We love spices in our house, sweet and savoury and one year I decided to have a go at making our own mixed spice blend. I like to apply the same principle to the spices in my Christmas baking as I do to spices used in curries: spices give better flavours if the whole spices are roasted before grinding them.
I like to use as many whole spices as possible because they give a fresher and fuller flavour. I know there are recipes which call for freshly grated nutmeg but cake recipes seldom seem to include other whole spices, apart from vanilla or cinnamon perhaps.
You may think it’s not worth the bother to phaff around grinding whole roasted spices and you prefer to use a ready mixed ground spice … but if like me you enjoy experimenting with flavours, then give it a go. Roasted spices are easier to grind than unroasted, cinnamon becomes sweeter and mellower … and it only takes a few minutes, so why not try it ? It’s worth it just for the smell in the kitchen!
This is our favourite blend but feel free to experiment with different spices from the sweet spice list and I’d love to know how it goes.
Christmas Mixed Spice can be used any time of the year in any recipe that calls for mixed spice. Makes: 4 tablespoons
Whole spices for roasting:
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 2 cloves
- 1 cardamom pod crushed
- 2 or 3 star anise seeds
- ¼ nutmeg – grated
- 2 teaspoons mace
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
Find yourself a small heavy frying pan and put in the whole spices.
On a low flame gently roast the spices, shaking the pan to ensure the spices are evenly roasted, until they become a slightly darker colour.
My favourite part of the spice roasting is just as they are ready which is when they give off a rich and full bodied aroma. The roasting will only take a couple of minutes or so and your spices should not be smoking.
Do not rush or be tempted to turn the heat up or to leave your pan unattended. Burnt spices are very bitter and will spoil the whole of your cooking.
Transfer you roasted spices to a plate or into a mortar to cool.
Grind your spices with a pestle and mortar, a spice grinder or a coffee grinder.
Add to the rest of the ground spices and mix well.
Roast spices are best used straightaway but can be stored in a tightly covered jar for a few weeks.
Seasonal Spice Selection: Choose your own spices
The traditional trio for mixed spice is cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg although you will find each manufacturer has their own blend of extras. Below is a list of sweet spices, some of which can be found in ready made mixed spice.
Cardamom is one of my favourite spices, it has a lovely fragrance and flavour and I regularly use it in pilau rice and curry dishes too.
Cardamom is found in Chai spice, which is very popular at the moment and has featured in a few recipes of the Great British Bake Off this year. I roast them whole and use only the seeds for the Christmas spice recipe.
Cloves has its own unique aroma – I love to stud oranges with them and use them as a Christmas decoration and scenter.
Cloves is a very powerful spice flavour so use it wisely. Once bitten, twice shy as they say: I made Tomato Ketchup and added one too many cloves – it spoilt all my hard work prepping and straining and simply reminded me of the dentist! Definitely not a good thing!
I only have to open a jar of cinnamon and I think of Christmas. Since ancient times cinnamon has been a valued spice because of its oil.
Coriander I hear you say, usually found in savoury dishes all over the world but it is used in cake baking too and is found in some mixed spice blends. The seeds have a lemony citrus flavour and are perfect for a Christmas cake.
Mace is the lacy outer coating of a nutmeg and has a lighter sweeter more delicate flavour than nutmeg. Is usually found ready ground in the UK.
Allspice or Jamaican Pepper
It was named allspice by an English botanist in the 17th century who thought it tasted of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It is best bought whole and ground as needed. I find it difficult to source from the big supermarkets, if they do have it, it’s usually ready ground. Waitrose is the only UK supermarket I’ve found this year to stock it. Why not try adding a couple of berries to your pepper mill to add a little zest to your pepper ?
Star Anise has a lovely spicy sweet taste and is used as a breath sweetener. Unmistakable due to its shape and is much stronger than aniseed so be careful with how much you use.
Ginger (ready ground)
A popular ingredient in mixed spice. A favourite of mine because of its warming spicy flavour, use sparingly, unless you want an extra kick.
Is often used in a commercial blend of mixed spice and popular in cake and breadmaking. Be careful – it is very pungent.
A popular favourite, I love it grated into a hot chocolate drink or mulled wine, it has a lovely warming effect.
Caution: Nutmeg contains myristicin (an hallucinatory compound) and is poisonous. As little as two nutmegs could be fatal.
Sarah over at Taming Twins has a fab new linky Festive Food Friday, just the thing to get us all feeling festive. So if you’re looking for some inspiration this Christmas pop over and take a look.