Spice up your life

My mother is quite passionate about spices. Her spice drawer is a veritable treasure trove. Each time I go home, I find it difficult to deflect the offers as I pack my bag to return to London: ‘Would you like to take back some homedried sage, dear? Can I offer you some Bonnie Stern cinnamon?’ If my mum had her way I would need an extra bag just for my spice haul! What can I say – she loves me.

The craze for spice clearly isn’t genetic, though. Sure, I prefer to bake with fresh, pungent ones rather than the fusty, two year old jar lurking in the darkest recess of the cupboard, but it’s not really a subject that gets me hot and bothered.

So it was with some surprise that on Christmas Eve I enviously eyed my cousin receive a beautiful boxed collection of spices from my parents. They were so pretty, I wanted them! Lucky me when on Christmas morning there was a box waiting for me, too!

The collection in question is the Kit 101 from Montreal spicemaster Philippe de Vienne. A former caterer with two gourmet food shops, now Philippe and his wife Ethné run Épices de Cru, a purveyor of quality spices. These two travel the world seeking out the finest spices and bringing them to Canada.

You can read a fascinating interview with De Vienne at …an endless banquet, in which he talks about his mission. De Vienne points out that we live in a foodie culture where people are now happy to pay top dollar for an excellent quality bottle of olive oil or the finest chocolate, but spices haven’t caught up – we’re still buying little bottles of questionable quality at the supermarket. His mission is to provide the best spices in the world and to get us thinking about them as serious ingredients.

My little kit is heavy on Indian spices and exotic peppers but it also contains some lovely cinnamon, cloves and allspice to use in my baking. I decided to put them to use in an old-fashioned spice cake, where their simple flavours can take centre stage.

Applesauce Spice Cake
Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes (an incredible recipe resource!)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose / plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375F/190C. Butter and flour an 8inch square (or round springform) baking pan.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and salt and set aside.

With a stand or electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Addvanilla and applesauce and beat until smooth.

Add in half the dry ingredients. Just before they are blended, add buttermilk then the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until completely incorporated. Do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 25-30 minutes (less if you have used a larger pan.) The cake should spring back to the touch, and a skewer inserted into the cake should come out clean. Once the cake is cool, remove from the pan and ice if desired (it doesn’t need it though!)