Michelle Darmody: Spice up your plate with these recipes

Michelle Darmody: Spice up your plate with these recipes

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.

Sunken plum cake with spiced oat topping

Michelle Darmody: Spice up your plate with these recipes

  • 200g of soft butter
  • 200g of golden caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp of baking powder
  • 150g of spelt flour
  • 2 tsp of mixed cake spice
  • 100g of ground almonds
  • 500g of plumbs, de-stoned and chopped
  • 2 tbsp of porridge oats
  • 1 tbsp of dark brown sugar
  • Half tsp of ground cinnamon

- 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.

Spiced fruit cake

  • 450g of dried fruit, I use a mix of sultanas, raisins and apricot
  • 250ml of stout
  • 225g of soft butter
  • 220g of soft brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp of treacle
  • 2 tsp of mixed cake spice
  • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of powdered ginger
  • 340g of plain flour
  • 60g of nuts, chopped

- 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.

Spiced treacle and ginger slices

Michelle Darmody: Spice up your plate with these recipes

  • 230g of self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp of ground ginger
  • 2 tsp of mixed cake spice
  • 1 tsp of bread soda, sieved
  • 110g of cold butter, cubed
  • 80g of crystalised ginger, chopped
  • 280ml of milk
  • 100g of muscovado sugar
  • 110g of treacle
  • 110g of golden syrup
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

To decorate

- 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.

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