Cardamom Lee's Cake Recipe

Max Falkowitz

This is an icebox cake introduced to me by Lee Holtzman, a friend and food writer. It's an heirloom recipe of the Holztman family, one I've never heard of before or since, so I've adopted the name her family gave it. It's an icebox cake, a Northern European tiramisu: dry-ish cookies soaked in spirit-laden liquid, layered with whipped cream and chilled until the layers meld into a mellow, puffy cloud. In this case the cookies are butter biscuits (Leibniz cookies, ideally, though any similar butter biscuit will do), the soaking liquid wine and milk, the cream spiked with dark cocoa. It's an odd thing when first put together, but after a few hours in the refrigerator the cookies soften the astringency of the wine, which in turn reinforces the bittersweet complexity of the chocolate.

Red wine, butter, milk, and chocolate all pair beautifully with cardamom, which brightens and deepens the cake's bold but mellow flavor. If the Victorians cooked with cardamom, this peculiar but delightful cake would surely have been in their repertoire.

The cardamom flavor, particularly its menthol quality, increases as the cake chills, so you may want to use less if storing it for several days.

Recipe Details

Cardamom Lee's Cake Recipe

Active 20 mins
Total 4 hrs
Serves 12 servings


  • 2 cups heavy cream, cold
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds, finely ground (pod shells removed), to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 80 butter biscuit cookies (4 200-gram packages of tea biscuits; recommended: Leibniz)


  1. In a large bowl, combine cream, cocoa powder, sugar, cardamom seeds, and salt. With an electric mixer or whisk, whip until cream forms stiff peaks.

  2. In a pie plate or wide, shallow dish, combine milk and wine. Briefly dip biscuits in milk-wine mixture, about 5 seconds, then arrange in a single layer in a 9 by 13 cake pan (about 18 cookies per layer). Using an offset spatula, spread 1/4 of whipped cream in a thin, even layer across biscuits, taking care not to tear layer.

  3. Repeat with three more layers of biscuits and whipped cream, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for four hours (or up to overnight). Serve chilled.

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