Sometimes food stays with you for a really long time. Years ago, my sister and I took our mum to an incredible ‘High Chai’ afternoon tea at Cinnamon Soho in London. The dishes were all spins on English afternoon tea staples: finger sandwiches full of tandori chicken and punchy chutney; scones with a tangy spiced relish; cups of masala chai. But the thing that really stood out for me was an unassuming slice of cake spiced with garam masala. Spicy, sweet and moreish, it was everything I wanted from a cake, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
That experience must have been three years ago now, but it’s taken that long for me to think about using garam masala in sweet cooking myself. I’ve been making my own garam masala since getting the Rick Stein book India, several recipes from which are in firm rotation for weeknight dinners and when we have friends round (I go on about the kidney bean curry with loads of ginger, yogurt and lime juice to everyone). Rick talks really passionately about the importance of making garam masala fresh regularly, and as soon as I tried I was a convert. The fragrance and depth of flavour you get from roasting and grinding your own spices is so worth it, and you can customise the blend to your own needs.
So many of the spices that go into garam masala are also present in spice blends used for sweet baking around the world, like the cardamon present in Scandinavian buns and cakes, cloves that flavour German Lebkuchen and cinnamon in English hot cross buns, so don’t be put off if you think it sounds like a bit of a stretch. Even coriander and cumin seeds have a lovely fragrance that taste delicious within the blend. I added a yogurt glaze for a bit of tanginess, and to lift the sweet, spiced cake.
The final loaf is perfect to have with a cup of English Breakfast tea or masala chai, and is incredibly easy to make! There’s also the added bonus that you’ll have some garam masala left over to make curries for your dinner too. Can’t see any downsides here!
Recipe: Garam Masala Loaf Cake
Ingredients – Garam Masala (from Rick Stein’s India)
1tbsp black peppercorns
2tbsp cumin seeds
2tbsp coriander seeds
2tsp cardamon seeds (about 30-40 pods)
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg
Ingredients – Cake (loosely adapted from a recipe in Leith’s Baking Bible)
225g golden syrup
225g unsalted butter
170g light brown sugar
225g plain flour
55g self-raising flour
3tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 eggs, beaten
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Ingredients – glaze
1 tbsp plain yogurt mixed with 1-2 tbsp water
200g icing sugar
- First, make the garam masala. Heat up a frying pan to a medium heat and dry fry all of the spices except for the nutmeg for a minute or a so until fragrant.
- Let the spices cool. Grate the nutmeg. Add all of the spices to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. If you don’t have an electric grinder, do in batches in a pestle and mortar.
- Preheat the oven to 170C fan. Line 1 large or several small loaf tins with greaseproof paper. Heat the syrup, sugar and butter until melted and leave until cool enough to stick your finger in. In a seperate bowl put the flours and garam masala, and whisk to combine. Add the eggs and vanilla to the syrup mix and beat. Pour the syrup mix into the dry ingedients and mix until lumps have disappeared.
- Heat the milk gently until about blood temperature, add the bicarb and quickly mix into the cake mix. Pour into the prepared tins and bake. Small loaves will take 30-35 minutes, and larger ones 45-55 mins. To test if cooked, insert a cocktail stick. If it comes out clean, take out of the oven and leave to cool.
- To make the glaze, mix together the icing sugar and yogurt mixture until you have a pourable consistency. Spoon over the cake once cool to the touch.