Comfort me with cardamom
Outside Oslo’s Daytona Strong on the soothing effects of cardamom, a staple spice in the world of Norwegian baking
Sometimes all it takes is a smell. It might be jasmine floating on the gentle breeze or a waft of cologne that reminds you of an old friend. A scent can conjure up a wave of memories so concrete and so real that you can almost feel the exact sensation of the past on your skin, almost feel the presence of those who were there at a certain time there with you again. For me, that scent is cardamom.
I’ve tried for years to figure out the makeup of the fragrance of my late grandparents’ house. Homey and warm and well-seasoned, perhaps sometimes a little stale, it would greet my parents and I every time we stepped inside for a visit. Several years after the house was sold, that scent took me back to so many memories from my youth when I walked into the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, just two miles away from my grandparents’ old home. I was there for a Norwegian language class on a spring evening in 2008, and as I walked down the hall in the century-old brick building, it was like I was walking into a piece of my past.
It’ll take much more olfactory training on my part to pinpoint exactly what makes up that scent of memories for me, but in the meantime I have a close approximation: cardamom. Woody and spicy, slightly sweet and nutty, the tiniest amount of this spice fills the room with its aroma. When I bake with it, my house smells like a proper Norwegian’s. I don’t know how often Grandma used this spice, but it must have been one of the scents that permeated the air and lingered in the walls of her welcoming home.
From cardamom-scented sugared cranberries to cardamom cake, I love finding excuses to incorporate cardamom into my baking. After tasting some unique berry caramels spiced with a hint of pepper from a Seattle farmers market recently, I got to thinking that cardamom might make an interesting flavor for caramels. These orange-cardamom confections are the result.
Recipe by Daytona Strong, Outside Oslo
2 cups orange juice, strained through a fine mesh sieve
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon cardamom
Prepare an 8-inch square baking pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and buttering the bottom and sides.
Bring the orange juice to a boil in a medium-sized heavy saucepan, allowing it to briskly boil until it’s reduced to 1/3 cup. Add the two sugars, butter, and cream and return to a boil, stirring constantly over medium heat until the mixture reaches 248°F, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract and cardamom. Pour the caramel into the pan and let set overnight.
The next day, remove the caramel from the pan by inverting it over a cutting board. Cut into desired shape and size and wrap in wax paper.
Daytona Strong is the voice of Outside Oslo, a blog exploring her Norwegian heritage and love of great food. She is the newest contributor to the Norwegian American Weekly. Check out her blog at http://outsideoslo.blogspot.com.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 19, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.