Christmas spices are just as much a part of the holidays as lights, fir trees and an extra inch or two around the waistline. Gingerbread spices are, without a doubt, some of the most popular Christmas spices, which should come as no surprise, as they contain all the components necessary for a festive atmosphere.
The ginger plant tastes zesty and lemony. The dried ginger root is used for baking.
The bark of the Ceylon cinnamon tree is dried and rolled up to create the ever-popular cinnamon stick, whilst ground cinnamon is usually made from cassia or Padang cinnamon.
Some like it, others don’t: coriander. However, there is a distinct difference between the leaves and the seeds of this spice plant. Coriander leaves taste soapy to some of us, while the dried seeds have a pungent, spicy and intense taste that adds a special touch to both sweet and savoury dishes.
The dried buds of the clove tree offer a wholly unique, highly intensive flavour. Gingerbread, mince pies and Christmas punch would be a flop without cloves. But be careful: always use them sparingly, as the high degree of essential oils can quickly become overpowering.
Made from immature seeds with a sweet and spicy flavour, cardamom is especially popular as a Christmas punch spice, but a small pinch in hot chocolate can also offer a festive treat for your taste buds.
Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg fruit and grows on the nutmeg tree, which is primarily found in tropical countries. The main producer is Grenada, an island of the Antilles. Nutmeg has a strong, slightly nutty flavour.
The dried unripe berries of the allspice tree are strong and spicy in flavour and an essential component of the ever-popular honey cake or gingerbread.
Make your own Christmas Spice
2 tsp ginger
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cloves
While these are the basic ingredients, most families have their own traditional gingerbread recipe, which of course always includes a few secret ingredients.
The following, for example, are also delicious:
The pods of the vanilla plant are dried in multiple stages, with just the scraped-out seeds usually used for baking.
Star anise is the fruit of a small evergreen tree in the magnolia family. Like liquorice, it has a flavour similar to that of anise and is often used for Christmas punch and tea.
The anise plant produces small green seeds that boast a light liquorice-like flavour when dried.
Whether in England, Sweden or Germany, there’s just no Christmas without gingerbread. It’s a key component, just like the Christmas tree and the sparkling eyes of children. The typical blend traditionally contains cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg.
Traditional pie crust is filled with dried fruit, apples, raisins and nuts which have been soaked in wonderfully Christmassy flavours: cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg ensure just the right amount of jingle bells.
Candied ginger joins forces with cinnamon and nutmeg, creating huge flavour in a small cookie that’s an absolute must at Christmas particularly in the US.
Also known as plum pudding, Christmas pudding is a tradition in the UK and features dried fruit, nuts, spices, eggs, bread and suet. Once turned upside down, it’s coated in brandy. A silver coin is traditionally hidden inside and whoever finds it will get married the following year.
Many spices such as allspice only develop their flavour when ground, which is very easy to do using a stone mortar. Simply place the allspice berries in the stone bowl and grind them with light pounding movements.
When infused, the spices don’t remain in the liquid, but merely release their flavour and are then removed again. The easiest way to do this is to place them in a teabag or tea strainer, allow them to steep or heat up, and then take the whole thing out again.
You can simply add some spices to the dough or use them as a decoration for the topping. Star anise, cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods are especially attractive, but even raisins with their similarity to fir needles can form a festive frame for a cake.
Spices are a wonderful addition to preserved fruit. Either as a filling for cake or dessert or as a Christmas punch. For cakes and desserts, cook the spices and fruit together for a longer period of time. The mass will then thicken and cool. For Christmas punch, mulled wine or cider, add the spices and fruit to the warm alcohol and simply keep it warm to prevent the alcohol from burning off.
This Swedish Christmas punch is sure to heat up your hands and add colour to your cheeks in record time. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and dried figs come together with red wine and brandy. There’s nothing left to say but ‘Skøl!’
When it comes to mulled wine, you need to be able to taste the fruity, not-too-dry red wine despite all the intensive Christmas spices, so it should be strong in flavour. Traditional German mulled wine (Glühwein) contains cloves, allspice, star anise, cinnamon, coriander seed, aniseed and fresh orange. It doesn’t get any more Christmassy than that.
This hot apple beverage has it all – at least in terms of spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla join forces with oranges and maple syrup. It’s entirely up to you whether you use apple wine or non-alcoholic apple juice for the apple punch – it’s going to taste Christmassy either way.
Sure, we all know what a gingerbread latte is: coffee, hot milk, lots of spice – amazing! But it’s even better with a kick! Simply add a splash of rum or amaretto and the boozy gingerbread latte is finished.
Spices are a wonderful gift and the best part about it: it’s largely fail-safe. If your colleague suddenly goes vegan, she can do as much with the spices as the friendly postman who can never turn down a steak.
‘The wrong spices are just as painful as the wrong notes.’
Not all spices work well together. Joined with the right partner, a successful composition can create wonderful Christmas flavour and enhance the festive atmosphere that wouldn’t exist without candlelight and Christmas treats. We’ve therefore put together a list of true dream dates.
Perfect for goose, roast pork or chestnut soup
1 tsp coriander
2 bay leaves
1 tsp juniper berries
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp allspice
Whether as mulled wine, glögg or hot cider, these spices ensure distinctive flavour and wonderful aroma – and also taste great in fruit tea.
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp cloves
3–4 star anise pods
Oranges and lemon peels
Used, of course, in delicious baked apples, but can also be added to a delectable apple sauce served on vanilla ice cream or to hot apple juice for more flavour.
Seeds of a vanilla pod
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cloves