Spices in Desserts – a revelation

Spiced Brownies

I think there will be a lot of spicing up going on here. A bit of heat is called for in the chilly months. Right?

It is so strange my relationship with spices in desserts. When I was a kid, I hated it when I found whole cardamom pods or little pieces of nutmeg in Gajar Halwa or Rice Puddings or Mango pulp (Aamras) or Gulab Jamuns. It would put me off completely. I suppose that is how my love for chocolate and cakes began. There was no threat of hidden spice ‘landmines’ waiting to explode with every other bite! It was safe. Chocolate, vanilla and black-forest pastries along-with jam rolls fashioned after lamingtons was my idea of what comprised of western desserts. And that was good. They were all safe.

Spiced Brownies

Ofcourse as I grew older and especially once I moved out of India, the scope of ‘western desserts’ started to broaden and to my utter dismay I found out that spices (read Cinnamon) are extensively used. There were pies, and crumbles and fruit crisps, muffins, carrot cake (!)and what not and I ran away from them as soon as the scent of cinnamon hit my nostrils. I remember in my very early days in Dubai, while wandering around a shopping mall, I almost gagged when I encountered the wafting aromas from Cinnabon. I have never eaten at that establishment.

Spiced Brownies

However, over the years, and especially over the last few months after coming to Canada, I have made a special effort to befriend the spiced dessert. The more I realized that due to this silly hang-up I was losing out on a wide spread of yumminess and seasonal fruit goodies, the more I wanted to be included in that happy cinnamon-eating group of people.

With cinnamon and nutmeg, it is still an ongoing effort (atleast I don’t gag at the fragrance anymore!) I use them in minute quantities. Just enough to detect if one pays attention. Once I started experimenting on my own, I have fallen in love with the complexity and nostalgic scent of powdered cardamom (Never the whole spice) the punchy heat of fresh ginger and how well it complements so many fruits (mango, peaches, oranges). The flavor edge that paprika or pepper bring when paired with chocolate. The world of desserts is now bigger than chocolate and vanilla cake.

Spiced Brownies

Spiced Brownies

These brownies from Smitten Kitchen were a revelation. A mix of spices means that there is heat but it is hard to pinpoint the spice. I used chili powder, cinnamon, a bit more cardamom and omitted the espresso powder. It is definitely a grown-up’s brownie – bitter and spicy and extremely satisfying with a shiny crust on top. To make it a bit more grown-up I served it with some of this Whisky Caramel Sauce that I am totally in love with!

Spiced Brownies

Spiced Brownies

Ingredients – 9 slim brownies
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp All purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp unsweetend cocoa pwd
1/2 tsp chili pwd / smoked paprika
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cardamom pwd
5 ounces dark chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 medium eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil or line with parchment paper a 9×9 inch pan

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, cocoa powder and spices together. Set aside.

Heat the chocolate and butter in a large bowl over a bain marie. Stir occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat and immediately add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. Wait till the mixture is room temperature before adding the eggs or the eggs will scramble and you will have scramble brownie that you may have to eat next day for breakfast.

Add one egg at a time to the chocolate mixture, whisking each time till completely combined. Add the vanilla and stir. As Deb from Smitten Kitchen points out, if you overbeat the batter at this stage your brownies will be cakey. By all means go ahead, if that’s how you like your brownies.

Add the flour mixture  and using a rubber or silicon spatula  fold gently until almost combined. You may see a bits of flour mixture, that is ok. The point is to not overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, chilling them is even better before your cut them to get the best slices.

You don’t have to, but a generous drizzle of Caramel sauce spiked with whiskey does go really well with this and makes you feel oh so adult!

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1 Comment

  1. I love to use unexpected spices in baking and often times use herbs as well. I have a Blueberry, Strawberry, Goat Cheese and Basil Tart that would surprise you. SO good! I get asked to bring it to parties all the time. 🙂

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