Brow Beat

This Underrated Spice Is the Key to a Better Bundt Cake

A bundt cake with powdered sugar on top.
Rocky Luten

One of the country’s best spice shops opened a branch about a mile from where I live in Berkeley, California. Suddenly, I’m in and out of Oaktown Spice as often as a religious convert goes to church. I’ve given up buying spices in quantity in the name of frugality—it seemed cheaper but inevitably led to an inventory of ancient spices (and guilt).

My conversion to fresh spices in small quantities was confirmed several months ago, when I made Marcy Goldman’s renowned honey cake. All of the spices I used in it were fresh from the spice shop. The flavor of that cake (a great recipe to start with) knocked me sideways: The spices and honey were so alive with flavor, they seemed almost to dance on my tongue. Then, I was embarrassed—I realized that I had not been giving spices the same respect I’d given every other ingredient I use in my baking. From that moment on, I renounced past sins and swore fealty to fresh spices. I’ve even increased the number that I buy whole, and grind as needed.

I’ve also become more curious about less familiar spices. Coriander seed is a great example. This spice is the seed from the same plant that produces the leafy herb that we know as cilantro—but the two flavors are worlds apart. If you hate the leaf, don’t count on hating the seed. You’ve probably tasted coriander seed as one of several spices in savory Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern dishes. It’s usually a member of a spicy chorus—such as the Indian spice blend, garam masala—rather than a solo voice or flavor. But what if it were on its own? I wondered.

Taste a couple of coriander seeds—you can do this without trepidation—and you’ll find the flavor delightfully bright, citrusy, a little like grass or hay, and marvelously floral. I hate to say, “Who knew?” (Especially when it’s me who didn’t know.) But: Who knew?

Once I did know, it was easy to run with. I imagined coriander seed in all kinds of baked goods…

My first thought was to use it as one might use mace, or nutmeg—alone, in a simple pound cake or butter cake or Bundt cake, then go on to butter cookies, sponge cakes, the like. I started with a Bundt cake and imagined finishing it with coriander caramel icing or coriander toffee sauce. It turns out coriander is delicious in both of those toppings, but I found that each overwhelmed the lovely flavor of the cake. Go figure.

A little dusting of powdered sugar instead? So simple, so perfect! Indeed, coriander sugar was the big bonus of the day. (I caught myself dipping fingers in to taste it—and taste it again—all morning long.)

As versatile as cinnamon sugar is, I urge to try my coriander sugar (powdered or granulated sugar combined with ground coriander, to taste) on anything from snickerdoodles to shortbread, pancakes, waffles, and whatever. You could even make cinnamon toast with coriander seed instead of cinnamon.

One last thing, for which I must apologize for in advance: In my zeal to explore an unfamiliar spice (unfamiliar to me, anyway), I tried versions of the cake with toasted and with untoasted ground seeds. Predictably, my favorite was the version that included both: ground toasted seed in the cake and plain ground (untoasted) seeds in the topping. The former have richer and nuttier flavor notes that resonate perfectly in the cake, while the latter are brighter and more citrusy, perfect for the topping.

If you do it my way, you’ll have to start with whole seeds and toast them yourself before grinding them for the batter, then grind untoasted seeds for the topping or use purchased ground seeds (which will not have been toasted) for the topping. If all of that sounds like too much to contemplate, you can default to using ground (untoasted) coriander seed for both parts of the cake, and you can either grind whole seeds yourself or purchase them ground.

See? I do try my best to be easy to get along with.

Coriander Seed Bundt Cake

• 3/4 cup buttermilk
• 1/4 cup water
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 3 large eggs, at room temperature
• 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
• 3 1/3 cups (425 grams) all purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt (I use fine sea salt)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 18 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened (pliable but not squishy)
• 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
• 2 tablespoons (8 grams) whole coriander seeds, toasted and ground (see Author Notes) or simply ground

• 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
•1 teaspoon whole (untoasted) coriander seed, ground, or purchased ground coriander seed

See the full recipe on Food52.

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