Illegally Delicious Plum Preserves Infused with Tonka Bean

plums in paper bag

I was raving about plums almost exactly a year ago and guess what, I’m still a huge fan of this slightly overlooked stone fruit. Since they are in season, you can get them on the cheap now and that’s exactly what I did.

The result: a new addition to my rapidly expanding jam collection. This time, it’s a thick plum preserve with no added sugar and an extra layer of flavor thanks to shavings of a firm, dark brown and somewhat wrinkly seed resembling a woody raisin: the tonka bean.

I haven’t even heard about this spice until my mother-in-law gave me a few pieces recently. Have you? This is what I’ve found out since:

This haute cuisine ingredient is actually the seed of the cumaru or kumaru tree, a plant native to Central America and Northern South America.

tonka beans

Tonka beans have been banned by the FDA for sale in the U.S. as a food item because they contain coumarin, a chemical that is believed to cause liver problems. In extreme concentrations, that is: at least 30 entire tonka beans would need to be eaten to approach levels reported as toxic, when a single bean is enough to flavor 50 servings of food.

Coumarin has since been found to occur naturally in cinnamon, lavender, licorice and other commonly eaten plants too by the way, which are, to my knowledge, still freely available. Seems to me as a rather overreaching ban, no?

“Dreaded” coumarin is responsible for the seed’s unique, complex and very pleasant odor coveted by the perfume industry for centuries: a rich, heady, fruity aroma somewhat similar to vanilla. Just the twist my humble plums needed! Lucky it’s legal here.

I wanted this jam to be not sweet. I’d like to try it with meat (duck and game come to mind instantly) and use it in desserts that call for some tartness. When you don’t add sugar, you need to increase the cooking time a great deal to ensure your jam won’t spoil. And that’s where a crock pot comes into play: the low and slow temps and the nonstick pan allows you not to stand next to the batch all day.

It’s hard to tell the exact time it takes for the plums to break down completely and thicken, but be advised it’s not a quick process. I turned the slow cooker on early on a Saturday morning, and it was already getting dark outside when I sealed the jars. It’s time intensive, but not labour intensive in return.

The washed, pitted and halved plums go in, the machine is set on low with the lid on. Every now and then you check on it to make sure it’s simmering slowly and not catching. As the preserve starts to thicken, you need to stir more frequently. Approaching the end of cooking time, grate a tonka bean with a microplane, as you would with nutmeg, to infuse the jam with the exotic notes. After preserves reach desired consistency, transfer to sterile jars and seal.

Love,

Fruzsi

Plums in paper bag hoto by Katrín Björk

Tonka beans photo by Rebecka G. Sendroiu

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Pantry Staples: Gingerbread & Lebkuchen Spice

pantry staples gingerbread lebkuchen spice cover

Gift Idea Alert! I know, I know, it’s mid-November but you can never start too early if you want to take the stress factor out from holiday gifting. (OK, my Christmas shopping during summer sales might be a bit extreme, but you get the concept).

When it comes to presents, you can expect food favors from me, and as we approach festive season I will post delicacies that double as gifts to help tick some names off your list.

Today, I’m here to give you the ultimate winter classics: gingerbread spice and Lebkuchengewürz. Lebkuchen is also a gingerbread variety: the traditional German Christmas treat made with honey, spices, enriched with nuts and sometimes icing on top.

Gingerbread and Lebkuchen spices are similar, but not identical. Equally heavy on the cinnamon, while a traditional UK/US gingerbread blend has ginger, cloves (sometimes nutmeg and allspice is also added), Lebkuchen spice is more complex with coriander, star anise, cardamom and black peppercorn.

Both are versatile mix of spices perfect for baking the classic cookie, and can also be added to lots of other things. Basically, whatever you want to have a holiday flavor, let it be food or beverage.

Gingerbread spice is great in fruity sauces to accompany roasts, to sprinkle on a towering whipped cream mountain floating on your hot cocoa, on roasted butternut squash or carrots, adding to waffle batter, oatmeal, rice pudding, bundt cakes, crumbles, pies, to infuse honey and for making sugar syrups. Just to mention a few. 🙂

Stating hereby I have nothing against buying gingerbread spice at the store, since I usually have all the ingredients in my spice cabinet, I make it for myself. When I can’t get something like it happened with cardamom not so long ago, Kotányi Honey Cake spice mix (the one I used for my Festive Plum Preserve) or Bella Lebkuchen Spice from Aldi are tried, true & much loved replacement items.

bella kotanyi gingerbread spice mix

Wether your taste gravitates towards the Anglosphere or Germanoshere, all you need is 5 minutes of your life to pre-make these endlessly customizable blends to have at the ready for several rounds of holiday baking and gift-giving. Fragrant, warm and aromatic, gingerbread spice is the perfect pantry staple to transform any food into a festive treat.

You can buy ground ingredients, or for an even richer aroma, buy whole spices and grind at home in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder.

gingerbread spice ingredients

A little tip for mixing the spices evenly that I’ve learnt on family sausage stuffing events is to measure everything into a plastic bag, twist to close (don’t press air out) and shake.

mixing spices for gingerbread spice

mixing gingerbread spice

Gingerbread Spice

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

2 parts ground ginger

2 parts ground cinnamon

1 part ground cloves

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients well
  2. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place

Lebkuchengewürz

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

2 tbsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground cloves

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground star anise

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp ground black peppercorn

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients well
  2. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place

Go on and get bakin’!

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

“Store shelves with goods” illustration featured in title image © Redspruce

Pantry Staples: Apple & Pumpkin Pie Spice

pantry staples apple and pumpkin pie spice cover

Ah, apples and pumpkins on the stalls of the greengrocer. A sure sign of fall, and a cheerful one at that. These two offer so much opportunity, and I personally can not get enough of them.

Apple equals pie, that is indisputable. For most of us here in Hungary though, pumpkin pie still sounds kind of exotic.

Not that we don’t eat pumpkin: my relatives have fond memories of fall evenings and the smell of roasting butternut squash emerging from their sparhelt (a typical cookstove every household used before gas was introduced to villages).

But that was about it: roasting pumpkin. Cream soups become popular not so long ago, and we are just getting used to the idea of a vegetable (when it’s actually a fruit) as dessert.

Apple pie and pumpkin pie spice are two blends that seem to be so common in the U.S., they are sold alongside regular spices in the baking isle of supermarkets, and are frequently called for in recipes without much explanation.

Well, we don’t happen to have them here just yet, so I did some digging and decided to mix my own at home. And you can, too! There’s no need to buy packaged anyway when you most likely already have the ingredients sitting in your pantry.

apple and pumpkin pie spice

When thinking of these sweet fall staples, cinnamon pops into mind first and indeed, it is a key component in these spice mixes. We could stop right there, but let’s add more flavor to the equation!

The beauty of making your own spice blend is (aside from being a lot more economical than buying ready-made) that you can tweak ratios to complement your taste perfectly. Use this as a guide and adjust to taste if you prefer.

apple and pumpkin pie spice

Apple Pie Spice

Ingredients

1/4 cup ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground allspice

2 tsp ground nutmeg

2 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cardamom (optional)

Pumpkin Pie Spice

Ingredients

1/4 cup ground cinnamon

2 tbsp ground ginger

2 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cardamom (optional)

Since you’re going to be storing the mix, it is not crucial to use freshly ground ingredients. Measure spices into a small plastic or ziplock bag, and shake to mix well. Store mix in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Oh, and don’t feel restricted by the word ‘pie’ above! Absolutely use these spice mixes in just about every recipe calling for apple and pumpkin, even pears and plums.

Fruzsi

“Store shelves with goods” illustration featured in title image © Redspruce

Pantry Staples: Herbes de Provence & Herbes de Toscane

pantry staples: herbes de provence & herbes de toscane title image

The best of summer might well be gone, but it’s not too late to further exploit your herb garden: pick and dry some more to use in spice blends!

In the world of spices, there are a few combinations that have withstood the test of time. The classic blends I’m going to tell you about today have been used for centuries to flavor meat, fish, poultry, soups, stews and vegetables and are a building block in every home cook’s pantry. Lucky for us, we can make them for ourselves with no effort.

Mixing your own spices also means you’ll add what you want and avoid what you don’t. I for example am not a big fan of cumin, so I simply exclude it. What you also won’t get making your own blend is the additions some manufacturers put in commercially mixed spices such as MSG (or E621, which is a flavor enhancer) or anti-caking agents like silicon dioxide. I think we all agree that we can live without them.

Spice mixes are more art than science. Therefore, the two mixtures below will have many other versions floating around. Consider this as a guide and initial inspiration for how you can add more complex flavor to your cooking. Salt is listed in the ingredients for if you choose to make flavored salt instead of a simple spice mix. Here I added ChanteSel Coarse Sea Salt that I buy at my local Lidl.

To store your spice blends, use glass containers with tight-fitting covers. Empty jars from mustard, baby food, capers or jams are perfect, and their small size will remind you not to make too big quantities. Keep in a cool, dark place.

Prepare your senses to experience the essence of the Mediterranean!

Herbes de Provence: Formerly simply a descriptive term, this blend of spices wasn’t actually sold until the 1970’s. It is especially good mixed with olive oil to coat chicken, fish, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini or chunks of potato for roasting, adding to pizza sauce or sprinkled over game or kabobs before roasting. It’s also used for seasoning salads and cheese, as well as soups and stews. Store bought Herbes de Provence made for the US market usually includes lavender, although it is not used in traditional southern French cuisine.

Herbes de Provence

Ingredients

2 tbsp dried rosemary

2 tbsp dried thyme

2 tbsp dried basil

2 tbsp dried marjoram

1 tbsp dried oregano

1½ tbsp dried sage

(5 tbsp coarse sea salt)

Directions

Mix all ingredients in a jar. If adding salt, allow to infuse at least a week before using.

homemade spice mix with sea salt

Herbes de Toscane: Or Asperso, if salt is added. The name translates to „sprinkle” in Italian. This concoction dates back to medieval times when it was used as a meat cure, but you can put it on everything: roasted or grilled meats, sautéed vegetables, roasted potatoes, you name it. Traditionally the herbs would be combined and stored in a terracotta urn.

Herbes de Toscane

Ingredients

1/8 cup whole black peppercorns

1/2 tsp juniper berries

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp dried sage

1 tbsp dried rosemary

1 tbsp dried thyme

(¼ cup coarse sea salt)

Directions

Mix all ingredients in a jar. If adding salt, allow to infuse at least a week before using. Grind coarsely in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder before using, and then, you know, sprinkle.

It goes without saying that a pretty label and a few inches of twine can make your spice blends fit for gifting. Make sure to include suggestions for use!

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

“Store shelves with goods” illustration featured in title image © Redspruce