Even though it has been well over a month since Christmas and people have been most recently caught up in Superbowl wings, nachos, and chili, I’m still thinking about one food item from Christmas: cardamom bread. I think I had four slices in one sitting.
Most likely, my first experience with this special spice was when I made cardamom coffee cake in 6th grade for a food heritage event at school. Like so many fellow classmates, I am predominantly of Irish descent and figured that everyone would bring Irish Soda Bread or a boiled dinner as their dish. Despite being fervently proud of my Irish heritage, I wanted to make something more unusual, so I turned to my 1/8 Swedish heritage for inspiration. Mom helped me make my father’s mother’s Swedish Coffee Cake (this is what Grammy called it) in honor of her father, who arrived in the United States via Stockholm in the early part of the 20th century.
I find it fascinating that cardamom, in addition to being one of the world’s most expensive spices, is predominant in two food cultures that couldn’t be more dissimilar, Scandinavian and Indian. How did that happen? I always think of cardamom as that sweet, woodsy scent in chai tea and of course, in sweet breakfast breads and coffee cakes. It has similar qualities to nutmeg, and is frequently used in both sweet and savory cooking.
On December 26, we sat down to breakfast of local scrambled eggs, famous bacon from Groton’s own Blood Farm, and lightly tasted cardamom bread my mom picked up somewhere in her travels. Forget the bacon and eggs, I kept toasting more slices and slathering on the butter. Almost resembling a braided challah bread, this loaf was the perfect balance of cardamom’s ethereal flavor and a slight sweetness that once toasted, ever so slightly, was perfection.
Next time I make this bread, I plan to increase the amount of sugar by at least 1/4 cup and use coarser sugar to sprinkle on the top. Need I even mention how good this would be as French toast?
Cardamom breakfast bread adapted from cooks.com (makes two large loaves)
2 packages yeast
1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks)
3/4 cup sugar (note: I prefer a slightly sweeter dough)
1 tsp. salt
8 cups flour (note: I ended up using more like 7 cups)
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2 cups milk
poppy seeds for sprinkling on top
1/2 cup warm water
Scald milk and melt sticks of butter into milk. Set aside, cooling to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water (110-115 degrees) and after a few minutes, add to lukewarm milk and butter mixture. Add cardamom, sugar, egg, salt, and 4 cups of flour, mixing well. Gradually add 3-4 cups more of flour, kneading until dough comes together. Set aside, cover with a towel, and let double in size (for about 40 minutes).
Knead again and cut dough in half. Cut each half into three pieces. Shape into long round pieces and braid (I find it best to roll out the pieces, let rest a few minutes, and then go back to braid). Let braided loaf raise a second time for two hours on baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 and brush with egg or milk and sprinkle with sugar and poppy seeds. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a thermometer reads 190 degrees F.
Note: I’ve found with breads and yeast doughs that if they act tough or too springy to shape, just let them rest for a few minutes to relax the gluten before rolling or shaping.