Fast, Cheap, and Easy: Spices! And Apple Spice Cake
by Anastatia Curley
I’ve had spices on the brain for the past few weeks. Spices in general and apple spice cake in particular. Spices in particular because I’ve just moved into a new house, and am setting up a new kitchen and looking to get my pantry and spice rack back into trim. (I’ve been subletting for a few months, carrying only my eight-inch chef’s knife and a cast-iron pan with me. They have served me well, but it’s awfully nice to have a few more utensils.)
Most cooks will tell you that, if you stock your pantry well, you’ll always be able to pull some kind of meal together. I’m going to add my voice to the chorus: even if your “pantry” is a shelf, put a little thought into stocking it. After the jump, more spice wisdom and a recipe for a delicious spice cake!
For instance, spices: of course you should always have fresh black peppercorns and kosher salt on hand. It’s nice to have some sea salt, too, for moments when its flaky texture will add something special. (For instance, on a green salad.) Beyond that, what do you need? Of course it depends on how much and how seriously you cook, but even a casual cook should have:
- Red pepper flakes: nice for adding a kick to sautéed greens, tomato sauces, or, well, anything really.
- Cumin: for chile or anything with beans
- Cinnamon: for toast, for baking
- Bay leaves for soup, sauces, and beans
If you’re planning slightly more adventurous cooking, you might want whole cloves (among other things, they are wonderful in black tea with milk), and cardamom pods or ground cardamom, which are great in curries but also in baked goods. I really like both nutmeg and saffron—albeit not together—and so always have them on hand.
Herbs like basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme, or sage I only use fresh. Dried basil or parsley is pointless, and while rosemary and thyme survive the process with some flavor intact, it’s much better to buy a bunch of thyme and freeze it or grow a pot in your kitchen, where it will survive the winter.
I will also just mention that anyone who is really serious about spices should buy a spice grinder and whole spices, and never buy anything ground. If that doesn’t describe you, though, I don’t think it’s a crime to buy ground spices. They are a little more expensive and not as pungent, and you have to use them within a year.
Now that the lecture’s over, let’s move on to apple spice cake, which I have been thinking about ever since the weather got cold and apples appeared in abundance at the farmers’ market. I imagine myself curling up on a grey afternoon with a cup of black tea (with cloves) and a warm slice of spicy apple cake. This weekend I satisfied that craving with this tea bread, which I highly recommend. It’s also good for breakfast, if you’re feeling indulgent.
Apple-Walnut-(and Raisin)-Sour Cream Bread
Adapted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¾ cup sour cream
1 cup peeled and chopped apples
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a nine-inch loaf pan.
1. Sauté the apples in butter and cinnamon until they are fragrant and very lightly browned.
2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until smooth.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Alternating with the sour cream, gently fold the dry mixture into the butter-egg mixture. The batter will be thick, but don’t overwork it.
4. Fold in the apples, walnuts, and raisins. Spread the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the top is brown. Cool the cake for at least 10 minutes before slicing.