7 Best Baking Spices to Stock Your Spice Rack
February 22, 2022
Dried spices are one of the best ways to make delicious desserts and other baked goods full of flavor. Be sure your pantry spice rack is stocked with these choices for baking spices, and your treats will never be short of perfectly seasoned.
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I don’t use spices in all of my baked goods, but so many of them do rely on the fragrant and piquant flavors that spices provide. First, let’s break down what a spice actually is (and how I tend to use the term):
Spices are used for flavoring or coloring food. They come from the seeds, roots, bark, and fruit of a plant, as opposed to herbs which come from the stems and leaves. I tend to be a little less picky when it comes to my definition. If it’s in my spice rack, it’s a spice to me.
They come in a few different forms: fresh, dried whole, or dried ground. In some cases, it’s a good idea to have multiple varieties around for a single type of spice. But I will be sticking to mostly dried spices in this list. Now let’s get into them!
Basic Baking Spices
This popular spice comes from the bark of certain trees in the Cinnamomum genus, and it’s definitely the one that I tend to have the most of in my own spice rack. I like to keep a few different varieties of ground cinnamon.
- Vietnamese or Saigon cinnamon is strong and robust, excellent for making cinnamon rolls, or these Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes.
- Indonesian or Ceylon cinnamon works well when paired with other spices, such as in Butternut Squash Cornbread.
- Cassia or ground cinnamon is the most common variety that you can use in any recipe that calls for cinnamon.
- Cinnamon sticks are wonderful as a garnish, to infuse flavor, or to stir up a cozy mug of Hot Pear Cider.
Although I have the most cinnamon, cloves are my favorite spice. I just can never get enough of the aroma. This spice is made from the flower buds of a tree that’s native to Indonesia, and can be used in everything from hot tea to jelly beans. Did you know that a pack of spice jelly beans usually contains a clove flavor? It’s the purple one!
- Whole cloves are best for grinding yourself or infusing flavor, like in a Honey Pavlova with Chai-Poached Plums.
- Ground cloves are easier to measure or sprinkle on top of Hazelnut Eggnog with Bourbon.
Despite its name, allspice is not a blend of all your favorite other spices. But that name does come from the complex flavor of this unripe berry which is native to the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, and Central America. It’s common in Jamaican cuisine, where it will often be called pimento.
Spice up your baked goods by keeping your spice rack fully stocked with these 7 baking spices you need (and a couple bonuses!)
The versatility of nutmeg is pretty impressive. From flavoring the bechamel tucked into layers of a lasagna to sprinkling on top of a Christmas eggnog, what can’t this spice do? It comes from the seed of a specific type of evergreen tree. Another fun spice, mace, is made from the same plant but from the seed casing.
This one can often get forgotten, since it’s not part of a standard pumpkin or apple pie mix. But don’t sleep on cardamom, which comes from the seeds of a variety of plants found in India and Indonesia. It’s often used for sweets in Nordic countries, and in both sweet and savory dishes across Asia.
Cardamom comes in black and green varieties, with the black having a smokier flavor. You can also generally find it in both whole pods or ground. My spice rack generally has just a single jar of ground green cardamom. I like adding it into apple desserts, like this Apple Strudel with Phyllo.
I’m not sure if most people would consider espresso powder a spice, but to me it definitely serves that purpose. Plus it’s made from coffee beans, so I think that counts. It is essentially the same as instant espresso, but I’d prefer to add it to my baked goods and make some real espresso for my lattes.
This spice is best known for making the chocolate flavor richer in brownies and other chocolate desserts, like Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patty Fudgy Brownies. It can also shine on its own in Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins.
I unabashedly love the bite of ginger. To me, it’s the easiest way to add a little kick to a dessert, and it doesn’t hurt that it complements plenty of fruity flavors. Ginger comes from the root of a plant that’s related to turmeric and cardamom. It comes in a variety of forms including fresh, ground, and crystallized, all of which I like to have around.
- Crystallized ginger can be baked into treats or enjoyed as a snack or garnish, like in a Bourbon Ginger Algonquin Cocktail.
- Ground ginger adds plenty of concentrated punch and works well mixed with other dry ingredients, as in Blueberry Gingersnap Lemon Bars.
- Fresh ginger can be stored in the freezer and grated as needed, such as for the streusel on a Skillet Plum Buckle.
Bonus Baking Spices
Besides those basics that you should always have on hand, there’s a few other additions to your spice cabinet that can be fun for baking and other sweets. Here’s a couple adventurous ideas to get your started:
- Try adding sage or thyme into a citrus-based dessert.
- Anise seed provides a divisive but fragrant licorice flavor.
- Lemon and orange peels can brighten up a spice blend.
- Lavender is a floral addition that goes well with delicate flavors.
For something even more bold, kick it up a notch by bringing the heat. I love pairing ancho chile with chocolate. You could also use cayenne, black pepper, or other chili powders to add a little extra spice to your treats.
And of course, don’t forget about the spices that really add to the appearance of your desserts. Small amounts of turmeric and paprika can add color without imparting much in the way of flavor. While sesame and poppy seeds provide plenty of texture, crunch, and visual appeal.
I normally keep individual spices on hand and mix a blend as needed. But here’s a few that are helpful to have around:
- Garam masala is a fragrant blend that has sweet and savory applications. The mixes can vary greatly depending on the region they are from.
- For a quick fall flavor, add some apple or pumpkin pie spice to anything with cinnamon.
- Five spice powder includes cinnamon, anise, fennel, and cloves for a sweet and warm-flavored blend.