Cloves (Recipe: Chocolate spice cookies)
- How can you tell a good clove from a bad one? Good quality cloves are a rich, reddish-brown color. Squeeze a clove between your fingers; good cloves will release a bit of oil. Or, place a clove in a cup of water; good ones will float vertically, while those that are stale will float horizontally, or sink to the bottom.
- Other names for cloves are gewuzenelke (German), ley-hyin-bwint (Burmese), gahn plu (Thai), chiodo di garofano (Italian), and ding heung (Chinese). Given my lack of facility with languages, I'm sticking with cloves, derived from the Latin word "clavus", meaning "nail".
- There's a strange relationship between cloves and dentistry. If you bite down on a clove, you might crack a tooth (that's why cloves are often stuck into onions, so they don't get lost in a sauce). But if, in the days before anesthesia, you went to a dentist to have that tooth fixed, he might have suggested you pack your tooth with those same cloves, the oil from which has numbing qualities.
- Cloves are a good source of manganese, which is good for your health, yet they're a key ingredient (along with tobacco) in kreteks, the popular Indonesian cigarettes that are not good for your health.
- I forgot to include them on my list of aphrodisiac foods in the pantry, though I always have both whole and ground cloves on my spice rack.
- They're very particular about where they grow: in tropical climates, near the sea, in an area with rainfall of at least 60 inches per year, with a dry season for harvesting. Originally from Indonesia, cloves also are grown in Zanzibar, Brazil, Penang (Malaysia), India, and the West Indies.
- For more than 2,500 years, people have used cloves to mask bad breath. In China as far back as the Han Dynasty, cloves were not only used for cooking but also for deodorization; anyone having an audience with the emperor was instructed to chew cloves to prevent bad breath. In Medieval times, cloves were used to mask the odor of food that had not been properly preserved.
- The flavor is pungent, one of the "warm" spices (along with cinnamon, with which it's often used). Chinese five-spice powder, garam masala, and quatre-épices all depend on it.
- Use cloves in cranberry-clove marmalade, stovetop baked beans, orange clove cupcakes, pickled golden beets with cloves, curried chickpea salad and braised lentils. And what would mulled cider or mulled wine be without cloves?
- Do you remember Clove Chewing Gum, made by Adams? It first came to market during Prohibition, as a breath mint designed to cover the smell of alcohol. In 2003, Adams was bought by Cadbury, which brings back this gum as a limited-production nostalgia item every few years; check here for the next available batch, due in May 2009.
Chocolate spice cookies
Adapted by my pastry-chef friend Cindy from a recipe in Nick Malgieri's, these cookies are chewy, spicy, and utterly addictive. Makes 15 cookies.
1/2 cup natural (not Dutched) cocoa powder
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup dry red wine (or water)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup water
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Into the bowl of a Kitchenaid-type stand mixer fitted with the paddle beater, sift the cocoa powder. Add flour, sugar, almonds, cinnamon, cloves and baking soda. Mix lightly to combine. Add honey, molasses and wine. Mix until a smooth, sticky dough forms. Allow to stand for 1 minute to absorb the liquid, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Turn the dough onto a generously floured surface, and pat into a 6x10-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Flour the dough lightly, and roll over it once or twice with a rolling pin to even it out. Using a ruler and a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into 2-inch squares. With a dry pastry brush, wipe off any excess flour. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone liner, and transfer squares to the pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and let sit for 1 minute. Then, lift the parchment (with the cookies on it) and place it on a cooling rack.
While the cookies are still warm, combine confectioners sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl, and stir until smooth to make a glaze. Paint the surface of each cookie; the glaze will soak in. In a minute or two, paint on a second coat of glaze. Allow the cookies to cool completely; they will remain chewy on the inside.
If you have any left over, and you won't, store in an airtight container.