Alex was shopping for spices at WIlliams-Sonoma and came home with a pretty wooden spice rack. They had a special deal and if you bought six spices the rack was free. He set it up on the counter to show me. Our rack contained fennel seeds, tagine spice, red chili flakes, ground tahitian vanilla bean, tandori spice and ras el hanout.
Later that day I was putting together a pumpkin pie and my eye fell on the ras el hanout. It's a Moroccan spice blend with a blend of sweet and savory spices. I thought it would be a nice background flavor for my pie. I like cinnamon to be at the forefront of my pumpkin pie and ras el hanout generally has cinnamon in it, along with several other complementary components, like ginger, cardamom, mace, saffron, cumin, rosebuds and bay leaves. So I added a pinch of ras and larger pinch of cinnamon to my filling and happily baked off the pie. There was also a streusel topping, but that's a whole other post. It worked beautifully, allowing the cinnamon to be the dominant spice while creating a unique sweet-savory background flavor that made it seem better than any pumpkin pie I've made before. If you are looking to improve your holiday cooking, from pies to pasta, you may want to pick up some ras el hanout and begin integrating it into recipes which call for classic pie spices and other sweet aromatic spices, like clove and allspice. Used judiciously it acts like a dash of bitters in a great cocktail, adding depth and flavor without detracting from the primary attractions. Try it and see where it takes you.