More playing with spices. Looking for new ways to mix together the flavors I've already got. I've tried a few 5-spice blends from the store but wasn't impressed. With this one, using some whole spices makes a huge difference in the flavor. Not sure how to grind them up? Invest in a little cheap coffee grinder. They cost $10-$20. Just make sure you label it "spice grinder" and use it only for spices. It works wonders.
Another tip for getting great flavors out of whole spices is to toast them before you grind them. To do that, warm up a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the whole spices and cook just for a minute or two until they get really fragrant. Pull them off the heat and let them cool down just a little before you grind them. The flavors will be more intense but be warned, they won't keep as long once you grind them so use this tip only for things you'll be using in the next day or two.
Just a note on whole spices - you can usually find them at any grocery store. If they aren't in the baking aisle, try looking in the hispanic or ethnic section. I found a nice size bag of star anise for a really good price in the Hispanic section. Look around, spend some time exploring what your local stores have to offer. Don't be afraid to try new things. The worst that will happen is you'll end up with something inedible and have to start over. Which really isn't that big of a deal. Don't be afraid of failing. Even if the cookies are ugly, they may still taste great.
On to the recipes!
Chinese 5-Spice Mix
3 star anise
12 whole cloves
2 t. whole black pepper
1 t. fennel seeds
1 t. ground cinnamon
Measure everything into a spice grinder. Pulse on high until the mix is a fine powder. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. Makes about 1 1/2 T.
For more flavor, try toasting the whole spices first.
Chinese 5-Spice Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. white sugar
2/3 c. brown sugar
2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
2 t. Chinese 5-spice mix
2 c. quick-cooking oats
1 c. whole wheat flour
Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add vanilla, salt, baking powder, 5-spice mix, and eggs. Cream until very smooth and light. Stir in oats and whole wheat flour. Mix together. Set aside for 30 minutes to let the oats soften and absorb any extra liquids.
Scoop by tablespoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 9-10 minutes.
If you want more spice in your spice cookies, feel free to add extra cinnamon or ground black pepper.