spices: 16 posts

5 Things That Inspire Me

When I work on any long-term project, my office looks as if a tornado went through it. Since I prefer to work at a low table sitting on a cushion, my legs folded in the lotus position, I use the floor around me as my canvas. Books, research materials, and reference volumes cover it in random looking piles and mixed among them are items I find inspiring. Of course, the chaos is not entirely random, and I can tell you where I have my Japanese-English dictionary, Philip Kraft’s guide to fragrance chemistry or a volume of Persian poetry, without having to get up from my table. (The table, by the way, was a $10 acquisition from a Turkish shop, intended for making phyllo pastry.)

Casting a quick glance at the items that surround me today, I realized that they are much more than the materials I use for my writing, but rather the things that inspire me, the things that give me pleasure simply by looking at or touching them. I’m sure everyone can make such an inspiration collage–and I’m sure that for every person it would be different, but I wanted to share mine with you.

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Perfume With the Aroma of Gingerbread

For anyone interested in perfumery, blending a gingerbread spice mixture can be a useful exercise. You can learn to create top, heart and base notes and to understand how spices interplay to create an aroma greater than the simple sum of their parts. Most European countries have their own gingerbread recipe and a combination of spices that gives each regional variation its distinctive flavor. My great-grandmother’s Ukrainian version was scented with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, star anise and a hint of saffron. When I blended it myself following her proportions, I realized that it was similar to the “gingerbread perfume” accord I learnt how to make as a perfumery student, although my liquid version didn’t have the voluptuous richness of saffron.

In FT magazine column Mouthwatering Scents of Gingerbread, I write about spices, pastries and perfumes, including my four favorite fragrances with a gingerbread accord. To read the full article, please click here.

More on gingerbread: Ukrainian Honeycakes with Cinnamon :: Gingerbread Spice Blends :: Belgian Gingerbread (Speculoos) :: Dutch Cinnamon Cookies (Jan Hagel).

I’d love your opinion on other gingerbread redolent perfumes. Also, if anyone has a favorite recipe for the dark, moist, soft gingerbread or honeycake, I’d be most grateful.  

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, to make the printed gingerbread, I used the dough recipe for speculoos.

Coriander and Cumin or The CC Powder

Being married into an Indian family, I learned a few things: Time is a flexible, fluid entity; when you have a few millennia of history underpinning your culture, what’s an hour here or there. You can always eat–and if you can’t, you’re probably not conscious. Spices to a cook are like essences to a perfumer. On this latter point, I would like to linger.

cc powder

I thought I knew spices before I went to India, but nothing prepared me for the dazzling array of flavors and the variety of techniques with which they can be brought to life. India is divided into 29 states, and each region has its spice signature; generalizing is all but impossible. For instance, Aai’s, my mother-in-law’s cooking combines the refined sweetness beloved in her native Gujarat with the robust spiciness of Maharashtra fare. These two states share a long border, but the cuisines are remarkably different. Gujarati cooking is rich in coriander, tamarind, with peanuts and sesame giving it a nutty flavor, while Marathi dishes have a sharp bite of garlic, chili pepper and mustard seeds. Cross into northern India, and the richness of cinnamon, clove and fenugreek color the local meals. Travel down the southern coast, and coconut becomes the main leitmotif.

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Hermessence Epice Marine : New Perfume

Épice Marine is the 11th fragrance in the Hermessence collection from Hermès. Inspired by a meeting in Cancale, Brittany with chef and spice master Olivier Roellinger, it captures the scents of Brittany’s coast and  spices. Roellinger is renowned for his intricate spice blends, which are as complex as perfumes, and the interaction between the two creators inspired them both. Ellena went on to compose Épice Marine, while Roellinger–La Poudre des Bulgares, a blend of cardamom, vanilla, saffron and sesame to perfume yogurt.

Hermessence-Epice-Marine

 

The chef gave Ellena a taste of toasted cumin seeds, which sparked the idea for Épice Marine. Unlike fresh grains, toasted cumin doesn’t have the sweaty, animalic brashness, but it smells woody, caramelized and sweet. Other notes of Épice Marine include bergamot, cardamon, cinnamon, watery and smoky accents. Available starting October 2013 at Hermès boutiques.

Roellinger’s La Poudre des Bulgares is currently available at his store in Paris and at epices-roellinger.com.

Adding on: if you read French, I recommend taking a look at the Vanity Fair article Le Mariage d’un Chef et d’un Nez. It describes how Ellena and Roellinger met and how Épice Marine was born.

Via press release

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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