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  • Michelle Schwartz

Perfecting Your Baked Goods with Spices

It's hard to imagine a festive fall holiday without the aroma of baking wafting through our homes. Certain spices — such as allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla — claim the holidays as their own.

Allspice - Often believed to be a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, allspice is actually the dried fruit of a small evergreen plant. It is especially delicious in cakes, cookies and pies.

Cinnamon - One of the oldest and most popular spices, cinnamon has a variety of uses and is a staple in most household spice racks. It is made from the bark of a cinnamon tree, which rolls up into what is commonly known as a cinnamon stick during the drying process. Easily recognized by its aroma, cinnamon adds warm sweetness to fruit pies — it pairs especially well with apples.

Cloves - One of the first spices to be traded, cloves are native to Indonesia and are actually dried flower buds. Ground cloves are used in baking and are most often found in gingerbread, spice and fruit cakes, raisin or nut bars. Cloves add great depth to the traditional holiday favorite -- pumpkin pie. 

Nutmeg - Historically a prized spice, nutmegs are the dried seeds of the nutmeg tree. Nutmeg's sweet taste is excellent in puddings and custards, and it’s delicious mixed in with French toast batter! Try freshly grating a whole nutmeg for even more flavor.

Vanilla - Introduced to Europe by the Spanish conquistador, Hernando Cortés, vanilla has a rich history and a richer flavor. It comes in three forms: whole pod, powder, and extract. It is one of the most widely used ingredients in baked desserts and icings.   

These spices can be used independently, or as a complement to each other to produce rich and interesting flavors. The key is to buy high-quality spices that contain robust flavors and aromas.  

Sweet Potato Pie
Spices bring out the best of sweet potatoes, which produce a lusciously colored, smooth, rich and delicious holiday pie.

2 cups cooked and cooled sweet potato 
4 tablespoons butter, softened 
3/4 cup honey 
2 eggs, beaten 
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg 
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt 
1/8 teaspoon Allspice
1/4 cup milk (any variety) or cream 
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 pie shell (9 inch)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Beat together sweet potato flesh and butter until creamy. Add remaining filling ingredients and mix until smooth.
3. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until inserted knife comes out clean.
4. Remove from the oven; set aside to cool before serving.

Chef Suggestions
If you'd like to make a deep-dish pie, simply multiply the recipe by half again as much and use a deep-dish 9-inch crust (and plan to cook a little longer).

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