“I don’t know if it’s the crisp breeze or the changing leaves, but I just feel so alive in the fall,” says Food Network contestant and baking entrepreneur Fran Murray. This 41-year-old mother of four is simply mad about autumn — it’s the season in which she got married, and it’s her favorite time of year to bake.
She says fall has the “perfect weather for taking walks in cozy sweaters.” It’s also when Murray infuses her work in the kitchen with many of her favorite fall flavors. “I’ve had an obsession with warm spices for as long as I can remember,” Murray explains, “so baking in the fall brings me so much joy.”
Murray, who resides in Toronto, finds it particularly rewarding to share what she whips up as displays of affection to her friends and family. “I take baking as a catalyst to infuse love and encouragement in the hearts of the folks that I encounter.”
That sentiment goes back to her earliest childhood memories of being in the kitchen with her mother in Jamaica. There, she would watch as her mom made batches of Jamaican black cake, a rich fruit dessert filled with raisins, prunes, and currants, and soaked in dark rum and red wine — for months (!) — before being eaten.
“I can still recall the smells of that cake, and the happiness that it brought to folks in the community was just amazing,” Murray says. “That’s what stuck with me — that baking isn’t just the mechanical part or a skill set but the love in a product you can share with others.”
One of the highlights of the fall for Murray is being able to include her herb harvest from the summer in her baking. While locally grown and fresh herbs are still available, fall is a great time to freeze herbs in individual serving sizes for use in cooking and baking throughout the colder months. With the last of the harvest you don’t freeze, Murray suggests incorporating herbs like basil and thyme into shortbread and amaretti cookies to add new flavors to these classic desserts.
The fall flavor trifecta: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves
Warm spices epitomize the scents and tastes of fall. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are three of the most beloved spices of the season. “They just hit the taste buds differently. They make you feel cozy inside,” Murray says. “It’s like they give you a warm hug.”
Murray recommends doubling, and sometimes even tripling, the cinnamon in typical fall baking recipes. “Don’t be afraid to add warm spices to all your desserts,” she says.
Just a reminder, though: Don’t skip the cloves. Although they may not be as widely used as cinnamon, they are an essential part of fall flavoring. “Anytime you use cinnamon, add an eighth of the amount of cloves,” Murray says. “A little goes a long, long way, and you will notice the difference.”
For simple desserts that need a little something extra, such as sugar cookies or vanilla cupcakes, Murray has a quick and easy flavor booster: simple syrup. Boil up a batch (one part sugar, one part water) and keep it in the fridge so you always have some on hand when the need arises. (It’s also an essential ingredient in many cocktails.) “Add some cinnamon, some nutmeg, a little clove, and some lemon zest to that simple syrup, and then just baste it onto a dessert to infuse all that delicious flavor.”
Fall is all about the fruit, right? Apple picking, cranberry stringing…and did you know pumpkin is actually a fruit??? Poaching or grilling apples and pears makes for an easy dessert that Murray seasons with those beloved warm spices. She also delights in pairing them with citrus zests. “My family thinks I’m crazy, but whenever they reach for a citrus fruit, I’m like, ‘Wait, I have to zest it first!'”
She freezes the zests of limes, lemons, and oranges in little baggies that she’ll use throughout the fall in cakes, pies, sugar cookies, shortbread, and cupcakes. “Add orange zest to your pumpkin latte — it’s insane what’s going to happen to your taste buds.”
One of Murray’s favorite staples for fall baking is chocolate, but you might be surprised how she uses it. “Chocolate pairs with everything in the fall,” she says. “When I bake my apple pies (obviously adding my double dose of nutmeg and cinnamon!), I pour chocolate syrup over them.” She says the sweetness from the apples mixed with the autumnal warm spices marries with the rich chocolate to create the perfect flavor union.
It’s that kind of experimentation that Murray says makes fall baking so much fun. “Use traditional desserts and add your own twist to them. I always say, you don’t have to be a master chef to whip up yumminess and release your creativity.”