Don’t you just love the scent of holiday baking? Kitchens all across the country are filled with the warm aromas of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and nutmeg. Spices are links to our ancient past, when they were used as medicine for centuries. They were considered quite valuable, and both trade routes and political alliances were for created to procure these precious food stuffs. Today, they enhance our baking in subtle and striking ways, turning a plain-Jane dessert into something quite memorable.
Spices are actually the dried bark, seeds and fruit of trees and plants, and I often wonder who the first person was to peel the bark from a type of laurel tree (for cinnamon), dry it and drop it into a stew pot…or the first person to ferment and dry vanilla beans. We had adventurous ancestors! We get to enjoy the fruits – or spices – of their labor in our favorite desserts of the season. Apple pie filled with cinnamon-scented apples, quince poached with cardamom (a relative of ginger), pears roasted with vanilla bean and cloves, and pumpkin pie, featuring a careful blend of spices, are fall and winter desserts that celebrate the season’s produce with that special underpinning of spice that rounds and completes the flavor profile of each dessert.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy the warm baking spices this time of year is gingerbread. Cookies, cake, scones, soufflés – even coffee drinks entice us with the name gingerbread. With the deep, round flavors of brown sugar and molasses playing against the blend of spices, I find nearly anything titled gingerbread irresistible. Today, I’d like to offer you a favorite recipe of mine that is perfect for holiday season entertaining – Gingerbread Shortcakes with Caramelized Apples and Cider Sabayon. It’s warm and comforting and elegant all at the same time. There’s plenty that can be done in advance, so be sure to check the notes at the end of the recipe. And if all you want is a great scone to start the day, warm gingerbread scones (the shortcakes of the recipe) are just the ticket on a winter’s morning. Gingerbread latte anyone?More Spices of the Season ideas and recipes follow after the jump