Black cardamom molasses cake, black cardamom chai ice cream, ginger hay, and buttermilk puree
Black cardamom molasses cake, black cardamom chai ice cream, ginger hay, and buttermilk puree Credit: Julia Thiel

The Chef: Beverly Kim (Aria)

The Challenger: Kevin Hickey (Seasons Restaurant)

The Ingredient: Black cardamom

If you go into the spice section of any grocery store looking for cardamom, green cardamom is what you’ll find. Black cardamom, less popular and stronger in flavor, is a different genus of the same family—the ginger family, to be precise. It’s dried over an open flame, which gives it a smoky aroma. Beverly Kim also noted a menthol-like, medicinal flavor. “It’s almost completely different from green cardamom; I was really surprised,” she said. “It’s very powerful. It needs to be balanced with other spices to round out the flavor.”

Kim read that you’re not supposed to eat black cardamom raw. She tried it anyway: “I ate it raw, and it’s fine. But I don’t think you’re going to get the beauty of it eating it raw. You have to let it cook out.”

Green cardamom has a light, citrusy quality to it that makes it useful in both sweet and savory dishes; black cardamom is used almost exclusively in savory preparations. Nevertheless, Kim decided to make a dessert with her ingredient. Inspired by the smokiness and blackness of black cardamom, she made a black cardamom molasses cake, paired with a chai ice cream infused with black tea, cardamom, and other spices. Other elements of the dish included raisins pickled in dark rum and lemon juice, baby carrots poached in simple syrup with ginger, a “soil” of walnuts and cake crumbles, and “ginger hay”—fresh ginger sliced into thin sticks and then deep-fried.

“It’s all really dark, and I’m thinking it’s going to look kind of like a wicked, stark black landscape,” she said. “Like black hills of the cake, and the curly weeds of the carrots coming out, kind of like a dark forest. And then painted buttermilk puree on the bottom, because you need to balance those dark flavors with something light and acidic and kind of ghostly looking. . . . I was also thinking it’s perfect before Halloween. I want something creepy.”

The buttermilk puree is something Kim makes fairly regularly. She heats three cups of buttermilk, and “it separates, and you’re like, oh my god, what am I going to do? It’s separating. You add three teaspoons of agar-agar powder, and it turns into this gel.” After letting it set, Kim purees it in the blender with a couple knobs of butter, then uses it in place of crème fraiche (it’s lighter, but still tangy, she says, like a good yogurt).

After spreading the buttermilk puree on the plate, Kim added the other elements: the black cardamom molasses cake, black cardamom chai ice cream, ginger hay, cake-walnut soil, and poached carrots. “It looks pretty wicked right there,” she said. “Like a scary forest.” She tasted it, and commented, “I think that the chai sorbet gives it a nice creamy element, but not heavy, and you get that smokiness.”

The molasses cake contributed a caramelized flavor and a more subtle cardamom kick, she said. “You eat it together with the pickled raisins, and it really comes together, the juiciness in the raisins, and that light lemon flavor kind of cuts through that sweetness. And then the buttermilk sauce kind of gives it that tang that it really needs. A little spice from the ginger hay, and then the walnuts give it kind of a nutty crunch.”

Credit: Julia Thiel

Kim tasted the black cardamom the most in the ice cream, she said. In the molasses cake, “you get the cardamom at the end, whereas I feel like the chai ice cream really comes through the front on your palate. It’s more about the balance of flavors, not about it being black cardamom . . . it’s not overpowering.”

After tasting the dish, Kim remained convinced that black and green cardamom are not interchangeable. “I think this whole dark thing wouldn’t work with the green cardamom,” she said. “You’d have to go at it from a different angle. Maybe citrus notes, and lighter. But in this one, I think the caramel and the smoky cardamom really work well together because it’s got a deeper flavor. The molasses has a strong flavor, and the black cardamom has a strong flavor too, and it matches. I can’t imagine doing this dish with green cardamom. It wouldn’t work for me.”

YouTube video

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Who’s Next:

Edward Kim of Ruxbin, working with turtle. “We’re not related,” Beverly Kim said. “Like half of the Koreans are Kims.” In fact, she’s only met him once, when she ate at the restaurant a few weeks ago. Still, she didn’t hesitate to pick a challenging ingredient for him.

“I’m guessing it’s like lobster, you probably want to buy it live and cook it fresh,” she said. “It was kind of a wicked thing to do. It’s sort of cruel to make someone do something out of their element, but at the same time, you’re never going to do it unless someone pushes you to do it. I think he’s going to thank me for this.”

Black Cardamom Molasses Cake with Black Chai Tea Ice Cream, Buttermilk Puree, Pickled Black Raisins, Candied Purple Carrots and Ginger Hay

Black Cardamom Molasses Cake

1 cup melted butter

1 cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 t baking soda

2 t ground black cardamom

½ t ground ginger

½ t ground cinnamon

½ t ground cloves

1 cup unsulphured molasses

2 t baking soda dissolved in 2 T hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan. Pour melted butter into a large bowl. Beat in sugar and eggs. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, black

cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and baking soda. In a small bowl, mix molasses

with the baking soda/hot water mixture and half a cup boiling water. Whisk the dry mixture and then the wet mixture into the sugar and eggs. Bake 45-60 minutes. Cool on a rack. Cut into squares.

Black Chai Tea Ice Cream

1½ cups heavy cream

1½ cups whole milk

4 slices of ginger root

pinch ground nutmeg

pinch ground cloves

2 whole star anise

7 whole black cardamom pods

3 whole cinnamon sticks

½ cup sugar

¼ cup honey

3 T Chinese black tea

4 egg yolks

large bowl of ice

pinch salt

Bring the cream and milk to a boil with the spices, sugar, and honey and salt. Add the tea and reduce mixture to a simmer. Remove from the heat and infuse the tea for about ten minutes. Sieve out solids and return liquid to saucepan.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and temper them by combining with a cup of the cream mixture. Add whisked egg yolks to the saucepan and whisk together over medium heat until slightly thickened and whisk shows steam. Pour through a fine sieve into a bowl placed over a larger bowl of ice. Stir the mixture until cool and place in refrigerator to chill further. Freeze in ice cream maker until thickened.

Buttermilk Sauce

3 cups of buttermilk

3 t agar agar powder

½ cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water heated up to a syrup then chilled)

pinch salt

Heat buttermilk to a simmer. Add agar agar, whisking vigorously to blend. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour into a shallow pan and let chill in the refrigerator until firm, about an hour. Puree buttermilk gel with simple syrup and pinch of salt in a blender until velvety smooth. Leave in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Pickled Raisins

1 cup of black raisins

¼ cup dark rum

Juice of 3 lemons

½ cup of simple syrup

Flambe dark rum and let alcohol burn off a bit. Add lemon juice and simple syrup and heat to a simmer, whisking. Pour liquid over black raisins. Allow to cool.

Ginger Hay

1 knob of ginger

Vegetable oil

Peel ginger. Cut into super thin slices, then slice longways to make thin strips. Heat oil to

325 degrees and fry to golden brown. Drain on paper towels and lightly season with salt.

Candied Purple Carrots

4 baby purple carrots, scrubbed, skin on

1 cup water

½ cup simple syrup

2 slices of ginger

Simmer carrots with water, simple syrup and ginger slowly until slightly tender, but still slightly cruncy.