Monday, February 20, 2006

on ingredients

Chai Spice: Chai spice can be made by grinding the following ingredients: cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, all spice and peppercorns. Experiment with different ratios and use sparingly to flavour cookies, cakes, custards and desserts.

Chinese Five Spice: is a distinctive blend of star anise, fennel seeds, cassia, Szechwan pepper and cloves. Ideal for dry marinade for chicken, duck, pork and seafood. Chinese five spice and other unusual blends can also be used in baked goods.

Cinnamon: If you ever come across Cinnamon/Canelle in a specialty store such as Olives & Epices (Epices de Cru) in Montreal, I would recommend picking it up as cinnamon comes in different grades (I recently found this out myself). Anyways, the difference between the higher grade and lower grade is the amount of essential oils that it contains. The good stuff contains more essential oils and has a much stronger and complex flavour.

Cardamom: There is brown cardamom and green cardamom. Dried Brown Cardamom pods are oval and about 1 inch dark brown pods with a rough, ribbed and furry surface. The flavour of Brown cardamom is a woody, smoky, camphorous and eucalyptus flavour, similar but not as intense as green Cardamom.
Dried green cardamom pods are oval and about 1 cm. When the husk is broken they contain three to four brown-black oil pungent seeds. The taste of green cardamom is warm, camphorous and eucalypt, which is pleasantly refreshing.

Cocoa Nibs: are fermented, dried, shelled and roasted seeds of the cocoa pod. Cocoa nibs contain about 50% cocoa butter. Cocoa nibs have come into style, commonly being used in cookie and chocolate creations.

Dutch Cocoa Powder: The process of changing the acidity level of cocoa powder is called "dutching”. By adding an alkali, to either shelled cocoa beans or chocolate liquor, dutching changes the acidity and makes cocoa powder more digestible. The process also darkens the color of the cocoa powder and mellows its flavour.

Feuilletine: These delicious crispy wafer flakes taste like crushed ice cream cones. Add them to chocolate for crunchy treats, roll truffles in them or decorate sides of cakes. They are made by the famous French chocolate company Cocao Barry.

Fleur de Sel: Fleur de Sel is harvested by hand off the village of Guerande in Brittany in July and August, when the sea is calm and the weather conditions are just right. It is a lovely salt that is a bit pricey. Most people use it as a condiment and sprinkle a pinch here and there in places where the salt will shine and its distinctive flavor and texture will be appreciated. Fresh bread with unsalted butter and a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel is a favorite use. However, Fleur de Sel is also fantastic lightly sprinkled on a chocolate tart or anything sweet that could use a touch of salt to enhance of flavour of your desserts.

Gianduja: (or, more commonly, gianduia) the name of a sweet chocolate containing about 50% hazelnut and almond paste. Used in cakes, cookies, custards and ice creams. Not commonly available in supermarkets, Nutella is commonly used as a substitute for home cooks.

Lavender: The aroma of Lavender is sweet, fragrant, woody, grassy and floral. Lavender when used sparingly can be delicious in cookies, cakes, custards, ice creams and ganache.

Lemongrass: Lemongrass has a tangy flavour to lemon zest, due to its high presence of citral, the substance found in the outer rind of lemon. Lemongrass can be used in different ways, the most common, being infused in custards and creams to create a rich tangy flavour and in recipes with lemon to create a more complex citrus flavour.

Mahlab: an unusual fragrant spice made from the husked kernels of a small, wild black cherry tree. Kernels of mahlab are light-tan in colour, tear shaped 5mm long and a creamy white inside. It’s familiarity comes from it’s distinct aroma that is a cherry-sweet, almond-like and floral. Mahlab can be used ground and used sparingly in cookies and cakes.

Orange Flower Water: Orange flower water is used in many Mediterranean dessert dishes. The flavour is comprised of an orange and floral note. Orange flower water should be used sparingly as the floral taste can be overpowering. It is often used with oranges or orange flavoured dessert creations.

Pink Peppercorn: Pink peppercorns have a delicate, fragrant, sweet, and spicy flavor. They are reminiscent of a mild citrus zest and sweet berries. Pink peppercorns go especially well in fruit sauces, vinaigrettes, and desserts. These peppercorns have a rich rose color that add an elegant appearance to any cuisine.

Rooibos: Afrikaans for 'red bush', the plant is actually green until it is fermented causing it to become red. Rooibos is a member of the legume family of plants, and is commonly used to make a tisane (herbal tea). Rooibos tea contains no colors, additives or preservatives, making it a natural beverage. It contains no caffeine. Rooibos comes in a host of flavours and has become a popular use in jellies, custards, sorbets or served by itself.

Rose Water: Used widely in the Middle East especially to flavor baklava and sherbets as well as Turkish delight candies. Rose flower water is produced by water distillation from rose flowers. Use sparingly.

Tonka Bean: the use of tonka beans (which was never high) has further decreased since coumarin is suspected to be carcinogenic. It is interesting, as tonka beans make for a surprising, unusual alternative to vanilla in homemade ice cream, custard and soufflé. Tonka can be ground, grated or infused and should be cooked, baked or heated in some manner. Use sparingly as typically a few beans suffice to flavour 1 kg of desserts. Tonka infused ganache for chocolates and truffles seem to be popular at the moment.

Vanilla Bean: The three most common types of vanilla beans are Bourbon-Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian. All having different aromas and flavours: Bourbon-Madagascar (rich, creamy and sweet), Mexican (mellow flavour with a spicy and woody fragrance), and Tahitian (smelling of licorice, cherries and prunes).

Vanilla Extract: If you are buying vanilla extract make sure you are buying pure vanilla extract; Nielsen Massey is a good quality brand. If you decide that you want to attempt to make your own vanilla extract it is very simple. I usually use a small 375 ml miki of good quality vodka or bourbon and 3 long and soft vanilla beans. Split the beans lengthwise, then cut them into small pieces. Put into the vodka and seal well. Let the bottle stand in a dark, cool place for a month and shake the bottle from time to time. After a month or so you can use the vanilla extract.

Vanilla Sugar: Place a split vanilla bean and 1 cup of sugar in a sealed container or jar. Shake it periodically to circulate the sugar and increase the fragrance. After one week the vanilla sugar is ready. Vanilla sugar is wonderful for teas, coffees and can substituted for sugar in cookies and cakes.

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