamom pods

3 tbsp caster or granulated sugar

1 tsp water

 

Method: 

Bring all ingredients to a boil and simmer until reduced by half. Let the syrup cool completely before using it.

 

Marmalade mascarpone frosting ingredients:

500 g mascarpone

85 g cream cheese

85 g marmalade (I use my own homemade which is not as sweet as most commercial brands. Take this into account when making your frosting. If your marmalade is sweet, you will not need as much sugar.)

the zest of 1 orange

2 tbsp icing/powdered sugar

 

Method: 

Use an electric mixer to combine the ingredients together until creamy. Do not overmix. Taste it. If you want it sweeter, add more sugar but only a small spoonful at a time. If you want it a little sharper, add more zest and marmalade.

 

To assemble the cake:

While your cake layers are still on the rack, brush them with some syrup. Be sure to get their sides as well as their tops. Beware you don’t saturate the cakes. You only want to add some moisture, not make them soggy. Leave them for a minute.

Select a cake plate or a stand that you want to use.

Put wide strips of wax paper around the plate.

Place your first cake layer on top of the paper. This will make cleaning up much easier.

Spread some of the marmalade mascarpone onto this layer. I like it about half an inch thick.

Put the second cake layer on top. Repeat with the marmalade mascarpone.

I coiled a piece of orange shred from my marmalade and placed it in the center of my cake. You don’t have to, but I think it looks nice.

Remove the strips of paper and you’re ready.

 

 

 

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Masala Chai for Afternoon Ennui

When life is too colorless to continue and like Dorothy you’ve clicked the shit out your ruby-bottomed Louboutins to no avail, forget Starbucks.  Make your own chai instead.  With one sip you will be transported to the shores of French Colonial Pondicherry where life smells of jasmine, desserts taste like roses, and sounds from the Bay of Bengal lull chubby princesses like myself to sleep.

Ingredients:

2 cups water

1/4-1/2 cup milk, depending on your preference

2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks

1/2 vanilla bean sliced down the center or a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

the contents of 6 cardamom pods

2 twists of a pepper mill

2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

3 black teabags without bergamot (a strong English breakfast would do nicely)

2 tablespoons Demerara sugar ( more if you prefer it quite sweet)

Method:

Bring the water to a boil.  When it does, add all ingredients EXCEPT for the sugar and milk.  Let bubble for three minutes then simmer for two.

boiling up close boil

Next, turn the heat down to low and add the milk.  Stir often to avoid scalding and also to prevent the milk from forming a skin.  After a couple more minutes of stewing, take off the heat and stir in the sugar.  Now strain your tea into a small pot (my favorite strainer is the top hat model from Fortnum & Mason) and pretend you never tasted the “chai” at your local coffee bar.

straining pouring chai

Post scriptum: The word chai means tea in Hindi so when coffee shops have “chai tea” on the menu they’re being redundant.  Now you know two things they don’t.  1.  How to make proper chai.  2.  The definition of said word.

Strawberry Rosewater Popsicles with Cardamom

strawberry rosewater with cardamom

Today’s recipe was inspired by the exotic flavors of Mashti Malone’s, my favorite ice cream in all of L.A.  In case you don’t know, this little shop on La Brea is owned by two Iranian brothers who pack the magic of the ancient world into their products.  My favorite treat of theirs is the orange blossom ice cream.  It tastes like a flower garden frozen in cream.  One bite and I feel like a fictional Persian princess ready to take a carpet ride with my loyal pet tiger.

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, rinsed, and hulled

1/4 cup rose water

2 tablespoons honey

the contents of 2 cardamom pods

Method:

Purée all ingredients in a blender until smooth.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze at least four hours.

Big Girl Sippy Cup (an a.m. remedy for when you just have to get the taste of “What the fuck?!” out of your mouth)

The cause for needing this drink can be romance related, work related, family, foe, or in-law related.  Now before leaving the nest you created out of 600 thread count comfort, grab whatever clothing is within reach radius of the bed and put it on.  If you’re lucky, it’ll be a silk kimono.  Apply a smear of puff-reducing cream to the luggage under your eyes and let marinate under the protection of some Jackie Onassis sunglasses.  Slide your feet into some cozy slippers and ne worry plus about whatever troubles your pretty head.

Now a blending we shall go!

Ingredients:

Half a bag of frozen organic blueberries (being frozen thickens consistency)

A crudely chopped 1/4 cup of peeled ginger root (cures nausea and is a proven anti-inflammatory)

The contents of 4 large cardamom pods

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 tablespoon of flax seed oil (to keep your nose wet and your coat shiny)

1 splash of orange juice

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt (use Greek, Russian or Bulgarian for best quality and extra tang)

Honey is optional (I like this recipe best when it is sour.  However, some of my friends don’t as they don’t have quite so sour a disposition.)

Blend on high until uniformly smooth.  Not soupy, but smooth.  If the blender whirs like a Cessna in your ear, add more liquid (orange juice, soymilk, vanilla rum from St. Barth’s—I leave it to your discretion to deliver whatever your good doctor orders) and blend again.

Pour into a tall glass and sip through a straw.  Let the ginger cleanse your palette and invigorate your weary soul.  Then get thee to a salon and wash whatever ails you right out of your hair!  No hurting woman should have to have hair that looks as bad as she feels.  Not all day at least.