Gingerbread, a spice vehicle par excellence, is a European tradition, and every country has its own kind. The recipes for gingerbread evolved from simple biscuits of flour and honey to exquisitely perfumed delicacies in the 14-17th centuries. Modern gingerbread is the descendant of that richly spiced confection, which reflected so well Europe’s fascination with spices. While the gingerbread recipes themselves do not vary dramatically, it is the combination of spices that gives each regional variation its distinctive flavor. Thus, pryaniki, the Russian gingerbread, or medivnychky, the Ukrainian version of my childhood, are richly scented with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and star anise. In the Baltic states further west, black pepper provides a pleasantly fiery note. German lebkuchen has a bright flavor thanks to the orange or lemon peel, while famous Polish Toruń gingerbread (pierniki toruńskie) is hauntingly perfumed with cardamom and clove. By varying the spices, even a basic sugar cookie recipe can be transformed into a seductively spiced treat.
As I learn more about creating fragrance accords, I become more and more convinced that the true sister of perfumery is gastronomy. In this spirit, I will share a few dry perfume blends for gingerbread, some modern, some quite old and traditional. The recipes below are only a few blends out of dozens that I have tried, but they are my favorite for their complexity of flavor and balance of aromas, both warm and sweet. Besides being used in your favorite gingerbread, they can flavor any cake, cookie, pastry or even chai and mulled wine. The proportions are guidelines only, as you should feel free to adjust the spices to reflect your tastes. Since spices like cinnamon, cardamom, clove and nutmeg rapidly lose their fragrance once ground, it is best to make gingerbread blends in small quantities and store any excess well-wrapped in the freezer.
Dry Perfume with a Beautiful Coriander Note
It is one of my favorite gingerbread blends (even though it has no ginger in it) for the intricate layering of sensations—the burnt orange peel of coriander with the fiery sweetness of cinnamon and the rich carnation and rose opulence of cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. You can also add toasted nuts, candied citrus peel, grated orange or lemon peel and vanilla to flavor gingerbread. Use in the amounts of ¼ tsp to 1 tsp per 1lb of flour.
3.5tsp (35 g) ground coriander seed
3tsp (30 g) ground cinnamon
2tsp (10 g) ground cardamom
2tsp (10 g) ground nutmeg
1tsp (5 g) ground cloves
1tsp (5 g) star anise, ground
1tsp (5 g) ground allspice
Source: Kengis, R.P. and P. Markhel, Homebaking, Moscow 1959.
Anise and Candied Orange peel Blend
A very elegant, bright combination from the 1897 edition of Elena Molokhovets’ Gift to Young Housewives. Anise seeds give away its French roots because the traditional Russian spice blends tend to rely on star anise. You can also substitute 1T of grated fresh orange peel for candied oranges. It makes a very elegant spice blend for sponge cakes and shortbread. In the original recipe, it was used to flavor rye flour gingerbread.
1 tsp clove
1 tsp dry ground ginger
1 tsp anise seeds, smashed or ground
¼ c candied orange peel, minced
Warm and Sweet Spice Blend
A blend used for famous Russian vyazemskie pryaniki (Вяземские Пряники.) Use 3/4t of dry perfume blend per 2 cups of flour. Fresh ginger is also very delicious in this blend, it gives a more vibrant, citrusy flavor to this warm and sweet combination.
3 cloves, ground
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp dry ginger
seeds from 2 cardamom pods, ground
1/8 of a nutmeg, grated
Source: Maksim Syrnikov, Домашняя Русская Кухня.
Two Exquisite Citrus Flavored German Blends
The first one is used in lebkuchen, German gingerbread, and it is a very fragrant, full-bodied blend, where the dark sweetness of spices is lightened by citrus. It is simply exquisite! Whenever I make this spice blend, I am tempted as much to eat it as to wear it as perfume.
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
Grated orange and lemon peel (make sure they are untreated)
7 oz (200 g) chopped hazelnuts
1.75 oz (50 g) chopped candied lemon peel
1.75 oz (50 g) chopped candied orange peel. Intended for 52.5 oz (1500 g) of flour.
Source and recipe: Lebkuchen.
This blend is used to flavor the renowned German gingerbread from Basel. Originally, the recipe used candied ginger, but over time, it got replaced by the less expensive citrus peel. The combination of candied orange and lemon, almonds, kirsch and sweet spices is intoxicating.
2 tbsp. kirsch
1/4 cup finely chopped candied orange peel
1/4 cup finely chopped candied lemon peel
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Source and recipe: Basel Honey Cookies.
French Pain d’épices Blend
Very elegant and aromatic blend used to flavor French gingerbread (pain d’épices). The presence of anise seeds give a very beautiful cool-warm sensation, while the addition of a mix of four spices makes it very complex in flavor. In the original recipe, it was intended to be used for 250g of flour.
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dry ginger
1 tsp quatre épices : the name literally means “four spices”; the spice mix contains ground pepper (white, black, or both), cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
Dark and Spicy Dutch Blend
This is an adults only spice blend, as the lavish dose of black pepper and ginger (both dry and candied) give it a fiery warmth and rich darkness. Originally, it was used to flavor Kruidkoek, Dutch gingerbread, but I often use it flavor shortbread to serve with cheese and port. Minus candied ginger and citron, it makes a delicious pork rub.
1 Tbs cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground powdered ginger
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
50 grams chopped preserved ginger
50 grams chopped candied citron (optional)
Source and recipe: Kruidkoek.
Photography © Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved.