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Pumpkin pie spice is a blend of spices designed to be used in pumpkin pie, although the spice blend can also be used for various fruit pies and other dishes as well. Many stores sell pumpkin pie spice, especially in the fall and winter, when pumpkin pie is a popular treat, and it is also very easy to make this spice mixture at home. An advantage to home production is that homemade pumpkin pie spice is fresher, and it tends to have much more flavor as a result. Homemade spice blends also allow cooks greater control.
The precise mixture of spices in pumpkin pie spice is up to the cook. Cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, mace, and nutmeg are common inclusions, although they need not all be used, and the proportions vary. Cloves, for example, are very strong, so they are typically used in small amounts, while cinnamon can be used much more abundantly.
Pumpkin pie spice is blended with the other ingredients in pumpkin pie before baking. Some companies make pumpkin pie mix, a canned ingredient comprised of pumpkin blended with pumpkin pie spice so that cooks just need to add eggs and milk to create the custard used for pumpkin pie. Canned pumpkin pie mix can, however, become slightly bitter or metallic, depending on the brand, and it is a good idea to taste it before using it to make sure that the flavor doesn't seem off.
There are some other ways to use pumpkin pie spice. For example, the spice mix can be beaten into the whipped cream some cooks use to top pumpkin pies, or mixed in with pastry cream, custard, or ice cream base to create a distinctive spicy and creamy sweet treat. Pumpkin pie spice can also be used to make baked custards and other desserts, blended into white cakes for spice cake, or added to Indian food as a stand-in for garam masala, a sweet spice blend used in some Indian dishes.
Like other spices, pumpkin pie spice should be kept in a cool dry place, and it should ideally be used within six months. For the most flavorful pumpkin pie spice, ingredients should be ground fresh as needed. Toasting can enhance the flavor of pumpkin pie spice, or refresh slightly old and stale spice blends with a hit of fresh flavor. Freezing can also help to prolong the life of ground spices.
I have noticed a difference in freshness when using old pumpkin pie spice instead of fresh. I would usually buy a small bottle of this spice in the fall, and would find that is about the only time of the year when it gets used. After sitting for almost a year, the scent is not nearly as strong.
After throwing a couple bottles away, I began making up my own spice for my pumpkin recipes. I really like a cinnamon taste, so will usually add more cinnamon than the spices I buy have. The nice thing about making your own, is not only is it fresher, but you can put the right amount of your favorite ingredients in it.
I also only make up a small batch so I am not throwing away spice that is old and no longer fresh.