Spices bring warmth to desserts and baked sweets, as much as they do savoury dishes. The French have their quatre épices, which uses a blend of cinnamon (pepper for the savoury version), nutmeg, cloves and allspice. Cardamom and fenugreek bring wonderful fragrance to Middle Eastern cooking, and there are a million variations of gingerbread, like the Dutch classic speculaas.
To celebrate the classic marriage of sugar and spice, this simple almond cake can be infused with a blend of spices, including cardamom, allspice and cinnamon. Plus, it's gluten-free.
How to make spice cake, step by step
1 Dry roast whole spices (1 cinnamon quill, seeds from 20 cardamom pods and 12 allspice berries) in a frying pan over medium heat until fragrant (2 minutes), then finely grind in a mortar and pestle.
If you want to use ground spices, you can skip this step (use 1½ tsp ground cinnamon, and 1 tsp each cardamom and allspice).
2 Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line a 20cm round cake tin with baking paper.
3 Beat 150gm softened butter, 80gm demerara sugar, 2 tbsp honey, spices and a pinch of salt in an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
4 Add 3 small eggs, one at a time, beating between additions until just combined.
5 Stir through 350gm finely ground blanched almonds, 1 tsp baking powder and 60ml (½ cup) buttermilk, then spread mixture into tin and bake until a skewer comes out clean (40-45 minutes). Stand cake in tin for 5 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
6 Serve cake simply dusted with icing sugar or drizzle with a few spoonfuls of orange syrup and spread with yoghurt icing. Decorate with candied orange and scatter with pistachio nuts and serve. (See below for orange syrup, yoghurt icing and candied orange recipes.)
Candied orange and orange syrup
Thinly slice an orange and place slices in a saucepan. Cover with 150gm caster sugar and 150ml water, along with one split and scraped vanilla bean and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until orange is candied (30 minutes). Set aside to cool, then refrigerate until required.
Whisk 150gm mascarpone, 150gm thick pot-set Greek yoghurt (strain whey) and 35gm sieved icing sugar until smooth and dollop-thick. Fold through the scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean. Refrigerate until required.