In August our test kitchen launched a peppery pastrami-inspired spice rub that I developed in collaboration with Burlap & Barrel, a NYC–based company that equitably sources the funnest, freshest spices on the market. By September I was knee-deep working out the details on our next drop: a baking blend to thrill new and seasoned bakers alike. Here, a tour of all the behind-the scenes action.
I knew immediately that cinnamon would be the grounding spice in this blend. Any variety is familiar and comforting, but Burlap & Barrel’s Royal Cinnamon is especially exciting because it has a knife edge of sharpness, a cool intensity that stops it from being bland. Layered on top is an equal amount of Red River Coriander, so zippy and zesty it smells like eating an orange on a hike through the woods––forest green and citrusy. Cardamom, with its floral whisper, is the last dancer in this trio, icing down the blend just a little so it’s not one-dimensionally warm.
With the big three sorted, I needed to add some intrigue and depth to the sweetness of the blend. Smoked Star Anise did the trick nicely. There’s nothing even remotely subtle about this player. It comes in blazing with notes of leather and licorice. Added in the tiniest dab, it gave the blend a hint of mussed-up energy, a faintly diabolical vibe.
Perhaps my most favorite inclusion is the last ingredient: Wild Mesquite Powder. Made from ground mesquite pods—Burlap & Barrel sources theirs from Argentina, where the hot, harsh summer ironically results in the richest tasting mesquite beans—the powder adds a whiff of chocolate cake and roasted sweet potato.
I built the blend quite literally on a digital scale, carefully measuring and noting each teaspoon of spice. After every batch I had to bake something with it to fully know how it performed. I made the snickerdoodle my lab rat because it’s a good blank canvas of butter and sugar. Five batches later I wrote down the latest version and took it in to the test kitchen to gauge everyone’s reaction.
Stevie Stewart, our cross tester, made tiny doughnut muffins, adding the spice blend to the batter and even more to the sugar coating. Verdict: The star anise was coming through a little too strong, making the blend almost savory. So I went back and took it down a notch.
More snickerdoodles, a pan of coffee cake, and finally, just right. I emailed the recipe to Burlap & Barrel HQ where they knocked up a batch and tested for flavor and viability on their end. Unmarked sample bottles of the blend flew through the mail. Another check, another test bake. Thumbs up. Labels and blurbs and then a mad dash for a name. “How about Everything Nice Baking Blend?” I posed. “Is this not begging to be Everything Nice Baking Spice?” suggested food director Chris Morocco. “+1,” said deputy food editor and everyone’s favorite human Hana Asbrink.
And so it was. My child was born.
How to Use It
Use the blend as a 1:1 sub wherever a baking recipe calls for cinnamon, other ground spices like clove or ginger, or pumpkin pie spice. It’s terrific in pies, cakes, cookies, and French toast. Add a sprinkle to your holiday hot chocolate. Stir some into muffins or pancakes. Mix it with sugar and olive oil and make yourself a scrumptious hand scrub to combat winter flakies. Put a bow on it and give it to the impassioned baker in your life (especially if that baker is you).