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I Spice: Cloves

Aperol Spice, a cocktail made with clove syrup. (Monica Bhide)

Unfortunately, my very first memory of cloves is associated with pain. It was excruciating. I must have been about 10, with a horrid toothache. My father wrapped two cloves in some cotton and told me to bite on it with the tooth that hurt. Ouch. I did, and a few minutes later the pain subsided enough for me to feel human again.

Recipe Included

Luckily, other people in this world have kinder, gentler memories of this lovely spice. “My mother loved any kind of spice cookie with cloves in the recipe. I think I inherited that from her,” says Karen Adler, one-half of the BBQ Queens (with Judith Fertig) whose newest cookbook is “300 Big & Bold BBQ & Grilling Recipes” (Robert Rose, 2009). “As I began to bake, I would do combinations of cinnamon and cloves for more flavor. I also like to pickle olives, and a small bunch of cloves in the pickling juice adds a wonderful earthy dimension of flavor. When I began barbecuing, I found that cloves added to barbecue rubs or sauces added a very nice depth of flavor.”

Cloves are actually dried flower buds. They add a deep, sweet aroma to dishes. They can be used whole or ground, but one thing remains constant: The taste is very strong, so use them sparingly. Raw cloves are quite bitter.

Cloves have been used in Asian, Mexican and European cooking for years. They are generally accompanied by some favorite partner spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. Cloves have long been used in ayurvedic medicine and incense, but I was intrigued to find that in some countries they are also used in cigarettes.

And that toothache? The essential oil in cloves is a local anesthetic and is still used in some mouthwashes. Live and learn.

Adler has a wonderful and super-simple suggestion for using cloves: Combine one package of plain (yellow) cake mix with a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and two teaspoons of ground cloves. Bake as directed on the package, and you get an almost-instant spice cake.

I add whole cloves to rice dishes and to oil that's heating up in the pan, then remove them before I use the oil to cook with. Ground cloves, of course, are great in desserts. Cloves are often used in chutneys, and they're terrific in other sweet-tart condiments such as Agave Tomato Jam. Try them in spice mixes: Berbere can be used on beef or lamb. And don’t forget the classic glazed baked ham studded with whole cloves.

Then there are clove-infused drinks. Kara Newman, author of the upcoming book “Spice & Ice: 70 Tongue-Tingling Cocktails” (Chronicle Books, November 2009) filled me in: “Since I’m coming at it from a cocktail point of view, I love a clove-infused simple syrup to use in cocktails and desserts. I keep a squeeze bottle in the refrigerator, and it adds a touch of color and aromatic sweetness to drinks.”

Whole cloves also are great to add to punches; just push them into the rind of a few orange or lemon wheels, then float the studded slices in the punch bowl. “And it’s no coincidence that cocktail bitters, which are frequently used to add aromatics to drinks, often feature clove. Angostura bitters in particular have a strong clove profile, which plays well in the Aperol Spice cocktail," Newman says (recipe follows). Also, try the bitters dashed into a glass of ginger ale: "It's a great remedy for a queasy stomach.”

As with all spices, Adler and Newman advise keeping whole cloves or ground cloves in tightly sealed plastic bags or containers, in a cool, dark cupboard.

Newman shared this lovely anecdote about cloves: “About a year ago, I interviewed Audrey Saunders, who runs the famed Pegu Club in New York and is one of the cocktail legends of our time. At the bar, she has a lineup of little apothecary-style jars full of every tincture, syrup and infusion you can imagine. Audrey brought a bottle of clove tincture over to the little table where we sat. She was explaining the difference between an infused syrup (which is made with sugar and can be sticky) and a tincture (which is just alcohol and the flavoring agent, no sugar). And to illustrate her point, she suddenly dashed a bit of the clove tincture into her hands and rubbed it over her wrists like perfume! ‘I do this all the time,’ she confided. It caught me a little off-guard, but I do have to admit she smelled great.”

-- Monica Bhide

Cinnamon-Clove Syrup
Makes about 1 cup

Use this spiced syrup to add depth to cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks (add a splash to club soda), for desserts and even for morning waffles.

MAKE AHEAD: The cooled syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several months.

From “Spice & Ice: 70 Tongue-Tingling Cocktails,” by Kara Newman (Chronicle, November 2009).

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 tablespoon ground or whole cloves

Combine the sugar, water, cinnamon stick and cloves in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; discard the cinnamon and clove (strain through cheesecloth if using ground cloves). Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid; cool to room temperature before storing.

Per 1-ounce serving: 97 calories, 0 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 25 g sugar

Aperol Spice
1 serving

The rosy glow of the bittersweet aperitif Aperol is warming enough on its own. But mixed with a clove-spiced syrup, this drink is a standout. Angostura also has clove notes, so you’ll get a doubly aromatic effect.

From “Spice & Ice: 70 Tongue-Tingling Cocktails,” by Kara Newman (Chronicle, November 2009).

2 ounces Aperol
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Cinnamon-Clove Syrup (see recipe above)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the Aperol, gin, syrup and lemon juice. Shake vigorously, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Add the bitters; serve immediately.

Per serving: 315 calories, 0 g protein, 44 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 43 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  September 25, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: I Spice, Monica Bhide, cloves  
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