Spices have a long, romantic history. Europeans once traveled so far for their spices that the search for a new spice route spurred exploration of the Americas. Today, however, spices are such commonly used ingredients that we take them for granted.
- Spices are the seeds, bark, roots, fruit, or flowers of plants. Herbs are plant leaves.
- Nutmeg and mace come from the same seed. When the fruit of the nutmeg tree is ripe it splits open, revealing a seed covered with what looks like red lace. This fragile layer is removed, dried, and ground to make mace. The seed (nutmeg) is dried and may be ground or sold whole for grating. Mace and nutmeg are satisfactory substitutes for each other.
- Allspice is a single spice, not a combination of spices, as you might think from the name. The flavor of allspice is similar to that of cloves with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg tastes.
- To guarantee you are using fresh spices, buy them in small quantities and date the containers. Replace spices yearly, regardless of how much is left in the container.
- To keep spices fresh longer, store them tightly covered in a cool, dry place.
A Popular Butter Today it's the taste of peanut butter that attracts its many fans, but it was touted at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 as a health food. Today, about half of the United States peanut crop is made into peanut butter, and Americans top the world in peanut butter consumption. By law, peanut butter must be 90 percent peanuts; no artificial flavor, colors, or preservatives are allowed. Peanut butter usually contains stabilizers to keep the oil from separating. Natural peanut butter, made with only peanuts and oil, must be stored in the refrigerator and stirred before use. Either type makes delicious cookies.
During processing, the juices from sugarcane are boiled. Mild light molasses comes from the first boiling. Dark molasses comes from the second boiling; it is less sweet than light molasses and has amore robust flavor. Our cookie recipes generally do not specify light or dark molasses because they react the same in baking, and the choice is a matter of personal preference. The final product created in molasses processing is blackstrap molasses, which is slightly bitter and has almost no sweetness; it's not used in baking. If molasses is labeled "unsulphured," no sulphur was used in the processing. Unsulphured molasses usually is a bit lighter in color and has a cleaner sugarcane flavor. Sorghum is made by boiling down the juices from the grain plant sorghum. It can be substituted for molasses in baking.