October 30, 2008

How To Prepare Your Own Pumpkin Pie Spices Blend

As we learned before, purchasing the best quality product is very important. You need to look for good quality “whole spices” that offer pure slightly strong aromas and natural beautiful colors. If you are not an expert, don’t worry; start by selecting products from various sources and keep experimenting. Eventually, you will familiarize yourself with spices and aromas based on the different world regions they may come from. You need to look at whole spices in many different ways.

First, look at the colors. Is it shiny and shows a little shade area? If so, that is good. Too much may be a bad sign.

Second, does it release a fragrance that is subtle and inviting? Does it make you feel like you discovered something special? If you do, that is a good thing.

Third, take a bite into it. Does it make your mouth watering or do you have a bad taste in your mouth? Does it leave you a nice smooth taste or a bad taste deep in your throat?

Needless to say, the last two ones of the last two sentences are not good. This pleasurable and even romantic experience is very similar in a way to wine tasting.

There are diff
erent ways to grind whole spices. I personally recommend using a mini-grinder. It is fast and you can grind to different textures. Do smash a little bit the spices to make it easier on your grinder and avoid breaking the blade. For best results, grind a little more than what you will need for a specific recipe.

Grind one spice at a time and store separately from other spices. You will mix them together later on. There is one important point before you get moving. You need to start to grind with the mildest and finish with the strongest. I will explain why later on; keep reading.

When I visited perfume manufacturers in Provence, I learned that it is extremely important to familiarize yourself with your products before doing anything. You need to touch, smell, and taste to get a good feel of a product. First, start with the mild spice and finish by the strongest. If you reverse the process, your senses will be overpowered, and you won’t be able to scent the mild aromas. A “parfumeur” has many ways to make a scent, but they always have to figure out the mild fragrances/aromas, the middle fragrances/aromas, and the strong fragrances/aromas. They also pay attention to the oil they contain, as it will affect the final product. That is also true with spices and herbs. So how do you determine if they are mild, medium, or strong fragrances/aromas?

In the case of a whole spice, you need to decide how you are going to grind it. Should you grind it to a powder, a slightly grainy texture, or a grainy texture? In a way, it is a little bit like coffee. The texture will affect the final result. If you grind like a powder, it will melt differently than if you have a coffee grind texture. You will have to determine the texture based on the final use. For liquid with short cooking or no cooking, it is best to use powder, as it will mix better and much faster. If you want to use the spices for a stew, long cooking, don’t grind so fine as it would disappear quickly and the flavors will evaporated through the cooking process. That is also why sometimes, for really long cooking, you may use whole instead of grind. The whole spice slowly releases its aromas and flavors. What evaporated does not really matter, as the whole spice keeps releasing its aromas and flavors.

How do you determine which one to start with? I like to put spices in the following five flavor categories which make it easier to taste in the right order. This order is based on flavors, aromas, and strength. Do refer to it when needed and when you are going to become the next spice chemist!

  • Unifying Category: coriander seed, fennel seed, paprika, poppy seed, sesame seed, turmeric, or fennel seed
  • Sweet Category: Allspice, anise, Cassia, cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla
  • Pungent Category: Caraway, celery or fenugreek seed, cardamom, cloves, cumin,ginger, juniper, lemon myrtle, saffron, licorice, mace, or star anise
  • Tangy Category: Caper, sumac, tamarind, hot spices, pomegranate, or zest
  • Hot Category: chili, horseradish, mustard, peppers, or Wasabi
Now we are ready to become the chemist and prepare our pumpkin pie spice blend. There are many different recipes out there and will give you my favorite. You will need to purchase the following whole spices for Chef Marie’s healthy recipe: cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, and allspice. Grind to a fine powder each spice separately and set aside. Do go through the learning process explained above to get familiarized with each aromas and flavors.

In a bowl mix:

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground clove
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Now you are ready to use in your recipe or use in the Spiced Maple Dressing recipe above.
Use this blend in pumpkin pies, sweet potato pies, cakes, cookies, custards, syrups, pancakes, fruit salads, and ice creams. It is great with sweet potatoes, breads, regular teas, herbal teas, cold drinks, apple ciders, etc.

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