Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Understanding Christmas Spices

You know we must be embarking on the holiday season........

Yesterday Klecko had an epiphany.

My vision didn't revolve around God, World Peace...or even a medical cure.

It was culinary.

I was sitting and my desk preparing to go out across town to secure specialty spices for holiday baking.

Each year when I prepare for this, I usually get a notepad out and fumble through my thought process.....

Then it became clear to me.

I don't know why it took me so many years but.......

And then I talked with H-E-N-N-E-S-S-Y and asked, and then I called Kim Ode and asked.....

"Isn't there a definitive Christmas spice resource out there?"

I'm guessing their may be, but even after Googling the topic....I pretty much just got crap answers....soooooooooo

If Klecko wants something done, I guess he'll have to do it himself LOL.

But, if after reading this, if you find a better source (and I'm sure there a dozens of them that have eluded me) post the info in this blog for all of us please.



Christopher Columbus stumbled onto the fruit berry (that kinda looks like a pepper corn) on his second journey to the west. For centuries this spice has been primarily used by islanders in meat dishes.

It's pretty much the Americans and Brits that have utilized this spice for desserts.

In Palestine they use this fruit spice in stews which are as common as soup in Minnesota during the winter.

But for Klecko, it is the staple of all Christmas spices, why?

Because allspice is the staple ingredient in gingerbread, molasses and all dark Christmas cookies. The Brit's mix it into the honey cookies and the Germans covet this spice when making lebkuchen.


When creating a flavor profile with sweet goods, anise is always found. Like a red-headed step child....it get overlooked, or maybe even slapped around a bit.

This is a crime against man and God. Anise is a wonderful-wonderful spice.

Think about jelly bean bowls. How weak would the flavors be if you didn't have the black licorice version to balance it with.

Ask any child who grew up with an alcoholic.....boozer physically crave anise.

So if you are throwing a party (where alcohol is consumed in moderation) it is imperative to add this spice onto your cookie plate.

The best recipes utilizing anise tend to be Greek from Klecko's observation.


Speaking of "Drunks"....I always feel a little sloshed trying to say Cardamom-mum-mum-mum.

The plant comes from India, but come Christmas time......the Nordic people kidnap this spice.

The Finnish peeps use it in their Pulla.....and the Scandinavian crew make it a cornerstone spice in their Yulekaga.

I think that's the biggest dif between yulekaga and stollen. They have the same ingredients...but the Germans are not partial (or maybe just not exposed) to cardamom like the Norse.

Klecko loves-loves-loves to make a Cardamom-Plumb bread during the holidays.

It fly's off the shelf....quicker than most Christmas treats.


The default ingredient in Christmas baking for sure, in fact....I'll bet during the summer, Cinnamon vacations with Vanilla lol.

The question isn't what holidays recipes incorporate this spice, it should be "Which one don't?"

Picking your fave is a lot like handing a Victoria Secrets catalog to a group of high school boys and asking them which girl is the cutest.....

Trust me....you will get 50 different answers.

Cinnamon has made advancements by leaps and bounds since Klecko's granny used it.

But in Klecko's humble opinion.....he loves the Vietnamese.

Just a preference.


When does one use cloves in Christmas baking? Not often, it usually gets tossed into The family's Christmas ham and Gingerbread, but other than that.......

Shhhhhh, want to impress?

Mix clove with orange zest and Holy Mother of the Polish Christ.

The angels will sing through the night.


If Coriander were a rock band from the 60's-80's, it would be "The Who".

The Who was nobody's favorite band, yet most kids and adults had at least 3-4 of their albums in their collection.

Coriander doesn't hold up well on it's own. It is best paired in recipes that contain honey or ginger.


These of coarse were the spices that were brought to the Baby Jesus as Gifts.

I have never baked with them....but they do sell them online.

At the time that the Wise Men collected these spices Myrrh was much-much more expensive than Frankincense.


As most of you know, it comes in powder or crystallized forms.

Almost always ginger pretty much is isolated to cookies during the holidays but......

Klecko loves to throw large amounts of the crystallized into mince meat or fruit cake recipes.


Often time "Dear Old Ladies" from church will use Lavender to scent the presents that they give to the people that they love most.

As a kid, I thought they did this because they were old and simply had nothing better to do.

Shame on your ignorance Klecko.....

They did / do it because the Virgin Mary was reported to wash the swaddling cloth of Christ in Lavender.

Old ladies are cool.


What is mace? It comes of the same pod as nutmeg. I think it's the outer shell right? But either way.....it is a "softer" version of nutmeg.

Almost always used in plumb pies and fruit cakes instead of it's more obnoxious cousin nutmeg.


As a Pollack, I may be tainted, but nutmeg mean only one thing to me....Tom & Jerry's laced with whiskey...Polish Jesus we give thanks unto thee. One of my most favorite recipes to make during the holidays is an Egg Nog / Poppy quick bread and it has high-high-high measures of Nutmeg in it.

From my own personal experiences, of all the Christmas Baking ingredients, this one is not only my fave, but the majority of my clients as well.

You simply can't go wrong with nutmeg.


It is called "The Herb of Grace" and to be honest...I almost didn't want to include this. It is bitter is used in abundance, and to some people....it really messes up their stomach. So if you are going to use it....Have a bottle of Pepto handy.

If it gets on your skin during hot weather...and you don't wash it off. You get boils like a leper.

But with all that said.......

The French love it (go figure)lol, and they put small doses of it in their cookies.

Let's face it, nobody on God's planet makes better cookies than the French.

That a fact.


I have never used this spice in Christmas baking, but not that savory is in......

Sage is the most blessed of all spice because when King Herod sent guards out to kill babies during the Massacre of the Innocence.....

Mary and Baby Jesus were reported to hide in a large sage shrub.


The most expensive of all spices holiday or not. When you buy it in commercial volumes....it comes in a collectors tin and all the bakers fight over who will take it home when its gone.

This is once again a Nordic driven spice.

I simply don't like it.

I will go to the grave declaring that it is overrated and puts a tin like sensation on my palate.

However, if you are hell bent on using it....might the Master offer a hint.

Use it mixed in with cream cheese, use your Kitchen Aid paddle and blend the two. You will give a radiant yellow paste.

This process stretches out your saffron.

And if you are serving something with saffron....swear to Caesar, put an actual tag next to it like "Polish Saffron - Cream Cheese Kolaches".

Most people get all Pavlov when they simply see the word saffron.

In closing........

Remember to throw out last years Christmas spices....they are old and they suck.

Klecko only uses Penzey's during the holiday, but do as you will.

If you have any additions....leave here for Big Papi.

I'm outta here, I'm off to cross Amish territory to pick up my son for Thanksgiving.


  1. I love this post! Thanks for all your work; I am sad to hear you don't like Saffron, but I get that. I love Cardamom mum, mum, mum coffee....ever had that? Happy Gobble-Gobble to you Klecko & safe travels through Amish country!

  2. Mmm this was one of my favorite posts yet! Thanks Klecko! Now if I could only find cardamom in Brussels....

    Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  3. Shawn A, I have not tried Mum-Mum coffee, is that Christmas....or all winter? Yeah....I kinda wished I felt different about Saffron, but in fact....this is the first year I haven't even ordered any.

    Moxie.....I would be interested to see what Belgium eats for Christmas.

  4. I left a real nice note and now it's gone. After such a lovely essay, that really sucks.

    What i said was (sighs) this would make a nice illustrated tiny book, about Xmas spices.

    You could have a pic of the Spice Girls in shorty elf suits on the cover.

  5. You are right Mike, perhaps I will make a book on the topic. Thanks for the suggestion.