This cardamom-kissed, brown sugar crusted, squash-battered spice cake nearly didn't happen. My oven has been on a slow, temperamental decline for months. It has always been a bit slow out of the gate, taking it's time to heat up, but generally I didn't think much of it. Fussy oven, end of story. Recently though, it has been taking the better part of an hour to get to 350F. Then, there were the times it would turn off on a whim. Poof. As if it was simply done baking for the day. And the moments when it felt compelled to belch gas. Just the sort of thing to send me into a panic. At any rate, I found myself standing in front it, promising to call the repair shop, if it would just finish up this last unassuming loaf cake without issue. And it did. And the cake was near perfect. As promised, a call was made, a part replaced, and now she hits 350F in under ten minutes.
The inspiration for this cake was a bowl of leftover roasted winter squash. I was going to make pan-fried dumpling with this squash, but at the last minute opted to make a loaf cake instead. I'd puree the squash until it was smooth and creamy, then fold it into the batter for flavor, depth, and a moist crumb. And while I call it a cake, it's not hyper sweet. It's more like a cake-like bread - in the way banana bread, or zucchini bread is cake-like.
The spices here are assertive, I didn't skimp. In turn, it might be the most wonderfully fragrant cake I've baked to date. I chose a garam masala spice blend, paired with a good amount of cinnamon, to deliver a bit of a twist as far as warming spices go. The garam masala brings the cardamom, but also a nice hit of black pepper. If you give the cake a go, let me know if you make any tweaks to the spice list. There's a lot of latitude to experiment here.
We're thinking about skipping town with the cameras at some point in the next week to visit Yosemite. I'm embarrassed to say, although I've lived within a four hour drive nearly my entire life, I've yet to visit in the winter. Thoughts, tips, things I shouldn't miss en route? -h
Brown Butter Spice Bread
If you want to get this in the oven more quickly, I can imagine skipping the browning of the butter, I also imagine pure coconut oil, just melted, could be a nice alternative to the brown butter. I used pureed winter squash, but ripe bananas would likely work as an alternative. Also, don't sweat it if you can't find a garam masala spice blend, you can experiment with another Indian curry or spice blend if you like, or pumpkin pie spices.
1/2 cup / 4 oz / 115g unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 tablespoon toasted hazelnut oil - or almond oil, or more melted butter)
1 1/2 cups / 6 oz / 170 g whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for the pan
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup / 5 oz / 140 g fine grain natural cane sugar or muscovado sugar, sifted plus another 1 1/2 tablespoons for topping
2 large eggs
1/2 cup / 4.5 oz / 130 g well-pureed roasted winter squash*
1/4 cup / 60 ml milk
1/3 cup / 1 oz / 30g lightly toasted sliced almonds
Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat until it's brown and gives off a deliciously nutty aroma. This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. You want the butter solids nicely toasted, but not scorched. Stir in the toasted hazelnut oil. Set aside and allow to cool but not set. By doing the butter first you can complete the rest of the steps while it is cooling.
Preheat oven to 350F / 180C with a rack in the top 1/3. Butter and flour a 1-lb loaf pan, or roughly 9x5x3-inch.
Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, garam masala, and sea salt into a large bowl. Set aside. In a smaller bowl whisk the sugar, eggs, squash, and milk. Whisk in the still melted butter, but make sure it isn't hot to the touch. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Fold in most of the almonds.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and remaining almonds, and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until the edges have browned and the center of the cake is well set. Do your best to avoid over-baking, part of the charm of this cake is its moistness, when it is baked properly. Use a cake tester if necessary.
*To make pureed winter squash: Roast large wedges or small cubes of skinned and seeded pumpkin, butternut squash, red kuri squash, etc. in a 375F / 190C until cooked and tender throughout. Puree with a hand blender until smooth.
Prep time: 25 minutes - Cook time: 60 minutes