cinnamon spice: 11 posts

Belgian Gingerbread Treasure : Speculoos (Speculaas)

It’s called spéculoos in French, speculaas in Dutch, and Spekulatius in German, but by whatever name you call this fragrant gingerbread cookie, it will always evoke the scent of holidays in this part of the world. Speculoos may look humble, but take one bite, and you will know why it’s a favorite among Belgians. Perfumed with cinnamon, clove and cardamom, the cookie tastes of butter and caramel, and it’s impossible to have just one.

For me, speculoos is one of the quintessential Belgian tastes. Of course, there are also fries and waffles, but speculoos have their place of honor in this small country of 10 million, bridging the cultural divide between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the North and Francophone Wallonia in the South. Speculoos are eaten all over the Benelux region, with some areas such as Hasselt specializing in their own unique versions. Traditionally, the cookies were baked to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on December 5th in the Netherlands and December 6th in Belgium, but today you can find them at bakeries all year round. In Paris you will be served your expresso with a square of dark chocolate, but your lait russe (café au lait) in Brussels will arrive with speculoos on the side.

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Scented Garden : Geranium and Spiced Arancello Recipe

Geranium cropped

By Elise Pearlstine

Sometimes the leaves, not the flowers, tell the story of an aromatic plant. I fell in love with the fragrant leaves of the scented geranium from my first sniff. From the rich, lemony smell of the citronella type to the green, floral, minty smell of a peppermint one, it is a wonder to rub your fingers over the rough, intricately shaped leaves to test the scent. There are many varieties–spicy ones, minty ones, as well as a beautiful pine-scented type with hints of rose and nutmeg. There are several hundred species in the wild. I once had a lovely chocolate mint variety that I worked very hard to keep alive in southern Florida but it did not make it through the hot summer months. It had a lovely, deep minty smell (the chocolate was mostly in my imagination) but it was a striking plant with purple streaked leaves. I gave up on scented geraniums for a number of years but recently bought six small plants – rose geraniums and attar of roses geraniums. Within a few weeks, the rose geraniums seemed to realize they were in Florida and quickly withered and died. The attar of roses plants, however, have stayed with me. I recently moved them into my office to get photos and just the act of moving them and putting them in a smaller room served to bring out the scent. They filled the room with a heady scent of rich rose with a lovely touch of green herbs.

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Ukrainian Gingerbread (Medivnychky) Recipe

Gingerbread 1

Since I posted a collection of gingerbread spice blends I figured that I might as well complete the gingerbread theme this week by sharing one of my favorite recipes with you. To experiment with my dry perfume blends, I tried quite a few recipes for gingerbread, from medieval renditions to modern versions. Yet, when I baked these crisp Ukrainian cookies, even my gingerbread wary family was curious. Unlike most other gingerbread recipes, these cookies are not particularly sweet, which makes them equally appropriate for either evening tea with jam or a glass of red wine with cheese. Moreover, the relatively simple dough makes the flavor of the spices stand out clearly and provides a good foil for experimenting with different dry perfume blends.

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Dry Perfume for Gingerbread : Spice Blends

For some people the frankincense and myrrh of Christmas high mass evoke the memories of holidays, but for me these memories are evoked by the smell of spices. In the Soviet Ukraine of my childhood, the New Year’s Eve celebration replaced the religious holiday and turned Christmas traditions into customs with which to usher in the new year. The children on the other side of border received their presents from Santa Claus on December 25th but my present was delivered on Jan 1st by the socialist Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) whose red nose and coterie of pretty Snowmaidens gave him a decidedly rakish air.
spices-gingerbread-sm
As much as I was looking forward to the excitement of opening the gifts, I was even more excited to help with the holiday baking. The moment my grandmother reached for her box of spices it was a clear sign that we were going to fashion flour and sugar into something special—crisp gingerbread, honey and walnut cakes layered with lemony sour cream filling, cinnamon flavored poppyseed strudels, flaky millefeuille with vanilla custard… The words ‘special’ and ‘spices’ share the same root in most languages for a very good reason—spices are indeed exceptional in the  fragrant potential they contain. Even now, when I can easily find any spice and no longer have to ration my use of vanilla or saffron, I am just as moved by their fragrance as I was as a child.

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Love Potion #99 Aromatic Drink

Love_potion_notes

by Michelle Krell Kydd

Love potion. The word has the taste of alchemy, dry ice and witchery. The concept of food as a talisman is not a new one, but when it is attached to love there seems to be an unending string of incarnations. It is no wonder; every act of coupling has a unique quality and whether or not it is intended, the potential for creating new life is written into the physical expression of affection. In that tide of energy, identities are exchanged, traded and temporarily obliterated. Each person reemerges slightly different, yet more themselves than they were before. How could one not try to pierce that mystery by engaging the sense of taste? …

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