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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 this 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 a homemade spice mix 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 the 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. This spice mix 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 the 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.