Comfort in Cardamom

I’ve never been to Scandinavia. I like the followings things; dark evenings, long summer days, berries, mountains reflected in water, alpine forests, artisan food products (cheese in particular), gingerbread, cinnamon buns, rye, dead-pan humour, cold air, crackling fires, design and illustration, quirky music, pale irises, Nordic tales, knitting, and good coffee . It’s bizarre to me, and to those who know me, that I have never set foot in Finland, Norway or Sweden. I’m concerned that, if I go, one of the following two things will happen; my idealist fantasy of the northern realm will be demolished and I will come home disappointed and lacking in aspirations OR I will go and never want to come back and will have to brave the long, lonely road to cultural adaptation. Either way I’m getting bored of hearing myself say “I really must go to Sweden and eat real Swedish Cinnamon Buns”.

Baking is split, in my head, into two distinct behaviours; finicky French Patisserie and humble home baking. Patisserie is technically obsessive, perfectly light and is, in essence, an art. Home baking is darker, denser and often more askew. Patisserie has wow factor and professional satisfaction and home baking exudes love, warmth and tradition. When it comes to baking at home I, of course, covet all things Scandinavian. My preference for darker flours and warm spices means that I find myself poring over recipes for Rutabega (Swedish Nutmeg Cake), Cardamom Tea Cake, Toscakka and Mandel Kakor (Almond Cake and Almond Slices). I’m wooed by names like ‘Finnish Spoon Cookies’, ‘Visiting Cake’, and ‘Swedish Princess Cake’. My interest extends beyond sweet things and has me snaffling recipes for dark Rye Breads, Knäckebröd and Potato Lefse. Aside from baking I love the aniseed flavours of dill, the sharp tang of pickling juice and the salty sweetness of cured fish. Meatballs in a mellow, allspice speckled cream with lingonberry jam is so earthy, so festive it is impossible not to think of wood smoke and cold, night air.

Along with a big, fluffy loaf cake the thing I enjoy producing most when home baking is an excessively large batch of biscuits. There is something so assuring about relaying tray after tray of sweet, round discs into the oven and forking them, in their dozens, onto a cooling rack until they are crisp enough to be clattered into a pile. Filling a large tin (has to be garishly patterned or illustrated and previously owned by your Grandmother) with homemade biscuits makes every thought about a cup of tea all the more soothing. Dabbling in Scandinavian themes I flavoured these biscuits with Cardamom, such a complicated spice, an indefinable flavour somewhere between citrus and floral, much like Earl Grey. They are a simple shortbread dough that is rolled into a log, rolled in chopped pistachios and chilled until completely solid before being sliced into little, fudgy pale circles and baked until golden. They filled the house with the most wonderful scent of butter and citrus, floral notes and, upon eating, provide the most enchanting inner audio of cracking and crumbling.

I won’t include a recipe as I followed someone else’s to the letter, this type of biscuit is so easy to find. If you have a good shortbread recipe just follow that and add a teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom.

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