Spices have been coveted throughout history, trade routes have been forged and at times wars fought in conquest of these pungent plants.
Seeds, tree bark, roots or fruits, spices are a category of plant parts loosely grouped together because of their ability to add flavour, colour or aroma to cooking and baking.
They are mainly used to spice up food by adding fieriness or depth as well as often helping to preserve the dishes they are added to.
Ancient spice mixes in countries such as India have become the backbone of the culinary culture. There are a number of spice combinations that keep arising in more traditional Irish baking recipes, such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and more rarely cardamom.
Very often clouded glass jars of spices can be pushed to the back of the cupboard and only sought out once or twice a year. If this is the case in your house look at the dates on them, smell the contents and judge if they have lost that magic something. Spices, like most ingredients, are best used fresh. Ideally pre-ground spices should be used within three months of purchase. You can always buy the spices whole and then toast and grind them yourself as needed prior to cooking.
This will give you more punch and zing in your meals and baked treats. Toasting the spice before grinding increases flavour but there is the added bonus that it also makes them easier to crush and blend.
The treacle and ginger cake will taste better if it is made a day or two in advance of eating, this allows the spices and flavours merge together. You can then ice it before serving.
- Set oven to 180C and line a 9in square tin with parchment.
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy than add the eggs slowly.
- Sieve the baking powder into the flour and stir in the spices and ground almonds.
- Stir this into the butter mixture until combined.
- Spread into lined tin and scatter plums and oats on top.
- Shake over the extra sugar and the cinnamon.
- Bake for 45 minutes until golden and baked through.
- The juice of half an orange and the zest of two
- Half tsp of bread soda
- Heat the oven to 160C and line an 8in tin with parchment.
- Soak the fruit in half of the stout and set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs and treacle slowly, add the fruit mixture and spices and then add in the flour and chopped nuts.
- Mix everything until well combined but do not beat it. Lastly, mix the bread soda with the remaining stout and add this in as well.
- Scoop into the prepared tin and smooth the top.
- Bake at 160C for an hour- and-a-half. Reduce the heat to 145C and bake for a further hour and 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in the tin.
- 80g of icing sugar
- Half tbsp of lemon juice
- The zest of 2 oranges and half of juice
- Quarter tbsp of melted butter
- 20g of crystalised ginger
- Put flour, spices, soda into a large bowl and mix well. Rub in the cold butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the crystalised ginger.
- In a saucepan gently warm the milk, sugar, treacle and golden syrup together, stir occasionally, till the sugar dissolves. Lightly mix it into the flour.
- Add the egg and beat gently until a smooth batter is formed.
- Pour into a lined tin and bake at 180C for 50 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin and cut to your desired size once cool.
- Stir the orange and lemon juice into the icing sugar until it is pourable. Stir in the melted butter and orange zest. Pour the glaze over the cooled slices of cake.
- Dot each slice with the crystalised ginger.