Nov 15, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

Material Handling: The Right Spice

In this issue, Julie and Jimmy MacMillan explore spices.


Spices can provide a great warming sensation and bring dimension to our desserts. Their presence in dessert is perfect for overcoming the winter months. Spices, of course, are very common in the sweet pantry, but we’d like to suggest you use them even more. But not just any spice, the right spice!

Pastry chefs should seek every opportunity to use spice to support their artistry. Every time we boil heavy cream, sprinkle sugar or salt, poach fruit, etc., there is an opportunity for expression…for spice! All of us are using vanilla (use as much as possible), cinnamon (all its varieties), salts, nutmeg, fresh herbs & flowers, etc., on a regular basis. We encourage the idea that all spices are equal in value, and our pantry staples are star anise, green cardamom (or white if you can swing it), coriander seeds, allspice, cloves, peppercorns, chili powder, ginger (fresh and dried), wasabi, and any number of spice blends, such as yellow curry, five-spice, ras al hanut, garam masala, and herbes de provence.

In our kitchen, we attempt to stock every premium spice we can get our hands on. We need them on hand to cook every day. Spices are usually fresh, dried, or ground. The shelf life of ground dried spices is six months, but the shelf life of whole dried spices is two years. For that reason, we recommend stocking mostly whole spices and using a spice grinder. The volatile oils (flavor) of the spices are greater when they are freshly ground for immediate use. Spices are best stored away from light, so we keep them in airtight bins labeled on the outside.

As chefs, we should be fearless be in our experimentation with spice. Spices are a great way to add an additional flavor profile to your desserts. Each spice has its own unique flavor profile that will either pair well or enhance your dish. Seek balance by taking the time to taste the spice and note its nuances. Smell the spice while you eat the piece of chocolate or fruit and you can really get the feel for what that ingredient will bring to a dessert.  And stay tuned for an upcoming Material Handling: Array of Salts.

Let’s look at a couple of our current dessert menus that illustrate how a liberal use of spices can be used by the pastry chef to engineer a very creative profile. First up, a complex chocolate dessert with a minimal presentation that contrasts the huge flavor packed with spice. Our Deluxe Spiced Chocolate Cake is a layered savarin that starts with a chocolate sponge laced with pasilla chili power. On top of that is a layer of dark chocolate crema with vanilla and star anise topped with a ginger-spiced ‘fudge’ ganache. Here we see there are different, yet complementary spices in each element. These reveal layers of flavor on the palate! We serve it with a cooling ‘sugar cookie’ gelato made with caramelized chocolate and a blackberry lime sauce that contains fresh nutmeg.

JMPurePastry's Deluxe Spiced Chocolate Cake. Photo by Julie MacMillan. Click image above or link below for recipe.
JMPurePastry's Milk Chocolate Crème Caramel. Photo by Julie MacMillan. Click image above or link below for recipe.

We love fresh jackfruit to bring a savory element into our dessert menu, and five-spice powder is a great foil to connect this to a traditional milk chocolate crème caramel. The crème caramel has a clean spice profile of lemon rappé, vanilla, salt and coconut powder. Further spice appeal from preserved Meyer lemons with Ceylon cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, mild Tellicherry peppers, and star anise. A bit more five-spice powder in the chocolate cream and Tahitian vanilla in the cooling coconut foam. When playing with spice, the cooling element is important. Heavy spice dishes need fat to absorb the impact, so we frequently use all varieties of custards, foams and creams in these desserts.

The palates of our diners have evolved, and we have all noticed that they are looking for adventurous flavors. One example is the use of Sriracha; it has left the noodle houses and ended up flavoring snacks like popcorn, potato chips, ice cream and chocolate. Remember, not all spices are spicy, so spice it up!


Find 'Material Handling: The Right Spice' recipes in the Recipe section or click the links below.


Jimmy & Julie MacMillan of JMPurePastry
Jimmy & Julie MacMillan of JMPurePastry. Photo by Anthony Tahlier.

Any trends or inspirations you’d like to see in the Material Handling spotlight? Email Jimmy and Julie at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

JMPurePastry is a Chicago-based pastry solutions group specializing in high quality, well designed media products for the restaurant, baking and hospitality industry. The duo is also responsible for the multiple Emmy® Award-winning Chicago Restaurant Pastry Competition video series. For more information, visit:

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