Our Favorite Holiday Spices from The Spice House
We talked to the experts at The Spice House about which holiday spices and herbs are best to use this time of year.
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There are several different cinnamon varieties out there, but Alex Wilkens, director of product and sourcing at The Spice House, says his preferred choice for home baking is Saigon (sometimes called Vietnamese) cinnamon. “It’s bold enough to mingle with other spicy flavors like ginger, nutmeg and cloves,” Alex says. He also points out that this cinnamon is a great balance of sweet and heat.
According to Alex: “The holiday season is definitely cardamom season.” Aromatic cardamom starts crisp and finishes with a bit of heat—almost like ginger. You’ll find it in many Scandinavian-style bakes, like pistachio-cardamom cheesecake, or used in a cardamom bread for a bit of wintry warmth.
Head to your spice rack right now and look at the date on your ginger. Chances are that ginger—a spice that is bright and spicy—is past its prime.
To make the most of your holiday bakes, including gingerbread, pick up a jar of freshly ground ginger. You’ll be able to taste a noticeable difference with a new jar.
“The holidays would have a hole in them without plenty of sweet treats made with warming spices,” Alex says. A shortcut to these warming flavors is to use a mix of chai spices.
Made with cinnamon, cardamom, clove and pure cane sugar, the Spice House’s blend can flavor frostings, cookies, coffee cakes and more. The easiest way to add this mix into your holiday routine is to stir it into your morning coffee instead of plain sugar.
One sniff of sage and many of us are transported right to the holiday dinner table. That’s because sage is a major player in stuffing, gravy and even the Thanksgiving turkey. But you don’t need to put this herb away the day after Thanksgiving. Alex recommends using this “classic and comforting ingredient” throughout the season.
Sage has a place in poultry dishes and with root vegetables, but it also deserves to be used in your seasonal baking. Try our Pumpkin Sage Buerre Noisette Cookies, Yorkshire Puddings with Bacon and Sage or Sage Apple Cider Bread.
What would the holidays be without ginger? It’s the star of the show in the quintessential holiday bake: gingerbread. However, if you want to add an extra pop of ginger to your bakes, go beyond the ground ginger option and try crystallized ginger. This sugared variety adds texture, flavor and sweetness to our Test Kitchen’s favorite yule log cake.
Mulling spices—a blend of cinnamon, allspice, cloves and other flavors—are the perfect way to amp up any wintry drink. Simmer cider or wine with this mix for a treat that pairs perfectly with cozy slippers and a Christmas movie marathon.
If cinnamon tends to taste a bit too spicy, or you just don’t want it to overpower other flavors in recipes like cinnamon rolls, Alex recommends Korintje cinnamon. “For the more reserved among us, we always recommend Korintje cinnamon, which has a similar sweet-meets-heat profile—just dialed down,” he says.
The secret to a satisfying cup of eggnog? A dusting of nutmeg of course! Grate a bit of fresh nutmeg into your cup for the best results.
Whole Vanilla Beans
Bakers, we know you already have a bottle of vanilla extract in your cupboard. When the holidays come around, though, you might want to reach for an extra special ingredient: whole vanilla beans.
The insides of these bean pods from Madagascar are potent and complex. Carefully scrape out the interior and use it in special occasion bakes for the holidays.
Not every holiday recipe calls for spicy cinnamon. This variety from Sri Lanka has “a gentle warmth,” per Alex. You’ll find Ceylon cinnamon to be milder with some slight citrusy notes.
Alex suggests using this cinnamon in hot cocoa, bread pudding and holiday custards.
Cloves are a love-it-or-hate-it kind of spice. According to Alex, that’s because many people go overboard with them. But he says don’t swear them off entirely, since they “add extraordinary floral depth and character.” The secret is to add very little.
“As soon as you can taste them, you’ve gone too far,” Alex says. So this holiday, keep using cloves, but be precise in your measurements and be careful not to overdo it.
Hot Cocoa Mix
While hot cocoa mix isn’t usually part of most baking rosters, we think you should give it a try! The spice House’s version, made with cocoa powder, cane sugar and vanilla powder, makes a decadent addition to holiday bakes. Test it out with these recipes using hot chocolate mix.
If you’re looking for one recipe to start with, try Hot Chocolate Cookies—yes, mini marshmallows are included.
Rosemary is a great herb to use all year round, but its slight pine flavor makes it a fitting ingredient for the winter months. Use this herb in rosemary dinner rolls for Christmas or add a sprinkling to your shortbread cookies.
Urfa Biber Chiles
Alex says that Urfa biber chiles, a cousin of Aleppo pepper, are his secret holiday ingredient. “If you have any deep, dark secret recipes that are loaded with chocolate, sprinkle in some Urfa biber chiles and don’t say a word,” he says. “Mixed into a double chocolate brownie, these slightly oily, slightly salty, slightly fruity chiles deliver just enough heat to remind you that you belong at the grownup’s table this year.” We recommend using a dash in these dark chocolate recipes.
Some folks might think that pumpkin spice is overdone, but Alex says rather than avoiding this popular blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove, you can use it in non-traditional applications instead. Try it mixed into your favorite caramel corn recipe.
Poppy seeds are popular in many Eastern European holiday bakes. Stock up on these if you’re making Polish poppy seed loaves, kolaches or even just a pan of dinner rolls.
When it comes to holiday spice blends, put down the pumpkin spice and pick up an unexpected but very fitting blend: garam masala. This Indian mix has all the warming spices you love this time of year: cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. “It makes perfect sense to try it in your cookies, brownies or pancakes,” says Alex. Here’s how to make garam masala at home.