I think part of the problem is that there's so much I want to cover that I do not know how to say everything I want to all while writing a post that flows well. So, here's my disclaimer: This blog may not flow or make sense.
I have shared my pumpkin loaf recipe with a handful of people and every time I do so, the person tells me that it doesn't taste the same. No, I did not alter the recipe before I gave it to you. The only two things I can think of are:
1. You may think it sounds crazy, but baking is as mental as the motions you make while baking are physical. If you think about what you're doing too much, it just doesn't come out good. I swear by this mantra.
2. I hand grind EVERY spice that goes into the loaf. It makes a difference.
Now that I've got that out of the way, let's discuss the dos and don'ts of working with spices.
1. Whenever possible, use freshly ground spices. Invest in a microplane and a mortar and pestle. Both are relatively inexpensive and extremely useful.
2. If you are using a recipe, unless it says otherwise, the spice measurements listed refer to pre-ground spices you find in a glass jar at the supermarket. Beware, some spices are not as potent when freshly ground - like nutmeg - so you have to double the quantity!
3. Vice versa. It works both ways...
3. Do not overdose on spices! When trying a recipe, always make it exactly as printed. (Unless you're experienced and can tell is something is off.) If you do not get the desired spice flavor after trying it, bump it by 25% and keep testing the recipe (bumping it up by 25% each time) until you're happy with the outcome. Adding too much of a spice can give the finished product a chalky texture and can mute the other flavors.
4. Don't under do it, either. Usually a spice is added to enhance the flavor of something else. If there isn't enough you'll know something's there, however you won't know exactly what it is.
5. I know most of you are not going to grind your own spices. I'm not stupid. So, all I ask is that you buy quality spices. I order the majority of my spices from www.penzeys.com
6. Spices do not last a lifetime. They don't go bad, but they do lose strength. Generally, ground spices last up to a year and whole spices last up to two years. I try to order all my spices once a year so that I can easily keep track of how long I've had them. I usually order them in October so that they are nice and fresh through the fall and winter, when I use them the most.
7. Store your spices in an airtight container in a cool, dark place in your kitchen. NOT in a spice rack on your counter or next to the oven.