W ith competition from the multiples, it’s increasingly challenging for the small baker to offer differentiated products that stand out from the crowd.

But have you ever considered the spices you use in your products? Are you one of the many who buy a pack of spice and it lasts forever and do you only buy it occasionally? If so, does it really have any flavour? Have you ever considered grinding your own?

You may think this is a crazy idea, but is it? I’ve been grinding my own spices, in a small way, for years and they really can be wonderful when they are freshly made. The flavour they give is magical compared to some purchased products. When spices are ground, they do lose flavour the longer they are stored. So why not try to do some yourself?

For large production, this may not be so easy, but for the small craft baker who is willing to try, it could be great. You can buy a small domestic coffee grinder for not a lot of money and that’s what I use.

I suggest you buy relatively small quantities of whole spice, where possible, and make your spice mixtures from these.

Asian stores are a great source of good spices at reasonable prices. If you examine other cultures that use spices, they often grind them fresh just before use. If you can do this, then fine, but you could make up a quantity and try to use it quite quickly. Store it in an airtight container, away from the light, to keep it in the best possible condition.

I work on the technical side for Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients. Recently, one of our sales team asked if I had a scratch recipe for a spiced yeasted bread product. I supplied the recipe, which should contain a continental spice blend. So I offered the main recipe, but also gave a recipe for a spiced blend, obtained from a book of the Richemont School in Switzerland, just in case the customer could not obtain the spice.

I also decided to take the recipe home and try it for myself, but did not have all the spices I required. The recipe called for aniseed, but I only had Star Anise, so I continued anyway. To my delight, the aroma was stunning.

Although not all the ingredients fitted the original recipe exactly, I still ended up with an excellent product. So what did I do? Well, I made a kind of Chelsea Bun and was really pleased with the result. The feedback I received from one group of friends, for whom I made them, was: "Why can’t we buy this? The flavour is really good."

With the recipe featured here (see right), start by making the spice mixture and take in the marvellous aroma. After you make the buns, you may have your own views on the emphasis of certain spices, so feel free to experiment. Good spices can mean great flavour. n