Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Real-life Spice Merchant talks about The Secret Ingredient

Ras el hanout

A note from Leslie: Many of you know  I've been haunting Seattle's Pike Place Market for years, first as a college student and young lawyer living in Seattle, and now as an occasional visitor from Montana. A few years ago, I discovered World Spice Merchants on Western Avenue, just below the Market, a shop as full of discovery as the Spice Islands and other distant lands were to the European sailors in the Age of Exploration. 

So when ASSAULT & PEPPER, the first book in my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, came out last March, I sent a signed copy to Amanda Bevill, owner of World Spice Merchants.

Imagine the stunned look on my face when a lovely woman I didn't know came to my book launch party---in an art gallery in Montana---and introduced herself as Amanda. Turns out she and her husband divide their time between Seattle and NW Montana. I inscribed her copy of my book, and she gave me a signed copy of her cookbook, WORLD SPICE AT HOME.  

And thus began a friendship built on spice. Amanda joins us today with a tasty recipe that shows off the blends that make her shop such a magical place.  

The Secret Ingredient

By Amanda Bevill

We all love a good mystery, and it's doubly true in the case of the secret ingredient: plainly there for us to taste but elusively masked within the dish. Spice merchants know this, and are always sniffing out new flavors to dazzle the palate. A deft hand with spices will always leave your guests delighted, and wondering, "What is that???"

Chinese Five Spice
But you don’t have to be a spice merchant, or a master chef, to add these legendary flavors to your everyday cooking- it can be quick and easy. Often you don’t even have to learn a new recipe. This family favorite was one of the first that I adapted to experiment with the amazing world of spices.

This simple apple cake was created by my great-grandmother and cooked on a wood stove over 100 years ago, and I’m happy to still be cooking it today. The original recipe called for cinnamon, and now I make it with either Chinese Five Spice or Ras el Hanout. Both of these blends contain classic baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, but combined with other spices the flavors are enhanced. The result is a pleasing flavor that is more than you would get with cinnamon alone, and your guests will never guess the secret ingredient. This recipe is timeless, rustic and highlights the flavors of both the apples and the spice.

Great Grandmother Carter’s Apple Cake

1 cup vegetable oil or melted coconut oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground Chinese Five Spice or Ras el Hanout
3 cups chopped apples
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9”x13” pan.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix together.

Fold in apples and nuts.

Bake 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

So, the next time you want to try something new, or add a twist to a classic, open up your spice cabinet and follow your nose. If you like the way it smells, you’ll love the way it tastes!

Amanda Bevill is the owner of World Spice Merchants, an artisan spice shop in Seattle, Washington, and the co-author of World Spice at Home, New Flavors for 75 Different Dishes. Visit the shop on Western Avenue below Pike Place Market, or online.  


  1. Beam me up to your spice shop--please! I buy spices because I love the name, because they're pretty, because they smell good, because I've read about them, or sometimes because I have no idea what they are and I want to find out. I love the way you've added a new twist to a stand-by recipe, apple cake. I'll have to try making one with coconut oil. Thanks for dropping by today!

    1. Thanks! Come visit us in Seattle! I've been using coconut oil in all my cakes lately and it is fabulous. It adds a velvety texture too :-) here's another good one.

  2. So great to have you visiting Amanda! Loved your post and suggestions and now craving that apple cake:)

  3. I was delighted to be invited into the kitchen of a couple from Indian once. Huge jars lined the tops of the cabinets and it smelled heavenly. I remember thinking how few of those delicious spices I probably used. I happen to have coconut oil and Chinese Five Spice in the cabinet right now. Can't wait to try your recipe!

  4. Amanda's shop is a treasure of scents and flavors -- those big jars Krista mentioned, but also shelves full of little taster/sniffer jars where you decide what you want. And blends and gift sets. Plus a great selection of cookbooks -- and one mystery! If you're in Seattle, you must visit!

    And I think there will be a rash of spicy apple cakes baked today among the Kitchen crew!

  5. It does sound delightful.
    Now I need to find a source for the Ras el Hanout.

    1. Libby, I don't know where you are but tasty little spice shops have popped up all over the country -- and many, incl World Spice, do ship!

  6. I'm a spice lover, too! Would you believe I have all the ingredients needed except the main one, as we're down to just 1 apple left. Will add apples to the list this week and try out the recipe. Thanks Amanda and Leslie!

    1. Thank goodness it's almost apple season! Enjoy the cake.

  7. Welcome and thank you, Amanda, for a delightful and very useful post. I hope to set foot in your wonderful shop someday when I finally get to Seattle!



  8. This was an intriguing post and led me to check out spice shops in my area (Ottawa, Canada); I found 2 of note and will try your recipe soon.
    Nancy R

  9. Interesting post. I love the way you two met.

  10. By the way, I have Amanda's cookbook and everything we've made from it's been terrific!