Sometimes the old recipes are the best. Old is a relative term, of course. To me, old recipes are the ones you've been making for years and years, and although, if you're lucky, they've been handed down to you through your family, not all of us have a rich culinary tradition from which to draw. My mother, as I've mentioned before, cooked like most mothers did during the sixties; cans, ground beef, frozen vegetables, and powdered garlic (occasionally) mostly dominated the evening meal. Sometimes she strayed into Julia Child territory, but that was primarily for dinner parties and other special occasions.
Since you can't really hand down a canned ham recipe (open can, score diagonally, sprinkle with brown sugar, stud with pineapple rings, bake until hot--there, you can so), I learned most of my cooking from books. One of my first purchases, once I was living in my own apartment during college, was Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. My boyfriend (and future husband) and his roommates would throw big brunches on Sundays back in those days, where friends would bring everything from homemade egg rolls to sugar-powdered crepes. There I had my first taste of cardamom coffee cake and fell in love.
Rich and packed with lots of butter, sour cream, and nuts, this particular coffee cake stays profoundly, deeply dense and moist for over a week (if it lasts that long). The unexpected perfume of cardamom laced with cinammon gives this cake an exotic glamour that ordinary coffee cakes, languishing in their little Sara Lee boxes, can only imagine in their dusty daydreams. Gratitude will involuntarily overflow if you make this cake ahead and slice into it on the first morning of the new year.
Mollie Katzen's Cardamom Coffee Cake (slightly streamlined)
1 lb. unsalted butter, softened
2 c. packed light brown sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
4 c. (1 lb., 5 oz.) unbleached flour
2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 T. powdered cardamom
2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or oil a 10-inch bundt pan. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with 2 cups brown sugar until light
and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in
Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cardamom in a separate bowl.
Add the flour mixture, 1/3 of it at a time, to the butter mixture, alternating with the sour cream. Mix and, if using a stand mixer, scrape down the sides with each additon.
In another, smaller bowl, combine 1/4 c. brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts.
Spoon approximately 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with half the nut mixture, then add another third of the batter. Cover with remaining nut mixture, then top with remaining batter. Lightly spread into place.
Bake approximately 1-1/4 hours (85 minutes) or until a knife inserted all the way in comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto a plate. Cool completely, wrap tightly, and serve the next day--when it's even better than the first.
Seves many for several days.