Cheers for the seasonings of the season

A sprinkling of spice facts

December 14, 2005

Allspice

Allspice comes from the dried, unripened fruit of a small evergreen tree in the Carribbean and has a flavor suggesting a blend of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It was exported to Europe in the early 1600s as a substitution for cardamom. It is used in seasonings, sauces, sausages, ketchup, jams, pumpkin, gravies, roasts, hams, baked goods and teas.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon comes from the dried inner bark of various evergreen trees belonging to the genus Cinnamomum. Cinnamomum burmannii is primarily imported from Indonesia and is the most common form of cinnamon in the United States. Vietnam is the source for Cinnamomum loureirii, sometimes called Saigon cinnamon. Cinnamomum zeylanicum, grown in Sri Lanka, is actually "true cinnamon."

Cloves

Cloves are the dried, unopened, nail-shaped flower buds of the evergreen Syzygium aromaticum. Indonesia is the largest producer of cloves, although those of Madagascar are considered superior. Cloves were extremely costly in the past and wars were fought to secure exclusive rights to the profitable clove business.

Ginger

Ginger is the dried knobby-shaped root of the perennial herb Zingiber officinale. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Once the leaves of the plant die, the thick roots, about 6 inches long, are dug up. China and India are the principal sources of ginger. During the 15th century, gingerbread became a gift of love and respect.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg is the seed of the fruit that grows on the tree Myristica fragans. Nutmeg blends well with other spices and is found in the ethnic cuisines of Italy, the Caribbean, France, India, Germany, Scandinavia, Greece, Latin America and the Middle East.

[Sources: McCormick & Co., Vann's Spices and "The Complete Spice Book"]

Armenia Yeast Cake

Makes 2 loaves, 8 to 10 servings each

BATTER: 1 package dry yeast

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup warm water

1/2 pound unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 eggs separated, reserve whites

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

FILLING:

2 reserved egg whites

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup raisins

1/3 cup sugar-Saigon cinnamon mixture (equal parts of each)

milk for brushing pastry

To make batter: Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Melt butter, sift in flour and add egg yolks and salt; then mix. Stir in yeast mixture. Cover bowl with batter tightly and refrigerate for at least 8 hours (preferably overnight). Batter will be solid when taken from refrigerator. Divide in half and roll pastry out as thin as possible (between foil) into shape of long rectangle -- piece where necessary.

To make filling: Whip egg whites and sugar to marshmallow consistency. Spread both pastries down center with meringue. Sprinkle meringue evenly with nuts, raisins and cinnamon mixture. Overlap long sides of pastries; fold up ends to seal so that you have a stollen shape. Put both cakes on a cookie sheet and cover with a clean towel and let rise for 60 to 90 minutes. You will not see much difference in shape.

Brush tops with milk and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.

Per serving (based on 10 servings per loaf): 487 calories; 6 grams protein; 28 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 56 grams carbohydrate; 4 grams fiber; 91 milligrams cholesterol; 67 milligrams sodium

Ann D. Wilder, president of Vann's Spices

Warm Cranberry Punch

Makes 13 (1-cup) servings

1/2 cup sugar

1 bottle (64 ounces) cranberry juice cocktail

1 can (12 ounces) frozen lemonade concentrate

4 cups water

3 cinnamon sticks

8 whole cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Simmer 30 minutes. Remove whole spices before serving. Garnish with orange slices, if desired. Serve warm or cold.

Tip: Substitute light cranberry juice cocktail and a no-calorie sweetener made from sugar that measures cup for cup like sugar to save 84 calories and 21 grams carbohydrate.

Per serving: 176 calories; 24 milligrams sodium; 0 grams fat; 44 grams carbohydrate; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 0 grams fiber; 0 grams protein

Recipe and analysis from McCormick & Co.

Linzer torte

Makes 16 servings

1 cup unsalted butter

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups unpeeled, chopped hazelnuts

3/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 whole egg, plus 1 yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 to 2 cups raspberry jam or any other jam you prefer

1 egg white, slightly beaten

confectioners' sugar for dusting

whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor process butter and flour and add hazelnuts; process until finely chopped. Add sugar, cloves, cinnamon and eggs and vanilla.

Process briefly and remove from processor onto a floured board. Knead briefly to make a ball. Divide dough into 2/3 and 1/3 portions. Chill for 15 minutes. Roll out or just press with your fingers the 2/3 part and fit it into a nine- or 10-tart pan with a removable bottom. Press dough over the bottom and up the sides.

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