Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sugar and Spice

Chili Raspberry Brownies
Cool weather ahead! Time for a fire in the hearth, an extra blanket on the bed. You can turn up your internal thermostat, too, with warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper to create a cozy feeling from the inside out.

Here’s a tour of the world of spices, along with usage tips and some of our favorite sweet-and-spicy recipes for now through the new year.


Perfect Pickling Syrup for Fruit
Allspice is the berry of a pepper tree (Pimento officinalis) that’s native to Central America, Mexico, and the West Indies. Its name comes from its complex flavor, a combination of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper.

Just a quarter-teaspoon of ground allspice, plus a little extra cinnamon, lends a traditional flavor to Hot Buttered Rum, a holiday favorite. A half-teaspoon puts some of the spice in Spice Chiffon Cake—moist and rich yet surprisingly light. In Cocoa Apple Cake, a teaspoon of allspice balances the fruit and chocolate flavors. (“Sweet enough not to frost, and just a hint of chocolate,” commented an approving home baker on our website.) And we recommend a full tablespoon of allspice for our Perfect Pickling Syrup for Fruit—a wonderful way to preserve the autumn bounty of pears, crabapples, and other fruit.

Allspice is one of the five components of pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg are the others), so if you don’t have the commercial blend in your pantry, it’s easy to make your own and adjust the proportions to suit your taste.


Cardamom Spiced Brownie Cake
These small black seeds from a tropical shrub may be used whole or ground to a powder. Their peppery, lemony flavor gives Indian chai—the lightly sweetened milk tea—its distinctive flavor. It’s also used in many Scandinavian baked goods, such as the cardamom variation of our festive Holiday Spice Batons. And we’re delighted with a new, cardamom-spiced recipe for Cardamom Spiced Brownie Cake, developed by our very own recipe tester, Lisa Basini!

Chili and other peppers

Cayenne, chipotle, ancho, and the other peppery spices are made from the powdered fruit of the Capsicum annuum plant, a relative of bell peppers and paprika. Their heat varies; for maximum flavor, buy small quantities and use when freshest. And be aware that flavors will deepen during cooking or baking, so use the minimum amount the first time you try a recipe.

Chile-Rubbed Agave Chicken
Chipotle’s smoky overtones harmonize well with sweet raspberry jam in our Chili Raspberry Brownies, developed for us by our recipe consultant, Lisa Basini. Use any chili powder you have on hand—we like relatively mild ancho chili—and search for disks of Mexican chocolate to make our southwestern-style Fiesta Brownies. (Mexican chocolate can be found online and in the international section of many supermarkets; it’s flavored with cinnamon and dusted with coarse sugar.)

Two types of hot pepper—cayenne and ancho—lend their fire to the marinade for Chile-Rubbed Agave Chicken. And we like the combo of paprika and chili for Sweet and Spicy Popcorn—the perfect treat for football-watching or family game night.


Fruit and Pistachio Holiday Agave Cake
Sweet and pungent, cinnamon is perhaps the most popular spice of all—and the most unusual, in that it comes not from a seed, like most spices, but from the bark of a tropical tree, Cinnamomum zelyanicum. Most powdered cinnamon sold in supermarket is actually cassia, from the Cinnamomum cassia tree; which is stronger and hotter than true cinnamon and thus longer lasting on supermarket shelves.

Add a pinch of cinnamon to your morning oatmeal or sprinkle a cinnamon-sugar blend over grapefruit. Also yummy on a chilly morning: Sugar and Cinnamon Apple Muffins (the cinnamon’s sprinkled on top) with a lavish dollop of Cinnamon Butter. Brew up some Mexican Coffee, garnish with whole cinnamon sticks, and pass around a plate of Cinnamon Stars (made with almond meal instead of flour, they’re a great choice for anyone watching his or her gluten intake). For a spectacular update on a holiday tradition, try our Fruit and Pistachio Holiday Agave Cake, sweetened with C&H Organic Light Agave Syrup.

And no autumn celebration is complete without a classic Pumpkin Pie recipe! Ours is deliciously cinnamon-y and lightened with whipped egg whites.


Agave Eggnog
Pungent, slightly bitter cloves come from the unopened flower seed pod of a tropical tree. A small quantity makes a big impact: use just a quarter-teaspoon in our agave-sweetened Agave Apple Butter, and half a teaspoon for 10 to 12 servings of Spiced Cranberry Punch. Cloves also lend a piquant bite to Agave Cranberry Orange Chutney, a delicious accompaniment for your holiday ham or turkey.

If eggnog is one of your New Year’s traditions, we’d like to introduce you to Agave Eggnog, sweetened with C&H Organic Light Agave Nectar and spiced with whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, and ground nutmeg. Our recipe is nonalcoholic, but you can add rum, bourbon, or brandy if you like.


Agave Sweet and Spicy Meatballs
Made from the seeds of the same plant that gives us parsley-like cilantro, coriander has a similar citrusy bite. It’s usually found in savory dishes like Agave Sweet and Spicy Meatballs—a great addition to an appetizer spread—or Broiled Chinese-Style Tilapia (which takes a full teaspoon of ground coriander). Coriander also plays well with sugar and other spices in snacks such as Sugar & Spice Nuts.


Broiled Chinese-Style Tilapia
Versatile ginger, with its invigorating “bite,” comes from a root native to Southeast Asia. (Today the best ginger comes from the Caribbean.) It can be used fresh, powdered, or crystallized, in savory dishes and sweet desserts. Be sure to have plenty on hand for traditional holiday recipes such as moist Gingerbread Cake, cutout Gingerbread Cookies, and—for a fun family project—a Gingerbread House (we provide the templates!).

Gingerbread Cookies

Grated fresh gingerroot lends its tang to colorful, zesty Glazed Ginger Broccoli and Carrots. And for an unusual and appreciated holiday gift, decorate jars of Ginger Pear Preserves made with chopped crystallized ginger.

Mace and nutmeg

Kwanzaa Bread Pudding
Both spices are derived from the same plant: mace is the dried covering of the nutmeg seed. Mace is milder than nutmeg, and may lend an orange color to some cooked preparations; it’s the perfect flavoring for our dense and delicious Fruitcake, a holiday tradition in many households.

Nutmeg is indispensable in Sweet Potato Pie (for a shortcut, used canned sweet potatoes), Iced Pumpkin Cookies (an Arizona State Fair baking contest winner!), and delicious, spreadable Fruit Butter. And nutmeg complements the sweetness of canned peaches in Kwanzaa Bread Pudding, named for the midwinter holiday celebrated by members of the African diaspora.

Spice blends

Some spices work best in teams! For authentic Lebkuchen you need no fewer than five spices plus citrus zest and juice. And Five Spice Oatmeal Cookies get their kick from Chinese five-spice powder, a blend of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorn, and fennel seeds.

Quick Tip: Freshness is the key to flavorful spices. To ensure freshness, invest in a small spice mill and grind your own cloves, cardamom, and other seeds. Whole nutmegs last longer than powdered nutmeg; keep them in a bag along with a mini-grater and pulverize only as much as you need.

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