Sugar and spice: Three recipes to elevate your spring baking

In her new book A Whisper of Cardamom, Eleanor Ford uses spices in intriguing and inspiring ways, as these bakes show

“A nutmeg cake is a very fine thing.” Picture: Ola O Smit

Nutmeg cake

Why was nutmeg pushed out of the mainstream of Western cooking? The wrinkled brown seeds with their curious swirled centres were once so essential to fine dining that the fashionable English gentleman would carry a silver grater and a nutmeg in his pocket, but the fad waned as the spice became more attainable.

Don’t let vanilla and cinnamon steal all the glory in baking. A nutmeg cake is still a very fine thing, especially here with an upper crust of meringue swirled into the batter before baking.

Ingredients, serves eight

130g plain flour

1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Half tsp baking powder

Half tsp bicarbonate of soda

Quarter tsp fine sea salt

230g caster sugar

60g unsalted butter at room temperature

1 egg at room temperature

120ml buttermilk at room temperature

2 egg whites at room temperature


1. Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. Grease and line a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan.

2. Whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt, then set aside.

3. With a stand mixer, beat together 130g of the sugar with the butter at medium speed. Keep going for three to four minutes until it becomes really pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg, adding a spoonful of the spiced flour if it starts to curdle.

4. With the mixer speed on low, add the flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Stop the mixer after each addition when just combined. Spread into the cake tin.

5. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they start to foam. Add the remaining sugar, spoonful by spoonful, whisking all the time. Continue whisking at high speed for a few minutes until the mixture is very thick and shiny and a pinch between the fingers feels smooth.

6. Spread the meringue directly over the batter in the tin, then use a knife to slightly swirl the two layers together. Bake for 35–40 minutes. It can be tricky to tell exactly what’s what, but a skewer poked through the meringue to the cake underneath should come out with no batter clinging to it (a little meringue squidge or cake crumb is fine).

7. Cool in the tin for about 20 minutes before unmoulding and leaving to cool completely.

“This might just be my favourite cake.” Picture: Ola O Smit

Golden lemon drizzle cake with poppy seeds

A cake that has it all: sweet, sour, fluffy, sugar-crusted crunch and luxurious filling. And then the sponge! Sunshine gold to lift any mood.

My secret is ground turmeric in the batter, which also serves to echo the slight bitterness of lemon, offsetting the sweetness, whilst a generously juicy drizzle brings intense tang. This might just be my favourite cake.

Ingredients, serves eight

200g unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing

Finely grated zest of two lemons

200g caster sugar

4 eggs at room temperature

2 tsp baking powder

Three quarters tsp ground turmeric

Quarter tsp fine sea salt

2 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)

200g plain flour

For the drizzle

100ml lemon juice

75g granulated sugar

For the filling

125g mascarpone

125g tangy lemon curd


1. Grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins, and heat the oven to 190C/170C fan.

2. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter with the lemon zest and sugar until softened. Beat in all the remaining cake ingredients except the flour.

3. Once smooth, gently fold in the flour, the divide between the two tins and level the surfaces. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are browned and springy.

4. Leaving the cakes in their tins, prick the surfaces all over with a cocktail stick. Mix the lemon juice and sugar together briefly then drizzle the liquid slowly over the two cakes, saving all the undissolved sugar to spoon over the top cake. Once the liquid has sunk in, remove the cakes from their tins and cool on a rack.

5. For the filling, swirl the mascarpone and lemon curd together. When the cakes are completely cool, sandwich them together with the lemony mixture, using the sugar-crusted cake on the top. This cake is best on the day it is made, but if keeping longer then store it in the fridge.

“Chilli and smoked salt lift and intensify the chocolate flavour.” Picture: Ola O Smit

Smoky chilli brownies

Brownies and sponge cakes are opposites. For a sponge you are doing everything for ethereal lightness: whipping in air, keeping it through careful folding, then using leavening agents to expand those air bubbles in the oven.

In a brownie you want squidgy, fudgy richness, so the reverse is called for: damp sugars, a molten batter, teetering towards the edge of under cooking. These brownies are particularly good because they are intensely chocolaty without veering into truffle territory.

There are a few tricks for this: first, a high ratio of dark chocolate along with an additional kick of cocoa powder. Second, wholemeal flour to give a slight nubbly heft, just enough to add interest.

Finally, a couple of flavour enhancers – chilli and smoked salt both serve to lift and intensify the chocolate flavour without taking over. Choose a Mexican ground chilli such as pasilla or ancho, which bring a mild, complex warmth that matches the chocolate wonderfully.

If using a chilli like cayenne, which is more about heat than flavour, scale back to a couple of pinches. You can also take these brownies in the direction of Mexican hot chocolate by dusting the tops with cinnamon after cooking.

Ingredients, makes 12 brownies

200g good quality dark chocolate, 70 per cent cocoa solids

100g unsalted butter

135g wholemeal spelt flour

30g unsweetened cocoa powder

Third of a tsp baking powder

Half tsp fine sea salt

2 tsp pasilla or ancho chilli powder, or two pinches of cayenne

2 large eggs

135g light muscovado or light soft brown sugar

135g caster sugar

Smoked sea salt flakes, for sprinkling


1. Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan.

2. Break the chocolate into squares and melt with the butter in a bowl set above just-simmering water. Leave to cool slightly.

3. Whisk together all the dry ingredients to break down any lumps – the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and chilli.

4. In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk the eggs and two sugars together to a light, fluffy mass. Slowly mix in the melted chocolate followed by the dry ingredients, just to combine.

5. Spread out the mixture in the tin and scatter the top lightly with the flaky sea salt. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the brownies are set with a faint wobble. Leave to cool and firm in the tin before cutting into squares.

A Whisper of Cardmom is out now

A Whisper of Cardamom: Sweetly Spiced Recipes to Fall in Love With by Eleanor Ford, with photography by Ola O Smit, is published by Murdoch Books, price £26