Happy New Year to all of my lovely readers. I hope you were able to take some time off in December and relax with your friends and family.
Tea is served in my in-laws’ home like clockwork at 4.30pm. Every day. The tea cups arrive on a tea trolley (yes, in Pakistan we still have those), both tiers lined with beautiful white linen and assorted teacups my father-in-law collected over the years from the antique markets in Paris’ 18th.And there is always cake – homemade cake – which my mother-in-law, Yassi prepares herself. There is a loaf cake studded with candied fruit, perfect with a cup of black, very tannic tea, which I love. And on other afternoons there is a sticky and dense date cake which tastes like a dark molasses. We add a blob of clotted cream and have it with cups of cardamom tea.
It is so decadent, but when we visit family in Pakistan during the winter break, everything revolves around food.
Breakfast is usually a masala omelette, eaten with lots of fresh butter and toast on the side, and then lunch could be at home where there is invariably a spicy meat and vegetable stew – my favourite being slow-cooked mutton with chana dal lentils; dal gosht. If lunch is next door at my husband’s Uncle and Aunt’s home, there are all sorts of fried treats. In particular, I adore their cook Saghir’s legendary chapli kebab which are seared beautifully on the outside with every bite yielding soft, spiced meat on the inside, studded with crushed, dried pomegranate seeds and tomatoes. The date and tamarind chutney on the side is tart, sweet and spicy; perfect for dousing the kebabs with before I wrap them up in fresh, light-as-air, homemade chapatis.
And yet, there is still space in the stomach for the simple cakes Yassi makes, which we share thick slices of at 4.30pm.
This loaf cake is the sort of treat Yassi would make for our afternoon tea sessions. It is a reminder for me to slow down a bit and enjoy time with my family and friends. There are moments when I am at home and feel so guilty when I am not doing something “productive” – cooking, organising, planning, tidying up after my son, doing paperwork, reading something important – which is a ridiculous way for me to think, I admit. However, I am sure many of you feel that way, too. It is rare that I just sit back on the weekend and have a cuppa and something sweet with it. But tea time reminds me of all the good things in life: my family in Pakistan, my mother-in-law, the bakeries in Lahore which smell of sugar, aniseed and cumin, my mother and her rusk-dipped-in-tea habit, my father’s preference for having biscuits (cookies) with his tea and my excitement when a plate of spicy tempura come out on the tea trolley to enjoy with the rest of the family. The best part has always been the fight amongst us cousins over the assorted crisp treats – who was going to get the much sought-after aubergine one?
I hope you enjoy this cardamom cake and get rid of all feelings of guilt for “doing nothing” – except enjoying some cake, tea and gossip with your family and friends.
*1 tsp baking powder
*1/2 tsp salt
*175g or 200g granulated white sugar (I use 175g because I like it less sweet.)
*150g unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
*1 tsp pure vanilla extract (I use this one, please use real vanilla extract, I promise, it makes all the difference.)
*150g full fat sour cream
*3 small eggs (the eggs we buy are tiny; they are from an Amish farmers’ co-op. If you are using large eggs, 2 will do)
*8 cardamom pods
*Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a 23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin with parchment paper.
*Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Sift and set aside.
*Remove seeds from their pods. Discard pods. Crush seeds in a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, wrap the seeds in a newspaper and crush with a rolling pin (or the base of your frying pan). The seeds should not be crushed to a dust. The result should look like freshly cracked pepper. Set aside.
*Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy (my Kitchenaid Professional mixer is not optimal for creaming butter and sugar in small batches, many others feel the same way; I use a hand mixer).
*Add vanilla extract and sour cream and continue mixing till incorporated.
*Add eggs one by one; mix well.
*In batches, by hand (not using a hand mixer), gently fold in the flour, salt and baking powder mixture and cardamom seeds. Take care not to overmix the batter.
*Transfer into lined loaf tin and place in the middle of the oven for 50-55 minutes or until a cake tester/skewer/toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
*Don’t wait till the cake cools down, this is lovely when it is hot out of the oven. It will break and crumble a bit, but it is delicious.