Known for imparting a sharp, slightly hot flavor to both sweet and savory dishes, cloves are most often added to baked goods in powdered form. When used in ham or pork dishes, the whole spice can be used like mini nails to pierce the meat's surface. If you're lacking either the whole or ground spice, other items offer a similar, bitingly earthy flavor.
Spice It Up
Allspice derives from the berries of the allspice or Jamaica pepper tree, which bear strong hints of cloves, along with the frequent culinary partners of cloves -- nutmeg and cinnamon. Use powdered allspice, or buy the berries and grind them yourself. When substituting allspice for cloves, begin with an equal amount of allspice, and adjust according to taste. If your recipe calls for a blend of spices in addition to cloves, such as nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, that little jar labeled "pumpkin pie spices" in the back of your cabinet can be used instead. Add up the amount of spices called for in the dish, and use an equal amount of pumpkin pie spice.
Bet on Basil
The same compound that gives cloves their distinctive bite, eugenol, is also in basil. All types of basil have this compound, including common, or sweet basil. For the closest match to cloves, opt for holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) whenever possible. The herb, a staple in Thai cooking, is most reminiscent of cloves when used fresh. Dice it finely if adding to baked goods, or in a rough chop if a savory sauce calls for cloves. Alternatively, infuse one of the liquids called for in a dessert or sauce by tossing a few holy basil leaves into the liquid, simmering it briefly, then straining out the leaves.
Clove pinks are pink flowers, but they get their name from the petals, which look as if they've been edged with pinking shears. If you're inclined to grow clove pinks, you'll find that their spicy flavor and taste do possess a clovelike character. To use the flowers in uncooked dishes, snip away the bitter white parts at the base of each petal. These petals can be added to wines, spreads and fruit salads for a subtle accent of cloves.To intensify the spiciness, make a syrup by boiling equal parts water and clove pink petals. After straining the mixture, add sugar to taste, and store the syrup in the refrigerator for use as a spicy sweetener in baking.
A Vial Solution
Essential oils are most often associated with aromatherapy, but some also have culinary applications. A small vial of food-grade clove essential oil can impart its spicy flavor to dozens of dishes, because you need only a drop of the extremely concentrated liquid for most recipes. If the flavor is still too strong or harsh when adding it directly to foods, mellow it out by adding 1 drop of clove essential oil to 1/4 cup honey, 1/2 pint of whipping cream or 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Essential oils evaporate somewhat with heat, so you might need 2 drops for baked goods.