Herbs and Spices--Not Just for Dinner Anymore

In the Pantry

When you think of dessert spices, cinnamon may be the first to come to mind, and of course we're all familiar with sweets such as gingerbread, spice cake, and mint chocolate brownies. However, as chefs and diners alike begin to stretch their culinary comfort zones, herbs and spices that were once relegated to the main course are making their way to dessert menus. With the right information and an adventurous spirit, you, too, could incorporate a few unique flavors into your dessert cooking repertoire.

Culinary Arts

Purchasing and Storing Herbs and Spices

When a chef prepares to use herbs and spices in dessert (or in any preparation), he or she begins by choosing a high quality, fresh product. Fresh herbs should be aromatic and green, free of wilting or yellowing leaves. Farmers' markets are an excellent source for fresh herbs during many months of the year, and some chefs choose to plant their own kitchen herb gardens to ensure a consistently fresh and inexpensive supply. Store fresh bushy herbs in the refrigerator in a glass of water and rinse more delicate herbs and loosely wrap them for storage in the crisper.

High-quality spices can be harder to find because they are often imported. When possible, try to buy spices that you can grind yourself in small batches, using a mortar and pestle or dedicated "spice" coffee grinder. Spices in those little plastic bottles that line the grocery store aisles certainly work in a pinch, but their flavor can rarely equal that of fresh-ground. If you can't find a specialty cooking store in your region, consider ordering spices from online retailers. Keep your spices in a cool, dark place in tightly closed containers; when stored appropriately, spices can retain their flavor for over a year.

Recipes to Spice Up Your Life

Let yourself be inspired by some of the hottest chefs in the country who are debuting dessert recipes that feature the following herbs and spices:

  • Tarragon
  • Fennel
  • Sage
  • Cilantro
  • Rosemary

Can't imagine how you could possibly end a meal with these traditionally savory flavors? Eating is believing. You may have to try replacing orange with sage in your favorite pound cake recipe to discover why savory herbs and spices are increasingly welcome on a dessert menu.

Give Your Sweet Tooth a Wake-Up Call

Ready to offer your taste buds more adventure? Consider some of these combinations to get started:

  • Add lavender and lemon to your favorite shortbread recipe.
  • Create an unexpected flavor and color contrast by serving basil syrup with strawberry shortcake.
  • Infuse homemade ice cream with tarragon and serve with sliced plums.
  • Give a traditional summer treat extra zing by using fresh lemon grass in sorbet.
  • Heat up the decadence with cayenne chocolate truffles.

A word of caution as you begin to experiment with adding herbs and spices to your favorite desserts--fresh herbs and spices have a highly concentrated flavor, so follow a recipe or add new ingredients slowly, tasting as you go. As delicious as these herbal and spicy treats can be, it is possible to have too much of a good thing!



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