31 May 2009

Manic Monday - Spice

The term Spice Islands most commonly refers to the Maluku Islands (formerly the Moluccas), which lie on the equator, between Sulawesi (Celebes) and New Guinea in what is now Indonesia, and were once the only source of cloves, mace and nutmeg.

So much for the dry terminology. What it doesn't tell you is the whole of history just might be tied to "What's for dinner?". Spices bring up visions of caravans crossing great expanses to bring the colors and scents of far off places to the world. Just the names conjure up images of equatorial heat and lush tropical surroundings.

I've always preferred spicy to sweet usually phrased as preferring foods that "bite back". When it comes to cakes, one of my favorites is a spice cake where all those lovely flavors aren't overwhelmed by sugar. Here is one that is easy to make and can be eaten plain or with a cream cheese icing.



2 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup milk
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted butter, softened until easily spreadable
2 cups dark brown sugar


Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and lightly flour a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Whisk dry ingredients and spices in a large bowl.
Mix milk, eggs and vanilla extract in a 2-cup measuring cup.

Beat softened butter into dry ingredients, first on low, then medium, until mixture forms pebble-sized pieces.

Add about 1/3 of the milk mixture and beat on low until smooth. Add remaining milk mixture in two stages; beat on medium speed until batter is just smooth. Add the sugar; beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Pour batter into cake pan.

Bake until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the cake's center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Set pan on a wire rack; let cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the pan perimeter and turn cake onto rack. Let cool.

Now just to show what pictures the names of spices can create, here is Langston Hughes extolling the beauty of the many shades of black women with "Harlem Sweeties".

Harlem Sweeties
by Langston Hughes

Have you dug the spill
Of Sugar Hill?
Cast your gims
On this sepia thrill:
Brown sugar lassie,
Caramel treat,
Honey-gold baby
Sweet enough to eat.
Peach-skinned girlie,
Coffee and cream,
Chocolate darling
Out of a dream.
Walnut tinted
Or cocoa brown,
Pride of the town.
Rich cream-colored
To plum-tinted black,
Feminine sweetness
In Harlem’s no lack.
Glow of the quince
To blush of the rose.
Persimmon bronze
To cinnamon toes.
Blackberry cordial,
Virginia Dare wine—
All those sweet colors
Flavor Harlem of mine!
Walnut or cocoa,
Let me repeat:
Caramel, brown sugar,
A chocolate treat.
Molasses taffy,
Coffee and cream,
Licorice, clove, cinnamon
To a honey-brown dream.
Ginger, wine-gold,
Persimmon, blackberry,
All through the spectrum
Harlem girls vary—
So if you want to know beauty’s
Rainbow-sweet thrill,
Stroll down luscious,
Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.


anthonynorth said...

Loved the poem, but I'm afraid I'm a most boring eater. Simple food, no spices. The food is the only thing that gets bitten when I eat ;-)

maryt/theteach said...

I did the spice trade, Jamie! I lve the Langston Hughes poem. When I taught speech in high school we used his poems to read out loud. It was called oral interpretation... ha! My nephew called his new girlfriend (now his wife) "caramel." :)

Linda said...

Cake? Did someone say cake?

I'm not really a spicy person myself, more of a bland New Englander when it comes to my food choices but every once in awhile I don't mind when someone spices it up!

Desert Songbird said...

I grew up eating spicy food; being part Indonesian it's a given!

This Eclectic Life said...

I've always loved Langston Hughes.

And, I want to try that spice cake recipe (or you could come here & cook it up for me).
Now, if I'm correct I remember reading that spices were so exciting when they were first brought back to Europe because they masked the taste of meats that were a little past their prime. Is that why the Brits loved curry?

Travis said...

I like a good spice CAKE. I'm not a fan of raisins or other chewy things that people sometimes put in them. I think a spice CAKE should stand on it's spice and nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Love the poem!

carol g said...

I love spice cake. My mom used to make it from scratch and it was always such a treat. Great MM post. My pea-brain couldn't come up with a creative "spice" post.

Mo said...

Mmmm. Spice cake sounds good right now. I bought sherbet at the store, and now the evenings are so cool I need a blanket to be on the couch to watch TV. Spice cake and a mug of chai sounds pretty darn good right now!

Thanks for participating in Manic Mondays - sorry I am like the world's worst blog-visitor!