REMIX: Cinnamon (recipes, stories and sources in The Perfect Pantry)
In the best democracies, people enjoy freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of expression.
My spice rack operates on the same principles. In fact, I'd venture to say it's the ultimate democracy. Except for salt and pepper, which have an assigned easy-to-grab-without-looking place on the shelf, everything else is free to hang out wherever, and with whatever, it wishes.
A spice like cinnamon needs its freedom. Some days, it wants to cuddle up with its baking friends, nutmeg and cloves and ginger. Other days, it prefers the company of the savories: paprika, turmeric, pepper.
No matter where it goes, I can always find it. I buy spices in bulk and transfer them to recycled jars of all shapes and sizes, from mustards and marmalades and mayonnaise. Cinnamon has its own uniquely-shaped jar with little winglets, from some fancy French condiment we received as a gift, so it stands out, wherever it is. The spice is a standout, too.
I've featured cinnamon -- ground, and in whole sticks -- three times in The Perfect Pantry, with more than two dozen recipes for how to cook and bake with it.
Remember the story of the emperor Nero? You can't deny that he did some pretty weird stuff. Fiddling while Rome burned. Killing his wife because his mother told him to. But setting fire to a year's worth of cinnamon? Now, that's crazy.
Here's another question: how do you tell the difference between cassia and cinnamon? In stick form, it's easy; it's all about the curl. After tasting cinnamon from India, China and Vietnam, I discovered that my favorite cinnamon isn't cinnamon: it's cassia. If you grew up on supermarket spices in your mother's pantry, you might prefer the milder taste of cassia, too. I keep both Indonesian cassia and Vietnamese cinnamon on my spice rack.
Though I'm not much of a dessert eater, I've published more than my share of sweet cinnamon-flavored dessert recipes:
- Chocolate chip banana bars
- Apple spice cake
- Cinnamon-apple coffee cake with streusel topping
- Sugar-free maple baked pears
- Rum raisin pear pie
- Old-fashioned apple pie
- Cranberry rice pudding
- Mexican chocolate "diablo" cupcakes
- Chocolate spice cookies
- Espresso chocolate custard cups
- Honey gingerbread cookies
- Yogurt coffee cake with pecan filling
- Fresh apple cake
- Spice snap cookies
The aroma of cinnamon reminds me most of weekend breakfasts when I was young (my dad used to mix up cinnamon sugar, and sprinkle it on our French toast), and of brunches when I was into entertaining on weekend mornings (which I've given up doing in recent years, though I'm always awake and love to cook in the morning, so I don't remember why I don't have brunch any more):
- Greek yogurt vanilla parfait with pistachios and dried cherries
- Cinnamon and vanilla challah French toast
- Granola muffins
- Pear spice cupcakes
- Raisin banana scones
- Peach vanilla muffins
In the past couple of years, I've been learning to cook with cinnamon in the savory traditions of many countries; if you've been visiting The Perfect Pantry for a while, you can't help but notice my obsession with North African tagine cuisine, where cinnamon and dried fruit combine with meats. Some of my favorite recipes use cinnamon to add warmth and a bit of a kick:
- Shurbat rushta (lentil noodle soup)
- Chicken tagine with prunes and almonds
- Rhubarb-apricot chutney
- Mexican-spiced fish
- Curried turkey meatballs
- Riz imfalfal (rice pilaf)
- Lamb tagine with prunes and apricots
- Mulligatawny soup
- Egg curry
- Slow cooker chicken vindaloo
Cinnamon is a keeper, in more ways than one. Buy the best you can find, because it really makes a difference. My favorite online sources are The Spice House and Penzeys, both of which sell cassia and cinnamon from several countries.
You can store it (ground or whole sticks) at room temperature on your spice rack, away from heat and light, for two years or longer. Some markets sell boxes made of cinnamon bark, and if you can find one (or have a friend bring you one from Vietnam or China), that's the ideal place to store ground cinnamon.
Use the search box on the right (up near the top of this page) to find more recipes and fun facts about cinnamon in The Perfect Pantry.
What do you make with cinnamon? Sweet, or savory, or both?