Fall Spices

When I think of fall flavors, it’s the spices that really set this time of year apart. There is something warm and inviting about baking with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, clove and so many more. Sometimes one spice is featured and other treats have a combination. Pumpkin spice mix may be the most famous blend, but really the possibilities are endless and delicious. Today I have a guide to some of my favorite spices and the recipes that showcase them. I had to start out with cinnamon, because it may just be the official flavor of fall.


Cinnamon comes from the bark of a special species of tree. It’s dried and you can find it in small coiled sticks or ground into a powder. Depending on where the specific trees are grown, the cinnamon will look different and have varying degrees of intensity of flavors, from mild to hot and spicy. Most of the cinnamon is grown in China, Vietnam, Indonesia (Korintje), and Sri Lanka (Ceylon). When we buy cinnamon in the grocery store it is often a blend of these, but you can also find single-source cinnamon if you are curious about tasting the varieties. You’ll find cinnamon in all kinds of dishes from sweet to savory and from nearly every culture around the world. Here are just a few of my favorite bakes with cinnamon.

These cinnamon rolls really are quite perfect. They're so light and fluffy you could lay your head on them like a pillow, but they also have a lovely stretch and chew. The swirl of cinnamon is both warm and delicious. The technique for making them is a little unusual, but the extra effort is worth every second of your time.
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With its perfectly moist texture, soft crumb, and depth of apple flavor, this apple cider bundt cake is perfect for any occasion. I like to use a variety of apples in this cake such as Honey Gold, MacIntosh, Haralson and Prairie Spy. Drizzle with a simple honey-cider glaze and serve.
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Often called "Mexican caramel," cajeta is rich and flavorful, although it isn't truly caramel. Regardless, it works perfectly with chocolate cake, cinnamon buttercream and some mascarpone cream.
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This pie is all the things I love in a pumpkin pie and more. The pumpkin filling is not too sweet, because of the tang of buttermilk and it's combined with a crunchy streusel made with pepitas and buckwheat. From Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit by Lisa Ludwinski
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This apple crisp can be in the oven in less than 30 minutes and emerges bubbling, crisp and the perfect landing place for a scoop of ice cream. My topping typically has rolled oats, but this time I wanted the toasted almonds to be the clear star, so I used oat flour instead of the old fashioned oats and all-purpose flour, making this crisp entirely gluten-free (and vegan).
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There is a slightly sweet, earthy flavor to nutmeg that is delightful. It’s a subtle flavor that is warm, aromatic, and adds depth to a recipe. The large seed is from an evergreen tree mostly cultivated in Indonesia and dried. You can buy the seeds whole and grate them on a small nutmeg grater for the most intense flavor or buy it preground. The seeds grow with a red webbed covering called mace, which is removed, dried, and ground. The mace has a similar flavor but is a little more delicate taste.

These squash scones are a lovely twist on the classic, featuring butternut squash and white chocolate. You can see me make these on my show, Zoë Bakes on Magnolia Network.
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Perfect blueberry muffins are studded with fruit, with blueberries in every bite. It should have a crunchy streusel top and be tender inside. These blueberry muffins deliver on all of these.
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Bread pudding is one of the those desserts that also doubles as breakfast, like pie and cake! No, really, it is full of eggs and toasty bread and this one just happens to have bits of chocolate and chunks of chestnuts.
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The piney, almost fruity, flavor of cardamom is another of the quintessentially fall tastes. Cardamom is found in baked goods from India to the Middleeast to Scaninavia and beyond. The green pods are full of the aromatic seeds that become even more pungent when ground. In some recipes I leave the pods whole, but they have to be removed before serving, because they are leathery and not meant for eating, but impart a wonderful flavor. Grinding the seeds in a spice grinder just before using will provide the most flavor. A hit of cardamom adds a little brightness to fall baked goods.

The perfumed sweetness of the pears in this cake meets the warmth of candied ginger and cardamom to create a sophisticated combination that tastes as comforting as Grandma's house feels.
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This recipe is for raspberry swirl bread that starts with Bake From Scratch magazine's Do-It-All dough. The dough is so versatile—you can use it for everything from deep dish pizza to cinnamon rolls.
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Cloves offer a powerful flavor that requires a deft touch in your pastries. The slight bitterness and intensity of flavor makes it a nice pairing for the sweet baked goods, but often best paired with other spices or it can become overwhelming. The cloves are dried flower buds from an evergreen tree grown in Indoneasia. They are like little barbs and when I was a kid we would poke them into oranges at the holidays for the aroma and also float them in apple cider for the warmth and so the flavor of cloves is always linked to cold days and holiday music.

This carrot cake is perfectly spiced, moist and unbelievably good! Using candied carrot peels as decoration (optional), cream cheese frosting and sweetened shredded coconut, this cake is simply the best — I make it all the time!
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I adore carrot cake. It’s one of my favorite desserts. This carrot cupcakes recipe is delicate and less hippie than my go to, so it was fun to try Melissa’s sophisticated take on the classic from The Minimalist Kitchen.
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Unlike many of the spices on this list, ginger can be a feature player. I love when the spiciness of ginger comes through in a dish. You don’t want to overdo it, but the right amount of ginger makes for a wonderful fall and winter treat.

This Parsnip Cranberry Cake is the sophisticated cousin to Carrot Cake. It is just as satisfying and comforting as the carrot version, but it is all its own flavor and delicious. It is perfect with the tangy-sweet cream cheese frosting and tart candied cranberry garnish.
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This poached pear ginger cake is spicy with a kick of freshly grated ginger and tons of warm spice from cloves and cinnamon. It’s by no means an overly sweet cake, which is how I like them. The molasses gives it color and that edge of bitter that I love.
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You’ll be hard-pressed to find a delicious pastry that doesn’t include at least a little vanilla. It often lives in the background to add to the depth of flavor, but there are plenty of recipes that bring out its rich, distinct flavor. You can make my homemade vanilla and use it all fall and winter.

Once you make your own homemade vanilla extract you will be ruined to the store-bought stuff! It's so easy to make, but you do need to have patience. The longer it sits, the better it gets. You'll need to wait at least 5 weeks to crack into the bottle. I use 18 vanilla beans for a 750ml bottle of vodka.
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One thought to “Fall Spices”

  1. I’m so glad I found you. I love to bake, and your recipes make my mouth water! My favorites always have cinnamon. Will definitely make vanilla…use it a lot.

    Thank you!

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