How to bring out the flavour of Christmas - warm spices in sweet and savory dishes

I love the Christmas classics, but I also think, it can be nice to come up with your own new favourites. Personally, I have come up with quite a few new recipes that I turn to every single Christmas. Common to them all, is that they contain many of the same warm, aromatic spices. Even though many people associate these flavours with baked goods, they are actually quite versatile and can be used to bring out the flavour of Christmas in nearly all our favourite meals.

The warm spices

So what do I mean by warm spices? I mean spices that literally warm your mouth and nostrils and that have a sweet flavour. Spices like these are aromatic and you usually need to add just a little to get a very intense flavour and scent. You can use the spices in their whole natural shape or in the more commonly used ground variations.

Cinnamon - This is probably the most used and well known of the warm spices, at least here in the north. It is the perfect spice to add a little aroma and enhance the sweetness in for example baked goods. In hot pots or stews, a stick of cinnamon can be added to give a little exotic flavour. Or you can dust your morning porridge with a little cinnamon to instantly feel the Christmas spirit.

Cloves – To me this is the ultimate Christmas spice. It has a very intense flavour and you only need a pinch of it to make your cookies sing carols. In Denmark, we decorate clementine with whole cloves and use them as decoration to spread a lovely aroma. Often, it is also added to decorations and Christmas potpourri – it really is a Christmas trademark. However, you need to be a little careful when using cloves, since it can rather easily outshine the other flavours of your food.

Nutmeg – I love nutmeg. I use it a lot in béchamel, cheesy stews and casseroles, and it really pairs wonderfully with black pepper. But nutmeg is wonderful in sweet dishes as well, and you only need to grate a tip of the nut to get a lot of aroma and taste.

Cardamom – I have a saying that vanilla & cardamom is the salt & pepper of the sweet kitchen. I love how the combination of the two enhances the flavours in your baked goods and leaves you completely satisfied. Add a little cardamom to pancake batter, buns, yoghurt, shakes and you will instantly get an aromatic and tastier result. Cardamom is sweet in itself, and you can even chew a whole green cardamom seed to cleanse your mouth from a bad taste.

Ginger – Ginger tastes very differently depending on which type you use. Fresh ginger is not a typical warm spice but has a very intense and strong flavour. The ground version however is an aromatic and scented spice. To me, ginger in itself does not scream Christmas, but it does pair well with the other spices and therefore is often associated with Christmas cooking.

How to use the warm spices

It goes without saying that these spices are more common in desserts - at least in our part of the world. But if we turn to the Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, we will see the spices used in all sorts of delicious ways. For example you may start out by trying my recipe for a warm comforting dal.
You can spice up your beef stew with a little cloves and a cinnamon stick, as they pair well with the dark meat. You may also add taste and aroma by boiling your rice and grains with whole cloves, cinnamon sticks and cardamom seeds. Or you can even try to add a bit of the ground spices to your meatballs or sprinkle them onto chicken breasts before oven roasting them. At last, root vegetables such as parsnip, carrots, celeriac and sweet potatoes are wonderful tossed in some warm spices, salt and oil. Add a little ground cumin too, and you have yourself a wonderful side dish.

When it comes to the sweet kitchen, I have a favourite blend of warm spices: ¼ tsp cloves, ½ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp cardamom, 1 tsp ginger and 2 tsp cinnamon (as seen in the picture above). This blend can be added to everything from porridge to waffles and pancakes. You can also toss some nuts in the mix with a little honey and toast in the oven for an awesome snack or breakfast topping. You can even add the spice blend to a smoothie or your latte for a little Christmas kick.
Finally, I will share my favourite December drink. Simply heat some apple juice in a pot, add all the whole warm spices you can find along with a large dollop of honey and some organic orange zest. Let simmer for 15- 20 min, then add some raisins and nuts and let them soak for a couple of minutes – now enjoy your warm cup of Christmas.

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