When I was a child, we didn’t refer to cupcakes as cupcakes. What we had were buns – slightly smaller than the standard American cupcake and with much less icing. They are occasionally called fairy cakes and often are turned into butterfly buns (slice off the dome of the bun, cut it in two and stick the two halves back on the bun with buttercream to make it look like a butterfly). As children, we often made glacé icing – a very simple icing made with icing sugar and a spoonful or two of water, mixed together to form a slightly runny paste. I remember using this to ice rich tea biscuits, as a means of keeping small children entertained when there’s no time to do any actual baking.
My favourite icing is a sour cream chocolate one from Nigella Lawson’s Feast. This is partly because it’s chocolate (obviously) but also partly because the tang of the sour cream provides a great contrast to the sugar. It is of course still sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. When I was hunting for cardamom recipes, I came across one for a sour cream cardamom cake in Rachel’s Favourite Food at Home (Rachel Allen) and thought I would give it a try, but instead attempting the variation she suggests of cardamom buns. The recipe attracted me for several reasons:
- The use of cardamom in a cake. I know this is fairly traditional in parts of Scandinavia, but I’ve only ever used cardamom in savoury dishes such as chilli, and wanted to see how it would function in a cake.
- There’s no butter in the cake, making it very quick to mix up. There’s no creaming of butter and sugar, always a challenge in a Scottish tenement which rarely gets warm enough for butter to be easily cream-able at room temperature.
- The icing was a simple glace icing, a rarity in recipes these days, but made with sour cream rather than water.
It was a success. The flavour of cardamom is a bit of an acquired taste, but really grew on me. It’s sort of like nutmeg in the sense that it’s quite a strong flavour, and I suspect children would find it too much, but we really liked it. Given that I’ve not used cardamom much, it was also great to taste it in a recipe in which the cardamom really comes to the fore, which will help for using it in the future. Also, grinding seeds from cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar is a great way of getting out any frustrations that built up during the day. The icing was also a real treat. The sour cream lends a slight tang, but still remains sweet. I also tend to prefer a thin layer of icing on a cake like this, rather than a thick mound of it, as it means that you can still clearly taste the cake below. These ended up being quite grown-up treats, but highly reminiscent of the buns from my childhood, leaving me sticky-fingered after eating one.