I had every intention of writing this really long, heartfelt post and I actually started it. Then I thought about whose day I was celebrating and I went back and deleted it all, because that really isn't mum's thing. For her birthday, every year, I'll go into the card store and look up and down the mother's birthday card section, picking them up, grimacing, putting them down. She's not really the one for cute rabbits; not for the low-brow jokes about getting older, never in a million years would I send her a note about 'putting your feet up". Last year, I settled on a card with a toaster on the front that read 'Mum - you're the best thing since sliced bread'.
Is it weird that bread reminds me of her? Bread. There's comfort in a sliced loaf, something familiar. In that every piece, whatever the kind, whether it's dark and seeded or white and airy, it's kind of known. And that's what Mum is like. No matter where I am, where we are, what I ask, she stays the same. Sure, we all have off days, but somehow she manages to push that off-ness away, so that she can always do what's best for me. There's something unselfish about a slice of bread. Bread tastes good on it's own, it's a vehicle for sweet jam, or you can get a nourishing meal out of it when the loaf is wholemeal spelt. She is the most generous person I know. Generous is an under statement, I sometimes wonder if she knows how to think about herself. She'll go in the car for hours, driving unknown darkened highways in February sleet when buses leave us at airports. She's sat in the freezing car while we're at the gym, she has a long commute every day since she wanted us to reach school in half an hour. I always thank her, when she does something, but it's like thanking your piece of toast. You regret the words as soon as they come out of your mouth. The toast will never reply, but with Mum, the words are just inadequate.
When we fight, I cry, she hates it. Most of the time I'm not even upset because I care so much about what a actually led to the fight, but more because I hate the fight in the first place. She says everything because she knows it's the best for me. I wonder where she can find it - find the energy, the brain capacity to keep us all afloat. Every morning, she remembers things. Call your insurance, I've left money on the desk, don't forget a house key, I've called a taxi, there's stuff in the wash, but leave it, I'll sort it when I'm home. One breath. As I've grown up I've come to roll my eyes at that stereotypic 'super-mum' (super-mom?) image that's drawn everywhere. Why do they have to be yoga teachers wearing leggings, sipping kombucha in Venice Beach, while completing the school run and loading three washes? Or otherwise do they have to be single mothers who've adopted three abused kids and now have started a charity? Or must they wear power suits and killer heels, and have men shaking at board meetings? Why can't we just acknowledge those that are like my mum? They're the ones who make the world go round. No killer heels (anymore. I've seen her wedding photos) and god forbid the leggings and green juice. But here's the kid who's never gone to school without a cooked breakfast, never been the only one without a certain brand, been the only one to eat a homemade sandwich at lunch. And she never complained, never asked for the board room or the board walk, she ate her toast, fed us ours, we've laughed a lot.
She often thinks she's made mistakes as a parent, which I guess all mothers do. I'll never agree with her. I am my own person as much as I am hers. If she hadn't been the person who she is, we'd all have been left without a lifeline. The anchor of the rocky family ship; the lighthouse showing us where to go, the winds that pushed us in the right decision, the sails that drove us there. The captain, but also the navigator, probably feeling like the deckhand and the lookout. I'll never be able to thank her enough. What's a baguette without the seeds? Happy birthday Mum.
So yesterday was my mum's birthday. I think everyone struggles to find the right words and the right gifts for their mothers... you know them so well but in a way you wonder what they really need because they never say! I figured mine needed cake, so I put a few of her favourite things together and then this beauty emerged. There's a subtle exotic hint from nutmeg and cardamom, deepened by toasted pistachio. A combination of almond meal and brown rice flour keep the cake really light and with great structure for a gluten free cake. The frosting isn't very sweet, and if you're suspicious, doesn't taste overly coconutty at all. A little tropical, but pleasantly light and sticky, it's not the very thick type so doesn't distract from cake loveliness. It's a very simple but special cake, which I think is the way my mum would like it. I know she would've been happy with a wheat floury, butter filled cake, or none at all, but this is one of the few ways I can give to her, so there you have it. Hope you find a reason to make this one soon, it's not overly festive, but wouldn't be out of place on a holiday table. Enjoy the lights and cheer. Hugs xo
CARDAMOM + PISTACHIO CAKE
//gluten free + dairy free // makes one 2 layer 6inch/15cm cake
A subtly exotic layer cake with fragrant cardamom and nutmeg. Garnish this light cake with crunchy pistachios and not-too-sweet coconut frosting if you'd like something more fancy.
1/2 cup (50g) almond meal*
1/2 cup (60g) brown rice flour
2 tablespoons arrowroot starch**
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup (50g) extra virgin coconut oil, soft/ room temperature
3/4 cup (120g) light muscavado sugar (see the notes on my blondie recipe for more info about this sugar)
2 large free range eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120ml) coconut milk
// for the coconut frosting
1/3 cup (80ml) full fat coconut milk
1/3 cup (40g) powdered cane sugar***
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
preheat the oven to 180’C, 350’F. oil & line 2 6inch/15cm round cake pans, dust with flour and set aside.
start with the cake. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, arrowroot, baking powder, salt and spices, whisk so they’re combined. set aside.
in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) add the softened coconut oil and the sugar. With a hand mixer/stand mixer on low, combine the two till the oil is churned up into sugary clumps (make sure the oil is fairy soft, or there’ll be a mess here). This is like creaming. Once combined, add the eggs one at a time, beat on medium-low till combined; add the vanilla. In three additions, add the dry mix, one third at a time. After each dry addition, add 1/3 of the coconut milk, each time beating till just combined.
once mixed, pour the batter into the prepared pans. if you’d like them very even, weigh your large bowl before you start, then do some math with the weight of the pans.
Bake for 25-27 means, till a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean and the top is light golden. Allow the cakes to cool 20 minutes in the pans, then invert them onto a rack and cool completely. You can either frost immediately (which I don’t recommend, it’s easier to frost a cool cake which sheds less crumbs) or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a day, or freeze for longer.
// for the frosting
combine all the ingredients and whisk together well. It will not be very thick – this is for the drip effect on the cake, that’s fine. leave in the refrigerator till you want to frost the cake, then allow it to come to room temperature and it will loosen up again, or add a splash of coconut milk.
// to assemble
Place a little dollop of frosting on the plate/cake stand you finally would like to present your cake with, to hold the cake in place. Place one layer of cake, flat side down, over the frosting, push it into place. Cut 3 rectangles of parchment paper (or kitchen towel) and slide under the cake, so that no crumbs/frosting fall on your serving plate.
Spread a thin layer of frosting – about 4 tablespoons – over the top of the first layer, up to the edges is fine. Lay the next cake on top gently, pat it to secure into place. The decorating is really easy with this more rustic style – just add about another 4 tablespoons frosting to the top of the cake, smooth downwards over the sides onto the parchment. Make sure the top is fairly well covered, with some gaps on the sides. Sprinkle over the pistachios and remove the parchment which would’ve caught the drips.
Leftover cake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about 3 days, though the frosting will firm up a bit. Still tastes great
*almond meal is the darling of gluten free baking – it is essentially ground almonds (the name it goes under in the UK) and the high protein and fat of the nuts help contribute great structure and tenderness to your goodies. You may come across almond flour which would work too – in almond flour the nuts are blanched, skinned and ground; in almond meal they are ground with their skin. In most cases this can be a direct switch, but almond flour is usually more finely ground, so if this is crucial to a recipe (madeleines for example) a switch wouldn’t work. Almond flour is often more expensive, but almond meal can be made from whole almonds ground in a food processor.
** arrowroot powder (starch) is just a starch, similar to cornstarch or tapioca starch. It’s often used as a thickener for pies, jams etc, but in gluten free baking it helps with texture and cohesion. You can substitute another starch, but I think you could omit it all together and not notice too much. I’ve never tried – I usually add a little since it’s always worked. You can find it at most supermarkets or online.
** to make powdered cane sugar, add about 1/2 cup (100g or so) turbinado/cane sugar to a food processor and process till fine and floury. You can of course just use confectioner’s/powdered sugar, which will also be whiter. But you know me.
Last note: If you are looking for a more traditional frosting (cream cheese or a buttercream maybe), and more decorating tips, I’d recommend the Vanilla Bean Baking Book. Sarah Kieffer blogs at The Vanilla Bean Blog and her cakes are gorgeous – I remember seeing a cardamom frosting on the site (there is also one in the beautiful book).