This is a little bit of an odd Top Ten list, but I thought I’d take you through my baking cupboard (yes, I have an entire cupboard dedicated solely to baking supplies…um, and another cupboard…and a 4-tier rolling rack…but I digress). Since a Top Ten list would make this blog post too long, I’m splitting the posts up into several individual posts, showcasing one spice at a time.
Next up: CLOVES!
Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. They are native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, and are commonly used as a spice. Cloves are commercially harvested primarily in Indonesia, India, Madagascar, Zanzibar (a small island off the coast of and considered part of Tanzania), Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.
The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to 8–12 m tall. The small, nail-shaped flower buds (where cloves get their name, incidentally from the French, clou, meaning “nail”) initially have a pale hue, gradually turn green, then transition to a bright red when ready for harvest. They are then dried and ground into powder or left as whole flower buds.
People have been cooking with cloves for at least 4,000 years. For most of that time, they only grew in one place–the Maluku or “Spice” Islands. In Britain, more than 8,000 miles away, an ounce of cloves once cost more than an ounce of gold! Happily, the prices have come down significantly in this century, and now all it takes to cook or bake with cloves is a couple of bucks and quick trip to your local grocery store.
Deliciously spicy, strongly-scented cloves are usually used around the holidays; those of advanced years such as myself (*cough*), may remember oranges studded with cloves being used as tree and house decorations, prized for their wonderful, Christmas-like scents. I even attempted to make my own clove-balls last year, embedding the sharp spikes into small Styrofoam balls (a bit of a Pinterest fail, I must admit! Next time, I will use the florist foam as it’s softer…but I digress…)
Whole cloves are most often used in cooking rather than baking. They are used to add extra flavor to savory dishes that cook for a long time like roasts, ham, and rice. They will still be woody after cooking, so remove the whole cloves before serving. In cooking, cloves match well with beets, game, ham, lamb, sausage, tomatoes, and wine. North Americans and Europeans often embellish a ham with them; they are poked into the skin on the outside of the ham, often with pineapple rings and Maraschino cherries as decoration and flavour addition. There is an entire repertoire of recipes using cloves in Asian and African cuisine, such as delicious East Indian rice biryani, African tagine, and Moroccan couscous.
Ground cloves are used most often in baking during the winter holidays (at least in North America and Europe) than any other season, due to their sweet, somewhat penetrating flavor that is reminiscent of mulled wine, mincemeat pie, and gingerbread. Cloves have a natural affinity for certain other spices, such as allspice, cinnamon, mace, and ginger.
Whether whole or ground, keep cloves in a cool, dry place with a tight-fitting lid. Whole cloves will keep for as long as four years, but ground cloves should be replaced every other year at minimum. Your cloves should have a pungent odor. If not, restock your supply next time you go to the store.
If necessary, you can substitute 1tsp ground cloves for 1tsp of allspice; if you like to grind your spices just before you use them (always recommended for maximum freshness), 1tsp of whole cloves is equivalent to 3/4 tsp ground cloves. In baking, cloves match well with apples, pumpkin, walnuts, and tea.
One of my favourite baking recipes that uses a fair amount of cloves is my Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie, which I posted about previously HERE. Another recipe which I adore is this high-class Spiced Apple Cider recipe from Martha Stewart’s website:
Source: Martha Stewart.com
- 32 whole allspice berries
- 24 cinnamon sticks
- 24 cardamom pods
- 12 whole cloves
- 12 strips (2 inches wide) orange zest (from about 3 oranges)
- 1 gallon apple cider
Combine all ingredients in a pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cider can be kept warm over very low heat. Strain before serving, reserving cinnamon sticks for garnish if desired.
So go out and enjoy this delicious, aromatic spice for this upcoming holiday season; you’ll be glad you did!
Sources: Wikipedia, Kitchen Helper, Martha Stewart, Allrecipes, Veggiebelly, BBC Cooking, Taste (Australia), About.com (wine)