Archive for: spices
Whether you call them ginger cookies or molasses cookies, these chewy and spicy cookies are a fantastic cold weather cookie. I tend to think that it is because all of the spices in them, which seem very satisfying when the weather is cool. Cold weather is also the perfect weather for doing some baking, and that alone is a good enough reason to get in the kitchen and try making your own batch of these Orange and Spice Ginger Cookies.
The cookies include ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, orange, vanilla and anise, so while they are called “ginger cookies” and there is a good amount of ground ginger in them, ginger is not the dominant flavor. Instead, these cookies just have a wonderful blend of spices that gives them a lot of complexity, rather than just one note. The orange goes extremely well with all of the ground spices, and the vanilla extract rounds the flavors out a bit. I like how the hint of licorice flavor from the anise extract blended well with the molasses, but this is an optional ingredient and can be left out if you don’t have any.
The cookies don’t have a long baking time because they can dry out quite easily in the oven. They should be moist inside, and that helps give them a nice chewy texture, while the sugar coating gives them a little crunch. These cookies keep extremely well when they are stored in an airtight container and should keep for more than just a few days. This makes them a great choice for holiday baking because they can be done in advance, and they also ship very well. The spices change and mellow slightly as the cookies age, and they become slightly chewier, too.
Most of us keep our spices in the jars that they come in when we buy them at the market, leading to a spice cabinet filled with generic looking (if clearly-labeled) containers. I have a small collection of vintage spice jars that look a lot more visually appealing than the typical jars that spices come in these days, and adding a little of that flair to your spices can really spruce up your kitchen. These Chalkboard Spice Jars are a lovely way to bring a little retro feel into your kitchen in a practical way.
Now, the vintage jars I have are just for display and I don’t use them to store spices (both because they’re not airtight and some of the metal containers are in less-than-perfect condition), and one of the reasons that these these charming spice jars are so appealing is that they really can be used, not just enjoyed as a decorative item. The small stoneware jars have chalkboards painted on their sides, which you can write or doodle on to label them as you fill up the jars with your own mix of spices. The jars have plastic lids with rubber stoppers that will help to keep your spices fresh while they’re being stored. At 3.75×3-inches, they’re more than large enough to hold the contents of most spice jars, and they’re big enough to accommodate vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks, if you choose to hold bulkier items in them.
Spices all have distinctive flavors and add a lot of character to baked goods (and other recipes). Sometimes we’ll encounter one spice on its own in a recipe, but often spices are paired up with other complementary spices to build a solid flavor base for a dish. A great example of this is pumpkin pie spice, a blend of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg that really gives pumpkin pie its signature flavor. Pumpkin pie spice is a very common blend sold in most grocery stores and it is convenient because it allows you to add a lot of flavor with just one ingredient, rather than sorting through a bunch of jars of spices to get the ratio down. There are plenty of other spice mixes out there, however, and Penzey’s Spices Cake Spice is one that caught my eye not too long ago.
This Cake Spice is an all purpose spice mix that has cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cloves in it and promises to be good in just about all kinds baked goods, from cakes to muffins. Penzey’s is known for having high quality spices and this mix is no exception. It has a strong and spicy flavor, with a bright and peppery taste that you might not expect to get from this combination. It isn’t dominated by cinnamon, as many spice mixes that include a lot of cinnamon are. It is a lot more flavorful than the average spice mix you’ll find in the grocery store, and the addition of star anise – which is something that not everyone keeps in their spice collection - really makes it interesting. I particularly like this in coffee cake, in place of regular cinnamon, and it makes a delicious snickerdoodle variation.
Vanilla is one of the most important ingredients that a baker can have in his or her pantry, but it is not the only flavoring that plays a big role in baked goods. Williams Sonoma put together a Baker’s Spice Kit in recognition of this fact, grouping some high quality spices that most bakers would say are kitchen staples into a lovely gift set. The kit includes whole allspice, whole gloves, whole nutmeg, cocoa powder, ground Saigon cinnamon and – because we can’t skip the vanilla – vanilla sugar. This set is especially good for holiday baking, as each of these spices would go well in a gingerbread or pumpkin pie.
Because most of the spices in this kit are whole spices, you will need some additional equipment to use them. A spice grinder or coffee grinder will make short work of the allspice and cloves when you need them, and for the nutmeg you’ll want a nutmeg mill or a microplane. It may sound like a lot more work to grind the spices when you need them instead of scooping them out of a jar, but the flavors are much bolder when freshly ground and the spices last a lot longer when they’re kept whole. Plus, if you are considering a spicy set as a holiday gift, a spice grinder and nutmeg mill might make picking additional gifts for the baker in your life quite easy.
Fresh ginger is not as friendly looking as powdered ginger, which comes in a neat little canister along with all of the other dried spices. It goes into baked goods along with dry ingredients and requires no prep time. Fresh ginger, on the other hand, looks a little alien by comparison. The bulbous root is firm and it’s not obvious how to use it – especially in baking – if you’ve never used it before. Fresh ginger has a bright, slightly spicy flavor to it that can really make some baked goods a lot more interesting, so it is worth giving it a shot at least a few times.
To use fresh ginger, you must first peel off the dark outer layer of the piece you want to use. You can slice it off with a paring knife, but a vegetable/potato peeler is the easiest tool to use. Only peel a piece about the size you’re going to need, as the ginger stays fresher with its skin on. Ginger is fibrous, but the fresher your ginger is the less fibrous, more tender and more flavorful, so try to use less fibrous pieces when possible. Once your chunk of ginger has been peeled, either slice it up with a sharp knife or use a microplane to grate it very finely before adding it to recipes. Fresh ginger should generally be mixed in with wet ingredients, while ground ginger is usually added with the dry ingredients, so keep that in mind if you start to experiment adding ginger to your favorite banana bread or spice cake recipe.