The Holiday Baking Spices

baking spices

The Holiday season is in full swing. Pies, cakes, cookies, and all the rest of the sweet treats you will be baking and enjoying during the Holidays are going to have special flavors that come from unique and necessary baking spices.

Being from Sri Lankan Heritage, spices such as whole cloves and cardamom pods were a part of my everyday meals, as they beautifully enhance Basmati rice and curries.

There are a certain baking spices that combined with others provide that warm, cozy and spiced Holiday taste. In this post we will go over each of these baking spices, popular combinations, and of course, what goes into the famous pumpkin pie spice! I’ll share some incredible holiday recipes from different blogs and websites, and some of my own, that highlight these spices.

Each ground spice starts as whole, so I will show you what each looks like in their different forms. It may even surprise you to learn that these spices go into your main side dishes like mashed potatoes! Let’s get going into the aromatic and warm world of holiday baking spices!



Cinnamon is the most commonly known and popular of all the baking spices. The Cinnamon we are accustomed to using is from the bark of Cinnamon Trees. These trees typically grow in regions like Sri Lanka and Saigon. Depending on where your variety of cinnamon comes from will determine if it is light, dark, crumbly, strong, and so on. For example, cinnamon coming from Sri Lanka will yield a lighter, less aromatic spice. Find more about the history and different varieties from Wikepedia.

Cinnamon is a spice you will see throughout the year, but it plays such a significant role in your holiday recipes. Cinnamon will enhance both savory and sweet dishes. It is used as the base for many spice mixtures and blends well with both dark and white sugars, though use during the holidays tends to lend towards the brown sugar combinations. From holiday drinks to cinnamon rolls and sweet potato casseroles, this is your Holiday Baking MVS (Most Valuable Spice)! Being so versatile, I keep cinnamon in both its stick and ground forms in my pantry all year round. High end Ceylon Cinnamon is available at Cinnamon Vogue.

Here are some fantastic Holiday dishes that use cinnamon!

This Cranberry Sauce Recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli uses cinnamon in stick form along with allspice and nutmeg. Combined with citrus it gives us a tangy, bright and bubbly sauce. Get the recipe here – Food Network.


Photo credit – Food Network.

Cinnamon rolls are a holiday breakfast tradition in our home. My all time favorite recipe will give you the best buns on the block! These cinnamon rolls have that ooey-gooey goodness bursting with cinnamon, dark brown sugar, and indulgence! Find the recipe here – Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting (Video)


Apples and cinnamon is a no brainer! When used in this Cinnamon Apple Pie from Natasha’s Kitchen, you’ll have cinnamon in every glorious bite! Find her mile high Cinnamon Apple Pie here – Cinnamon Apple Pie Recipe.


Photo Credit – Natasha’s Kitchen



Another familiar spice, ground nutmeg comes from the seeds from Nutmeg Trees. These trees are found in Indonesia, and produces both Nutmeg and Mace (which is used mostly in savory dishes like fish and stews). Want to learn more about Nutmeg? Check out this post – 7 Cool Nutmeg Facts.

The secret star of French toast, eggnog, and more, this spice is slightly sweet and has a distinctive and woody, strong smell. Did you know that nutmeg can be used in macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes to enhance the creaminess? Nutmeg is best when it is grated right before using. This give the most flavor and purity to your dishes. Grated nutmeg makes a sweet garnish for holiday drinks like these – Cozy & Comforting Cold Weather Cocktails.

Here are some standout recipes using nutmeg! It may even surprise you that they are all savory dishes!

This Whiskey Sage Stuffing stars nutmeg along with cornbread, sage, apples, and of course, whiskey! What a unique and flavorful recipe that you can find here – Delish.


Photo credit – Delish

In these Perfect Mashed Potatoes by Martha Stewart, nutmeg is going to be the secret ingredient that takes this important side dish to the next level! Find the recipe here – Perfect Mashed Potatoes.


Photo credit – Reed Davis, found on Martha Stewart’s recipe link.

Both Tilly and I love Macaroni & Cheese! That’s the side dish that is usually missing from our abundant Thanksgiving feast. Not this year though since I convinced my sweet sister-in-law to make a side just for Tilly and me! From Ina Garten’s cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family, you can find this nutmeg enhanced Mac & Cheese.


Photo: Maura McEvoy as found on Barefoot Contessa recipe link.

Star Anise


The most gorgeous of them all, Star Anise shines in recipes as bright as your Christmas Tree topper! Native to trees found in China and Vietnam, Star Anise has a licorice- like flavor that  is reminiscent of fennel with a spicy undertone. Learn more about Star Anise here – Britannica.

Star Anise is part of the Chinese 5 Spice Combination, and is often found in stews, braised dishes, and holiday drinks like cider.

Look at these beautiful recipes that use Star Anise!

This Cider-Brined Turkey with Star Anise gives an Asian flair to your feast. See the flavorful recipe from Bon Appetit here- Cider-Brined Turkey with Star Anise.


Photo credit – Bon Appetit recipe link.

These Star Anise Poached Pears are gorgeous and full of flavor and wine. When you are searching for a different dessert this year, take a look at this elegant and delightful treat! Find the recipe here – Susan Jane White.


Photo Credit -Susan Jane White recipe link

Sweet potato dishes can be so sweet or somewhat savory.  This savory dish uses star anise with ginger and lime for an Asian inspired take on a classic Thanksgiving side dish. Want to make Star Anise the star of your feast? Pair this with the Turkey above for a unique and memorable feast this year! Sweet Potatoes with Star Anise, Ginger, and Lime.


Photo credit – The Kitchn recipe link



During the holidays we get all the gingerbread houses, men cutouts, cakes, chewy cookies, and lattes that make the season seem more magical. Ginger gives a hot, spicy, and sweet enhancement to a wide array of sweet and savory dishes. Ginger is a Rhizome (underground stem), which comes from tropical and subtropical regions such as Asia and Jamaica, to name a couple. Interested in learning more about Ginger? Check out Wikipedia.

Ginger is used in conjunction with other spices to fit the tone of your food. During the holiday season it is paired in desserts with other baking spices such as cloves, while in savory entrees like stir fry you will usually find it paired with garlic.

Take this simple yet bright green beans recipe from Julia Moskin found on NYT Cooking. This would be a delicious and lighter green bean dish to serve with your holiday meals.


Photo Credit NYT Cooking Recipe Linked

Ginger cookies, soft and chewy; cut and decorated, either way scrumptious and the epitome of the holidays! Find my special recipe that uses a blend of coconut oil and butter here – Gingerbread Cookies

Decorated gingerbread christmas tree scene

I must give you my own soft, chewy, gingerbread cookie recipe. Loaded with spices and rolled in either granulated or powdered sugar, these will melt in your mouth and have you in the holiday spirit in no time! Soft & Chewy Ginger Cookies: Crinkle & Traditional Styles.


A Ritzy Mom original!



Fragrant cloves. Just a pinch and your recipe is transformed by spicy warmth and the undertones camphor and pepper found in cloves. Clove buds come from an evergreen tree called the Clove Tree. Cloves are are grown in India, Madagascar, and Indonesia. Find out more about Cloves through this informative post- Cloves: An Exotic Flavor Best Used With Due Restraint.

Whole cloves are found in exotic Asian dishes like this Indian Biryani. Clove is a major component to garam masala, a spice mix native to South Asian Cuisines. To this day, I cannot see a clove bud or cardomom pod without thinking back to childhood dishes where part of the meal began with picking out the whole spices!

The ground version compliments pumpkin pie spice, holiday cookies, and drinks such as chai, eggnog, and cider. Cloves are strong in smell and flavor, and slightly astringent, so should be used sparingly!

Cloves can be used in so many dishes ranging from poultry to gravies to drinks to desserts. A handy feature is the shape and strength, which makes it ideal to stick into thick skins such as meats and fruits. It can be combined with several herbs and spices. With all it is used with, it compliments and brings out the best in others, a true team-player of the spice world!

Certainly you have seen a Ham adorned with whole cloves. What a sight! Both beautiful and a bit funny, these cloves will give the ham a pungent and distinct aroma. A delicious recipe comes from Food & Wine and can be found here – Clove-and-Cider-Glazed-Ham Recipe.


Photo Credit – Food & Wine, recipe linked.

Epicurious has a recipe for Cinnamon-Clove Ice Cream that I would compliment any and every dessert on your thanksgiving table! And what a creative idea! Find that delectable recipe here – Cinnamon-Clove Ice Cream.


Photo Credit – Epicurious, recipe linked.

Mulling cider makes your entire home warm with aromas of spices and holiday spirit. This recipe for Spiced Apple Cider with Clove Oranges has clove studded oranges for a festive touch and a hefty infusion of cloves. Find the recipe at Williams Sonoma.


Photo Credit – Williams Sonoma, linked to recipe.



Cardamom is the unsung hero spice! This warm, flavorful, distinctive spice adds more depth and flavor profiles when used in conjunction with common spices such as cinnamon and cloves. Adding a touch of cardamom to your spiced cakes or rice dishes will give an elegant wow factor that will leave people wondering and asking what made the dish have a unique spicy, herbal, citrus-like flavor kick to it. Cardamom is as exotic as it sounds, native to India, Bhutan, Indonesia, and Nepal. Green Cardamom is the 3rd most expensive spice, but thankfully, only a small amount is needed! Organic Facts has so much more on this.

In this recipe for Apple Spiced Cupcakes, I used cardamom to enhance all of the other flavors. When using cardamom I usually substitute canned coconut milk to enhance the allure of this spice. Find the recipe here – Apple Spiced Cupcakes with Maple Cinnamon Frosting. Warning: this link contains extremely cute kids that will melt your heart!


Cake is my friend. It’s what I like to have as my evening companion with a big glass of wine. During the winter months I look for all the recipes that include cardomom and other warm spices. When I came across this Earl Grey and Cardamom honey cake from Gather a Table, I knew it would become a familiar friend! Just look at that glaze and soft crumb.


Photo credit – Gather a Table, recipe linked

For a side dish, think outside the box, and try a completely innovative recipe like this Forbidden Black Rice with Ginger and Cardamom. Akasha Richmond of Food & Wine, created this impressive, aromatic, and exotic dish that is sure to impress your guests for any gathering this year. The use of ghee, a clarified butter used in Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, will add depth to the dish as a whole. The whole tablespoon of cardamom pods infuses the black rice and will fill your home with a festive and inviting fragrance.

THALI with Chef Akasha Richmond
1. Forbidden Black Rice with Ginger and Cardamom + Ginger Turkey Meatballs + Red Dal with Mustard Seeds + Masala Prawns + A150901 Food & Wine + Reinventing the Holidays + Dec 2015

Photo Credit – Food & Wine, recipe linked.


Allspice is sometimes mistaken for a blend, while it stands alone. Allspice comes from the dried berry of Jamaican Pepper Trees and resembles peppercorns. You will often see Allspice called for in Fall and Winter dishes due to it’s spiciness and peppery overtones with flavor resembling a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Yuppiechef has all the information you need or want on Allspice! This berry is used whole when brining; ground for dishes like pumpkin pie.

And since it is the holiday season, this post cannot go on without a pumpkin pie recipe, don’t you think?! This Spiced Pumpkin Pie from Epicurious elevates this Thanksgiving staple into a fragrant, lively take on the classic that is sure to receive all the praise you are hoping for!


Photo credit – Epicurious, recipe linked

Soaking a turkey in brine prior to cooking adds juiciness to the bird that can be lost during the roasting period. This Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe from Alton Brown uses a brine of Allspice, peppercorns, cinnamon, ginger, apples, sage and more. I can just smell Thanksgiving when I write this!


Photo credit – Food Network, recipe linked

Pumpkin Pie Spice


Pumpkin pie spice is heavenly and one of the greatest flavor combinations ever invented! With a fitting name, this is the go-to spice for countless sweet recipes this season. Simply, it is a mix of Cinnamon, Ginger, Allspice, Nutmeg, and Cloves. While you can always buy it pre-made, take a look at this  How to Make Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice (Video) where I’ll show you how to make it yourself!

When I make my famous, and I do mean famous, holiday  Bread Pudding I use pumpkin pie spice in the sauce and the custard base for extra flavor and holiday pizzaz! Check out the recipe here – Butternut Squash Bread Pudding & Bourbon Cranberry Sauce.


Pumpkin Cinnamon Babka sounds so cheery! I want to wake up to a warm Babka one of these days. Oh wait, I would be the Babka maker in this household. So I guess my lucky husband and kids get to wake up this delightful breakfast bread one of these days! And Tasting Table has the recipe I will be using, Pumpkin Spice Babka Recipe.


The first morning after a trip to the pumpkin patch we start using those pumpkins! This year we made pumpkin pancakes so reminiscent of a fall morning that it is now a weekly breakfast staple. These are so simple to make and absolutely delicious! Find the recipe here – Pumpkin Pancakes.


A Ritzy Mom original!

Writing this post brought me back to a kitchen filled with aromas of warm baking spices and exotic dishes. Memories of a childhood filled with food, love, laughter, and family joy are with me as I close this. I wish you and yours a happy and safe Holidays filled with fun, cheer, love, food, and wine (or cider)!

Happy Holidays from Ritzy Mom!

Interested in Spice Tools?

Cuisinart SG-10 Electric Spice-and-Nut Grinder

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Culina Hand-held Fine Spice Grater 12.5″. Stainless Steel. Professional-Grade Tool