Friday, September 24, 2010

Star Anise and Plums and Mace

mace and nutmeg 2
 Whole mace

A couple of years ago an independent spice store showed up in my neighborhood.  I found it the old fashioned way: looking for a parking place, I turned off a main street (NE Alberta) and noticed Spice Road Market.

An aside: have you ever noticed how much some spices resemble sea life? Whole mace looks a bit like miniature dried squid, and star anise, with all its broken limbs reminds me of the sea stars scattered on Oregon beaches.

Back Camera
(sea) star anise and whole mace (dried squid)

Spice Road Market was a wonderful place.  Not only did they sell all sorts of spices and spice blends (ras el hanout, anyone?), but they sold them in bulk.  Finally—a place where I could find mace for my favorite quick mace cake.  But wait.  Not only did they sell mace in bulk (so I could always get just enough, and have the freshest possible), but they ground it to order.  Inside the jar were the lacy pieces of mace, which is the outer covering of nutmeg.  (Check out this recent Guardian article about nutmeg)

mace and nutmeg 1
To understand the scale here, those are nutmegs, not cantaloupe

But like so many good things, the spice store soon came to an end.  A sign on their door said they’d be reopening at another location, but as the months passed, so did my hopes.

This spring things looked up again here in Portland.  First, a Spice and Tea Exchange franchise opened up in downtown.  Located a block north of Pioneer Courthouse Square (Portland’s ‘living room’), finally there was a place where I could pick up a small package of mace.

And then, early this summer, Penzeys opened a second branch in Portland.  I’d been meaning to visit the first for a long time, but hadn’t made it there.  Their second branch is much more convenient.  As in it’s practically kitty corner to Powell’s bookstore.  I’m not sure which place I’ll use more often as an alibi for the other.

Sadly, Penzeys doesn’t sell bulk spices.  But they do sell small packages, and they have both ground and whole mace for sale.  They also have intriguing items, like smoky black cardamom pods.

Back Camera

And powdered star anise.  It’s time for prune kuchen again, my consolation for summer’s end.  I’ve posted a prune kuchen recipe before (you’ll need to scroll down).  It’s a fall regular around here.  This cake comes together quickly.  Melt the butter in a saucepan, add milk and egg, toss in the dry ingredients.  A quick cake.  Halved prune plums snuggle together on the cake, and, in the original recipe, a healthy amount of cinnamon sugar is sprinkled over the top.

plum cake anise 2
 Plum Kuchen with anise sugar

Yesterday I decided to make it with star anise sugar instead.  I used the same ratio (1/2 teaspoon powdered star anise to 1/4 cup sugar), and the finished cake was delicious.  Anise and plums make fine companions.  They also make an excellent dessert.  Next time I’m going to try it with cardamom sugar.

plum cake anise 1

Prune Kuchen Recipe (scroll to bottom of the page)

120 NW 10th Ave, Portland, OR 
(503) 227-6777


Jaya said...

I will try the prune kuchen. It looks lovely. But I will use the Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey's. It will completely cure you of wanting to use any other cinnamon.

Giovanna said...

I'll have to try that--I bought some cinnamon sticks there, and wished (again) they sold in bulk--so many types of cinnamon, it would be fun to try them all.

lshere said...

I have to make this before all the plums are gone.

Giovanna said...

I'm making it tonight, with cardamom sugar. I'll let you know how that is!

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