Our Holiday Baking Guide to Chinese Five-Spice

Spiced Persimmon Coconut Cake
Photography by Joe Schmelzer / Recipe development and food styling by Rebecca Firth

Add a kick to your holiday baking with Chinese five-spice, the spicy star of Rebecca Firth’s (of the blog DisplacedHousewife) “Take Five” recipe collection in our November/December issue.

What it is:

Chinese five-spice powder consists of five or more spices— most commonly star anise, cloves, Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese cinnamon), Szechuan peppercorns, ginger, and fennel seeds. A little goes a long way with this mixture, but it’ll liven up recipes beyond the usual holiday baking spice suspects of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg.

Why We Love It:

Versatility: Chinese five-spice has a unique flavor profile but is quite versatile. It often pulls double duty in savory—think Cantonese roast duck or richly spiced beef stew—and sweet dishes.  

Accessibility: It’s easily attainable. The spice blend is available in most grocery stores and in Asian markets. Finally! An unusual ingredient that eliminates the hassle of specialty store shopping.

What to Pair It With:

Molasses: The sticky syrup with notes of rich caramel pairs wonderfully with a dash of five-spice. (See for yourself and bake Rebecca’s Five-Spice Molasses Cookies)

Streusels: The crunchy topping that makes everything better is ready for a spicy upgrade. Next time you’re whipping up a batch of streusel, mix in some Chinese five-spice for a little kick. It helps take our streusel-swirled cranberry Bundt cake (our cover star!) to the next level.

Tart fruit compotes: In our five-spice recipe collection, you’ll note a tart theme running throughout. What do Spiced Cranberry Scones with Tangerine Glaze, Pink Peppercorn Madeleines with Five-Spice Pomegranate Glaze, and Satsuma Marmalade Hand Pies all have in common? A tangy fruit element that benefits from a warm hit of five-spice heat.

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