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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.