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Notes from a Food Blog: Cardamom Breakfast Buns

The scent of cardamom warmed my kitchen as the snow fell. The first time I tasted cardamom, it was the spice that scented sweet breakfast bread that a friend had baked. I was 24, living in a fourth floor walk-up apartment in Washington, D.C. My friend Char lived next door — our kitchens opened onto the same fire escape.

Char had a way with spices. When my apartment was filled with the smell of burned popcorn, Char suggested that I simmer a tablespoon of mixed pickling spices in a saucepan of water to get rid of the smell. She served hot tea with lime slices that were dotted with whole cloves. Slow-cooked, steel-cut oats topped with heavy cream and brown sugar tasted even better when she sprinkled freshly ground allspice on top. I have whole cloves, allspice and mixed pickling spices in my pantry and use them all, but it was the scent and flavor of cardamom that made me remember Char when I made a batch of cardamom buns last weekend. Here’s how I did it:

Cardamom Buns

1 cup whole milk, heated to 100 degrees

4 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

3/4 cups granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon molasses

2 eggs

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon ground cardamom

4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, warm to room temperature

2 teaspoons water

I combined the warm milk, yeast and a teaspoon of granulated sugar in the bowl of my stand mixer and stirred it. When the yeast and sugar had dissolved, I set it aside for five minutes. When the milk was foamy, I added the granulated sugar, molasses, one egg, the melted butter, kosher salt and cardamom.

When the mixture was combined, I added the flour, one cup at a time, stirring after each addition. I added one cup of raisins to the bowl and after six minutes of kneading, the dough was smooth and elastic. I transferred the dough to a lightly buttered bowl, covered it with a cloth napkin and let it rise in a warm place. After an hour, the dough had doubled in size and was ready to be formed into buns.

I deflated the dough, cut it in half and formed each piece into a ball and used a rolling pin to roll one ball into a 10-by-16 inch rectangle.

For the filling, I combined the brown sugar, ground ginger and chopped walnuts. I spread half of the softened, unsalted butter onto the dough and then sprinkled half of the sugar/walnut mixture evenly across the butter. I rolled the dough up tightly, to form a 16-inch log, and used a serrated knife to cut the log into 10 slices. I arranged the slices in a greased, 9-inch round cake pan about half an inch apart and repeated this process with the other ball of dough.

I covered the buns with cloth napkins and put them to rise in a warm spot. In about an hour, the buns had doubled in size. I painted the tops of the buns with an egg wash made by beating together one egg and two teaspoons of water before putting them into an oven that had been preheated to 400 degrees. In 18 minutes, the edges were beginning to brown and the buns were baked. I didn’t bake them until they were golden brown because I didn’t want them to be dry.

I used a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook to knead the dough, but the dough can be made the old-fashioned way, with a bowl, a wooden spoon and kneading by hand on a lightly floured board.

As the snow fell on Saturday afternoon, my husband Charles and I enjoyed warm cardamom buns with a cup of tea scented and flavored with clove-studded lime slices. I put the rest of the buns in the freezer. Each morning since, I’ve zapped a bun in the microwave for 35 seconds and have been transported back to that fire escape and fond memories of cooking and laughing with Char. It’s been even better than connecting on Facebook.

Carol Egbert lives in Quechee. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com.