Part of what makes classic holiday dishes so delicious are the blend of herbs and spices that give them rich, bold flavor. Stuffing is often filled with fresh thyme or rosemary, mashed potatoes are served with fresh dill or scallions, and biscuits can be upgraded with chives or black pepper. Desserts, too, benefit from the addition of warm spices, such as cinnamon and ginger sprinkled into pumpkin and apple pies.
But the filling is just the beginning when it comes to flavoring pies. Padma Lakshmi, author of the new book The Encylopedia of Spices and Herbs, told RealSimple.com that she adds spices such as allspice into her piecrust, too.
Though commonly mistaken for a blend of spices, allspice is actually a berry native to the West Indies. When ground, the berry releases aromatic notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (hence the name allspice), and Lakshmi recommends buying the berries whole and grinding them by hand. Then simply whisk the spice into your flour when making homemade pie dough.
But she doesn't stop at spicing up her pie crusts. For Thanksgiving, she enjoys experimenting with other unexpected flavor combinations, such as adding fresh thyme leaves to an apple pie, and cardamom to a custard or crème caramel.
“I like a little sweetness in my savory food, and a little kick in my sweet food,” she said. “So little surprises like that you don’t have to learn a whole cuisine, you don’t have to pull out ingredients or equipment you’re not familiar with, just adding one spice that’s different to what you normally do.”
Hoping to incorporate more spices into your cooking, but not sure where to begin? Lakshmi recommends melting butter with cumin seed, cooking it until it’s brown and nutty in flavor, then drizzling it on veggies or whipping it into sweet potatoes. Then you can try making the brown butter with a different spice and veggie every day.
“[You’ll] see how easy it is to change the character and caliber of how you cook.”