The holiday season is in full swing. That means, once again, holiday spices are imbuing our favorite seasonal cakes, cookies, pies, cocoas, and eggnog with their heady aroma and nostalgic flavors. While an integral part of cooking and baking all year round, spices take center stage during the holidays. With their bold flavors and hot-sweet nuances, spices certainly help to make the season memorable.
A few of my personal favorites that always seem to sneak into my cooking and baking during the holiday season are: cinnamon, nutmeg and black peppercorns. Used together or separately, these spices add a wonderful element of heat and muskiness to both sweet and savory dishes.
Sweet Cinnamon: The two most familiar kinds are (i) Ceylon cinnamon, which is considered to be “true” cinnamon, and (ii) Cassia, which is called Chinese, Vietnamese or Indonesian cinnamon. Cassia is the most commonly used, as it is cheaper and widely available, but both kinds of cinnamon can be used interchangeably in cooking and baking. I can’t get enough of the stuff. I use it in everything: my oatmeal, my tea, my cookies and my soups and stews.
Musky Nutmeg: Did you know that nutmeg comes from the kernel of the fruit of a kind of evergreen tree? It has a warm, sweet, musky flavor that works well with other holiday spices such as cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Nutmeg also loves to be paired with dairy, in eggnog, ice cream or in a béchamel sauce. A little freshly grated nutmeg goes a long way in adding that extra little unexpected element to a savory dish.
Hot Tellicherry Black Peppercorns: Considered one of the finest peppers in the world, Tellicherry black peppercorns come from the Malabar Coast of India. These little berries pack a lot of heat. Tellicherries are left on the vine longer so they develop a deep, rich flavor Although most often used in savory dishes, freshly ground black pepper in sweet foods creates a subtle undercurrent of spicy-hot flavor. I like to add black pepper to molasses or ginger cookies for extra zing.
What are your favorite spices to use during the holidays?