The other day I took it upon myself to have my very own cupcake wars. This challenge based on the Food Network t.v. show of the same name required me to bake 3 different cupcake flavours in a limited amount of time. On the show 75 minutes is given but I decided to allow myself 90. I hadn’t taken into account that the water would be shut off and with the limited kitchen equipment I possessed was only able to crank out 2 flavours in 75 minutes. With MacGyver-like thinking I was able to improvise a butter/sugar beating tool and made my third flavour in less than 45 minutes. All in all, I think I did pretty good for timing. Inspired by the holiday themed Cupcake War marathon the other night I decided I too would make festive cupcakes. And the results:
The singular thing these cupcakes have in common is the pronounced use of spices. From ancient civilizations to the New World spices have figured heavily in daily living, wars and the building of empires. Their existence and those who sought them out helped to shape the Western World as we know it today. From India and China along the Silk Road, to the Middle East into Europe and from the New World to Europe spices have traveled great distances and across many cultures. They have been valued for many reasons:
- a source of power and control
- a form of payment
- culinary uses
- medicinal uses
- cosmetic uses
- religious uses
Gingerbread typically contains ginger (of course) and usually a combination of all or some of the following (depending on your recipe): cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. Eggnog‘s distinctive flavour comes from nutmeg, the seed from a tropical evergreen tree native to the Banda islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg is a member of Myristica, a genus of which some species have psychotropic effects. Chai is a general term for tea. In some languages and cultures it simply means tea (e.g. Arabic, pronunciation sounds like ‘shy‘ ). The version we’re most exposed to in Canada is the Indian version of black tea brewed with spices and milk. Recipes for chai tea spices is much like Indian curry: everyone has their own masala or varying spice mixture. Usually chai will contain the following: cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorn, ginger and cloves.
Spice are warming, have been used as aphrodisiacs and are good for digestion. If using spices in baking or cooking, fresh is the most flavourful. The flavour and scent molecules are contained within the oil and when the spice source is crushed the oil and its properties are released.
To get the most out of your spices buy them whole and use a dedicated coffee grinder, mortar and pestle and/or culinary rasp to pulverize spices to order. If powdered is in your pantry, store in an air tight container and try to use them within 6 months. Flavour molecules are volatile and degrade over time.
When served to a crowd of people who had been snacking on sugar for several days, the gingerbread proved to be the most popular. I will keep this on my holiday menu for next year. Orders anyone?