Monday, September 16, 2019

Blackberry Cardamom Cake (Gluten free! Or not!)

Oh, hello, my loves! I am writing you from the crying pit of vipers otherwise known as September. Did your children go to college and leave you? I'm sorry! They suck. And even the ones at home still are probably off all day at high school, like assholes. Sigh. I am now the person who leans over, all melty and wobbly and weird, to speak to people at the store with babies in their shopping carts. "Ooh, lucky!" I like to say, because I can't remember how much it sucked to be scouting out a ripe cantaloupe while someone in a single zippery piece of clothing started to make the prewailing warning sounds of naptime misery.

I made Ben play one last, gloomy game of Booby-Trap with me before he left.
I will admit, under duress, that the second year of Ben going has been easier than the first. Even though he was home all summer and all any of us could do was drape ourselves over him in loving,  smothering relief. Birdy spent the first few days after his departure lying angrily on the floor and announcing, "Benny went back to college like a stupid fuckhole. Jesus FUCK." #theappledoesntfallfaretc

Back in the summer, we were laughing!
Anyhoo, I wrote some things since last we met! A piece about leaving for college here. Lots of recipes here. A little something about kids and chores here (scroll down for the more actionable piece of the article). Something totally weird here.

I also read some things. Lots of things. Some so incredible I may read them again: this and this and this and this, for example. And this.

And I did some baking. Onto the recipe portion of this brief missive.

I should mention that the berries will sink to the bottom. At least mine did!
Blackberry Cardamom Cake
For the past seven or so years, I’ve worked a weekly shift at our local survival center, serving lunch to hungry folks. Mostly I do this because I get a kick out of my own helpfulness, as well as out of the sustaining friendships I’ve been treated to there, and the many men who call me sweetheart and darling in what has become, in this, my 51st year, the last bastion of flirtation in my life. (I am lonely a lot during the week, and I am never lonely there.) Plus, Ben, whose college is nearby, works the dinner shift after I work the lunch shift, and during our 5-minute Thursday car transfer we gossip about everybody we saw. And also I like getting free food, which I do from the fresh foods distribution, where they give away lots of gorgeous produce from local farms and markets, everything only slightly dinged and dented—nothing you wouldn’t still call sweetheart or darling. We refer to it as “used food,” at my house, and admiringly so. “Ooh, are these used peaches from the survival center?” Birdy will ask. “They’re so good!”

So, with a half pint of used blackberries that were just a little past their bowl-of-berries-and-cream prime, I made this cake. Weirdly, I first thought that I was recreating a macaron we’d had in Paris years ago. Blackberries, vanilla, and cardamom! I remembered, incorrectly. In fact, the macaron has been raspberry lychee, and rose, which, wow, was maybe the best thing I have ever tasted. Nonetheless, blackberries, vanilla, and cardamom baked simply into this cake you will recognize from it being the same cake as the plum cake, is a marvelous thing. We are strictly gluten-free around here these days, so that’s what I’m offering—and the texture is, I unhumbly submit, absolute tender, buttery perfection. But feel free to swap in white flour. Or, better yet, 2/3 cup white flour and 1/3 cup spelt flour, like my old glutinous self would have.

1 stick butter (I use salted), softened
¾ cup sugar (plus 1 tablespoon)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup gluten-free white flour (with xanthan gum in it—or add 1/2 teaspoon)
1/3 cup almond flour or meal (with or without skins)
1/3 cup gluten-free wholegrain flour (I make my own blend from equal parts brown rice, teff, sorghum, and oat flour, thanks to this book) OR more regular gf flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fresh, fragrant ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping cup (a half-pint container) of blackberries
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

Heat the oven to 350.

Use an electric mixer (if you have one) to cream together the butter and sugar—or do this all by hand, which is fine. Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, and add the vanilla too. Beat in the flours, which you’ve either sifted or whisked together with the baking powder, cardamom, and salt, and mix until the batter is well combined.

Now scrape the very stiff batter into your pan: I use an 8-inch spring form pan (and don’t grease it), but you could butter and flour a regular cake pan and use that, need be. Use a rubber spatula to even it out.

Dot the top of the cake with the blackberries, pressing them in slightly. Now sprinkle the cake with a tablespoon of sugar and pop it in the oven to bake until it looks nice and brown and doesn’t jiggle anywhere when you, uh, jiggle it—this seems to take about 35 minutes in my oven, but check it at 30.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or plain. 


  1. Good Talk was an absolute amazing piece. What an incredible voice she has!

  2. I had been meaning to tell you how much I loved the Real Simple piece - hey hi hey there: also lifequeer and dancing in my altogether over here in my own illuminated greenhouse! And I can’t tell you how much I agree on a marrow-deep level with the importance of POLITENESS when doling our chores and acknowledging their completion. xoxo

    1. I love that you wrote me here. xo

  3. The article on sending Ben to college made me cry. I first started reading your blog way back when you were waiting for Birdy and I had a toddler a year younger than Ben and a baby on the way as well. Now my toddler is almost 18 and we finished his college applications yesterday. I've come to realize that this lump in my throat is just going to stay there all year. 😢

    1. And all next year too. I mean, not to be a downer. . . so glad we're in it together. xo

  4. I just got all unexpectedly tearily sentimental about how grateful I am to have YOU, all these years after the time when we had past-naptime babies in shopping carts. Seeing Ben's giant grown-up face and remembering when he was small and I was identifying with your preschooler-having issues and now I am identifying with your college-student-having issues; and reading what Birdy said and remembering when she was IN YOUR TUM and later a BABY and so forth---and here we are, still tooling along, still being parents, and I'm just so grateful for you and your parenting thinkings and your used-blackberry concoctions.

    1. Oh, dear Swistle! What a lovely message. Thank you so much for writing and for being here. xoxo

  5. I was pregnant when I first read your book Waiting for Birdy, and then I started making many of your recipes, and then I noticed recently that many are gluten free, and THEN, wait for it, I just found out we will likely be doing this same due to some celiac in the family. Those “and thens” cover about a decade, which seems like a good time to say thanks for leading the way, and for all the great food and writing!

    And... if you happen to have a straight up gluten free bread recipe, that would be awesome. Is there such a thing as good gluten free bread? Or should we just embrace crackers instead?

    1. Dear Adria, same here with the celiac! That book I link to in the column--the artisan bread gluten-free book--is really great. They have a great half whole-grain bread that I love. If you add a little whey protein (weird body-builder ingredient) then you can up the chew factor too! I bake it in a covered pot, though, not on a baking sheet, and it comes out better. Feel free to email for more. I don't want to yak on and on here!

    2. Thanks! And d’oh! The book you mention is right in this very column, there in the recipe. Does this mean I have to give my students who are driving me crazy by emailing me instead of reading the darn syllabus a pass? Perhaps.

      Thanks for the tip, I had been baking the Bittman bread like this in a covered pot too until I got this news. I will try this one as well, and also get some whey protein. I’ll try not to bug you by email unless I’m desperate but thanks for the offer!

  6. "Google these questions and find yourself in a forest full of lost mothers calling out in their grief and fear, except the only language available to them is percale" may be one of the greatest sentences ever written in the English language. Year 2 was easier than year 1, it's true, but I still obsessed about the sheets.

  7. And here I am, crying yet again as I have done solidly for three weeks since my beloved dog died unexpectedly. Except now the tears for my furry love mix with the tears for my firstborn, who is not even 17 yet but will leave for Running Start college in a week.
    16 seems entirely too early to leave home, but living in the wilderness and a commute of 3 hours to town make the move necessary. And he'll be home on weekends, but this is giving me a taste of letting him go when real college starts.
    You've been with me since I read Ben and Birdy and your blog, always a step ahead of us. Thanks for validating my deep feelings of grief as I'm letting my son go, little by little.

  8. alison1:37 PM

    Wasn't 100% sure that was ben...thought for a second it was Michael play games with you!

  9. Monica4:59 PM

    Your writing is exquisite Catherine. All the feels as I send my oldest off to college. Now what the hell do we do? Soldiering on over here. Loved your piece.