You may be familiar with your spice cabinet when it comes to savoury cooking, making curries, soups, burgers and salads with a confident hand. But desserts, from classic cookies to show-stopping sweet centrepieces can also benefit tremendously from a smack of fragrant spices you may not have usually considered. It was Top Chef Canada’s competitors that inspired us, as they were put to the test in the fifth episode’s Quickfire Challenge, being asked to create desserts with an eyebrow-raising twist using blindly chosen herbs and spices from the McCormick spice rack. The winning dish – Jalapeño and Sriracha Beignets, Burnt Orange Jalapeño Ice Cream and Caramelized Banana with Bone Marrow Caramel – wowed judges, rousing us to perhaps be a bit more adventurous in our dessert making at home.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be as extravagant as this winning Top Chef Canada creation to be just as delicious. Here’s how you can infuse your desserts with unexpected flavours when baking at home.
How to Add Spices to Desserts
Spices taste best when they’re bloomed or expressed by exposing them to fat, liquid, heat or a combination. If you’re making bread, dough or truffles, steep spices in milk to draw out their full potential. For cooked puddings, like rice pudding, add the spices halfway through the cooking time to infuse your recipe without overpowering it. For cookies, cakes and frostings add your spices when creaming or melting butter or oil instead of with the dry ingredients; you’ll get more bang for your buck and a richer, rounder spice flavour as the fat coaxes out the fragrant oils of the spices.
Add Heat to Your Sweets
Like this week’s Top Chef Canada Quickfire Challenge winner, dessert makers around the world frequently introduce a sizzling kick to desserts with dried hot peppers. Take Mexico, for instance: their chocolate desserts are often pepped up with chili, adding depth to ignite and excite the palate. A stunning example of this is shown in Helloflavour.ca’s recipe for Flourless Chocolate Chili Cake, combining cayenne, cocoa, sugar, eggs, and dark chocolate. It has just a touch of bite, but not too much that it’s overwhelming, and it’s easy to accomplish at home. Click here to get the Helloflavour.ca recipe.
The Dessert Spice Cabinet
You know vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, but there are other ways to spice up your sweets with flavours like star anise, thyme, and black pepper. What’s more, you can use the same black pepper or thyme in dinner as you do dessert, keeping things simple.
Black Pepper: Black pepper can elevate desserts, adding a gentle warmth and earthy quality to citrusy sweets. A Top Chef Canada competitor paired black peppercorns with sage, making a mango black pepper curd with sage candies, matching sweet and earthy flavours with aplomb. For something a bit more home cook friendly, try black pepper in crusts for lemon meringue pie and grapefruit curd tarts. Or, whip it into cookies, like this recipe from Valerie Bertinelli for Black Pepper Walnut Biscotti.
Chipotle: For desserts with a real kick and exceptional fortitude, add smoky chipotle chili pepper powder. The spice is outstanding in dark chocolate desserts, like in this recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, but would also work in strawberry shortcake, grilled pineapple sundaes and tiramisu.
Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds make appearances in many Italian and Indian desserts, offering a gentle and welcome anise tang that’s both naturally sweet and digestion promoting, especially after a large meal. This structurally impressive recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for Parma-Style Carrot Cake includes fennel seeds, pine nuts and mascarpone cheese for a comforting Italian dessert.
Five-Spice Powder: With warming notes of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel and Szechwan peppercorns, Chinese five-spice transitions seamlessly into the realm of desserts. Use it to imbue heavy cream when making truffles, switch up homemade masala chai, roast with rhubarb to top a pavlova or add it to cake batters for a stylish twist. This Chocolate Spice Cupcake with Chocolate “Swirl” Frosting recipe incorporates five-spice in a moist and tender cake base.
Saffron: Impart earthy elegance to your desserts and make them jump off the plate with saffron. In Scandinavia, sweet St. Lucia buns are infused with saffron and dotted with dried fruit during the holidays. In Middle Eastern cuisine, saffron is added to rice pudding, custards, doughnuts, ice cream and cookies. Here, it’s given the French treatment in this 4-ingredient recipe for Easy Saffron Crème Brûlée, proving that crowd-wooing desserts don’t need to take all day.
Sponsored by McCormick. For more great dessert recipes go to helloflavour.ca.