Yesterday, when I wrote about spice blends and gave a recipe for Baharat, a specialty from the Middle East, I said that I usually buy pre-ground spices and mix them, rather than grind my own.
Well, I realized that’s not quite the case. There are certain spices that I never buy pre-ground because as soon as you grind them they start to deteriorate and lose flavor.
I never buy ground nutmeg. By the time you get it in the tin it is a mere shadow of itself and never gives you that rich, heady, mysterious quality that you get from freshly grated nutmeg. Neither the fragrance or the flavor is right.
Take this tip: buy a nutmeg grater and grate your own nutmeg. There are cheap, old fashioned ones (see the first photo) and fancier ones that work more or less like peppermills (second photo).
I buy nutmegs by the bag. The whole ones last forever I think. Every time I need nutmeg for a recipe I grate it just when it’s called for in the instructions. Most of the time you just need a little bit of it to bring out the flavor of a dish, so it’s not as if you will have to spend oodles of time grinding. It’s worth doing and even a tiny grating or two makes an enormous difference to foods as different as macaroni and cheese, gingerbread and squash soup.
Although most of the time you only use a grating or two of nutmeg, there are recipes where it plays a prominent role. This Whiskey Cake, for example. It’s a nice snack, tea bread type of cake that you’re supposed to eat plain, but you could certainly dress it up with fresh berries and whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream or Creme Anglaise sauce.
Nutmeg Whiskey Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Earth Balance buttery spread (or butter)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup whiskey
1/3 cup coconut milk (or regular milk)
1 cup finely chopped nuts
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9”x5”x3” loaf pan. Sift the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and salt into a bowl. Set aside. Place the spread or butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix at medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until creamy and well blended. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Combine 1/3 cup of the whiskey with the milk and add this liquid to the brown sugar mixture alternating with the flour mixture and continue to blend the ingredients at medium speed until the batter is smooth, creamy and well blended. Stir in the nuts. In another bowl, beat the egg whites at medium speed until they are foamy. While still beating, gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is glossy and stands in stiff peaks. Fold the beaten whites into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and brush the top with the remaining whiskey. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cake rack to cool completely. Makes one loaf