A high altitude cardamom cake has been on my mind for quite a while. But with my weekly pie project the last few months, I haven’t been baking as many cakes lately. I really wanted to post this recipe in plenty of time for Christmas, though. And since I had bought eggnog specifically for using in the buttercream (and to drink, too, of course), I dropped my other baking projects and set about making this cake. The cardamom cake is so soft and moist, made with buttermilk and brown sugar, and beautifully spiced. And the rich and creamy eggnog makes a fantastic buttercream that’s silky and fluffy, the flavor perfectly complementing the spiced cake.
The cake is a buttermilk and brown sugar cake that’s incredibly moist and light. Since it’s oil-based (instead of butter-based), the crumb is very soft, light and fluffy. In addition to the cardamom, I added a little espresso powder and nutmeg, which I thought would complement the cardamom nicely; I steeped the spices in the buttermilk for a while before mixing it into the cake, to really infuse the cake with flavor.
This site contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means that I may make a small commission if you purchase a product using those links. This in no way affects my opinion of those products and services. All opinions expressed on this site are my own.
How to Bake and Cook with Cardamom
Cardamom is a spice that I think is a bit overlooked this time of year, with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, and sometimes allspice, taking center stage in our fall and winter baking. But it’s a really wonderful, warm fragrant spice that is so good in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s used in curry dishes, Chai tea spices and in Scandinavian breads and pastries. In fact, one of the countries that uses the most cardamom is Sweden, where they use the spice to season everything from meatloaf to baked goods. I’ve begun adding cardamom to beef dishes like stews, pot roast and meatballs, and it’s delicious.
My mom tells me that my grandpa used to say that having a taste for cardamom is in our blood and not a taste that can be acquired (my family is from Denmark). I don’t know if that’s true or not – I think many tastes are acquired throughout our whole lives. But I’ve always felt like my Danish heritage explains my love of almond-flavored pastries and cakes. Here’s an interesting article with a few facts about cardamom. For reference, I used ground black cardamom in today’s recipe. I don’t think I even knew there were so many varieties! I can’t say that I’ve ever seen ground white cardamom, but I’m going to be on the lookout for it now to compare its flavor to what I’ve always used.
Steep the Cardamom and Spices in the Buttermilk
To get the most flavor out of the cardamom, nutmeg and espresso powder, I steeped them in warmed buttermilk for about 15 minutes, before mixing up the batter. It’s a simple and quick step that makes this cake so good. Buttermilk is a fantastic ingredient for baking, and I love using it in my cake recipes. It’s acidic, so it reacts with the leaveners to give the cake a good rise, as well as tenderizes the cake crumb.
Whisk Together the Liquid Ingredients
After steeping the spices and buttermilk, whisk the buttermilk mixture together with the brown sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. The brown sugar adds sweetness and a subtle hint of molasses, while the oil keeps the cake so moist. Eggs add structure and richness to cakes. Of course, vanilla is for flavor. Use a good-quality vanilla extract, or even vanilla bean paste for the best vanilla flavor.
Sift the Dry Ingredients
Sifting dry ingredients is a step that I never skip when making cakes. Since you don’t want to over-mix cake batter to try to get all the lumps out, sifting ensures that your batter will be as smooth and lump-free as possible with minimal whisking. To sift, I simply place a mesh strainer over a bowl, and measure everything into the bowl. Then I use a spoon to swirl the dry ingredients around, pushing them through the strainer. This not only gets the lumps out of ingredients like flour and cocoa powder, but it lightens and aerates everything for a fluffier cake.
You’ll be sifting together cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. You can substitute all-purpose flour if you must, but cake flour makes such a beautiful, light and tender cake.
Mix Up the Batter and Bake
Now just add the sifted dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients, and whisk briefly to combine. Divide the batter between your (greased) pans and bake in a preheated oven on the center oven rack. Your house will smell so amazing while this cardamom cake is baking! Let it cool completely before frosting. Nothing is worse than ruining a cake by trying to frost it while it’s still warm.
The eggnog buttercream is just fantastic. You’ll want to put it on everything once you taste it. And it complements the cardamom cake perfectly.
First you’ll need to whip softened butter for about one minute. Then add powdered sugar and meringue powder, nutmeg and a pinch of salt. The meringue powder adds stability, and I use a little in every batch of buttercream I make. The nutmeg enhances the flavor of the eggnog, and a pinch of salt helps to balance the sweetness.
Then add eggnog and vanilla, and whip on medium speed for 4-5 minutes. You won’t believe how light and fluffy and delicious this eggnog buttercream is. It’s just the perfect flavor to pair with the spiced cake.
To make this cake even more special for the holidays, scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean to make an eggnog vanilla bean buttercream. I’ve been buying Tahitian vanilla beans on Amazon, and they’re surprisingly affordable right now!
- To make this piping design on your cake, first stack and fill the cake layers, then frost all over with a thin crumb coat of the buttercream.
- Chill the crumb-coated cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Frost the top of the cake with a final layer of buttercream.
- Use a sharp knife to lightly score the cake with vertical lines around the sides of the cake, to mark where you will start and stop your piped swags. (About 8-10 score marks is ideal.)
- Fit a piping bag with a large open star tip (Wilton #1M), and fill with buttercream.
- Starting at the bottom, pipe swags around the sides of the cake, starting and stopping at your scored lines. Complete a horizontal row all the way around the cake, before moving up to the next row. Work your way up the cake until the sides of the cake are covered.
Buttercream Recipe Adjustments
The eggnog buttercream recipe makes enough buttercream for the piped design shown here, and a piped design will always use more buttercream than without piping. But if you want to frost the cake more simply without the fancy piping, you can scale the recipe down to these amounts.
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon meringue powder
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
- 1/3 cup eggnog
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Be sure to read all of my BAKING FAQs where I discuss ingredients, substitutions and common questions with cake making, so that you can be successful in your own baking! I also suggest reading these comprehensive posts on making Perfect American Buttercream, How to Stack, Fill, Crumb Coat and Frost Layer Cakes and How to Use Piping Bags.
You Might Also Like
Did you love today’s recipe? Please rate the recipe and let me know in the comments what you thought! Also, be sure to follow Curly Girl Kitchen on Instagram, and tag me when you try one of my recipes so I can see all your delicious creations!
High Altitude Cardamom Eggnog Cake
All recipes on Curly Girl Kitchen are developed for high altitude at 5,280 feet.
- Stand Mixer
- 1 ¾ cups whole buttermilk, room temperature
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp espresso powder or instant coffee
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 3 large eggs
- ¾ cups vegetable oil
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 ¾ cups cake flour (or all-purpose flour), spooned and leveled
- 1 ¾ tsp baking powder
- 1 ¼ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 2 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 1 ½ tbsp meringue powder
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp coarse kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- ½ cup eggnog
- 2 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 and spray the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray.
- In a small saucepan, bring the buttermilk just to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the cardamom, espresso powder and nutmeg. Let steep for about 15 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the spiced buttermilk, brown sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and whisk by hand for about 1 minute, just until smooth and mostly lump-free.
- Divide the batter between the pans and bake on the middle oven rack for about 22-25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean and the center of the cake springs back when lightly touched. Set the cake pans on a wire rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely before frosting.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for one minute until smooth.
- With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, meringue powder, salt and nutmeg, and mix just to combine.
- Add the eggnog and vanilla, and beat on medium high for about 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy.
- Fill, stack and frost the cooled cake with the buttercream. (See notes on the buttercream piping technique shown.)
- You should let all your dairy ingredients (including eggs and buttermilk) warm up to room temperature, which makes for a better cake batter.
- You can make this cake using all-purpose flour instead of cake flour, however, the cake flour makes a much lighter and more tender cake that is just heavenly.
- If you don’t have buttermilk, pour 1 1/2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar into a liquid measuring cup, then add whole milk up to the 1 3/4 cups line. Warm in the microwave on high for one minute to curdle the milk. You don’t need to let it cool, and can add it to your batter while it’s warm.
- Note that I live at high altitude (5,000 feet), so my recipes are created for high altitude. Don’t let that deter you from trying them if you live at sea level! Please be sure to review this post and this post for all my baking tips and FAQs before baking.
- The buttercream recipe makes enough buttercream for the piping design shown here, but if you just want to frost the cake more simply without the piping, you can scale the recipe down to these measurements: 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon meringue powder, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt, 1/3 cup eggnog, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla.
- To make this piping design on your cake, first stack and fill the cake layers, then frost all over with a thin crumb coat of the buttercream. Chill the crumb-coated cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Frost the top of the cake with a final layer of buttercream. Use a sharp knife to lightly score the cake with vertical lines around the sides of the cake, to mark where you will start and stop your piped swags. Fit a piping bag with a large open star tip (Wilton #1M), and fill with buttercream. Starting at the bottom, pipe swags around the sides of the cake, starting and stopping at your scored lines. Work your way up the cake until the sides of the cake are covered.