Cinnamon rolls. Snickerdoodles dusted with cinnamon sugar. Warm donuts sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Cinnamon toast. Who doesn’t love cinnamon?
Just a whiff of cinnamon puts a smile on most of us! Happy memories fill our hearts and we can almost taste the comforting, wonderful food to come.
Never once, do you think about international trade, bans and world struggles. Yet in this sweet and spicy tale, you can’t enjoy one without the other.
Let’s begin with a little background. Cinnamon comes from the bark of an evergreen tree. While there are hundreds of species of these trees, there are two main classifications.
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The trees that give us what most call “the best cinnamon,” called Ceylon cinnamon, grow naturally in Sri Lanka and Madagascar. This magnificent cinnamon was so very popular that the excessive harvest almost destroyed the trees in Madagascar.
The local government banned the sale, the crop came back and the ban was lifted. It is the gold standard for cinnamon. (In fact, in the ancient world, it was so precious that it was worth more than gold. No wonder there was a flourishing spice trade!)
While more expensive than other cinnamons, it is touted in the food catalogs as the “one” to use. The flavor is often described as delicate, and it is light in color.
A similar spice, called Cassia cinnamon, comes from a different species of trees. This tree has a harder bark, so it is harder to grate, yet the cinnamon it produces is generally more strongly flavored, is sweeter and is darker in color than Ceylon cinnamon.
It grows naturally in such places as Vietnam, China and Indonesia, and the availability has, over the years been affected by war and international trade.
Most grocery store cinnamon sold in the United States is Cassia cinnamon, so it is the type of cinnamon most of us use often.
But if given a choice, which cinnamon do you think you would prefer? Would you choose the luxurious Ceylon cinnamon?
Recently, as part of a cooking class I taught, students viewed, smelled and tasted individual sources of cinnamon.
While not scientific and certainly not a large enough sampling to document research results, it was interesting that the students were drawn to one of the Cassia cinnamons.
Several chose the inexpensive grocery store blend. Some chose a single source of cinnamon from Vietnam or China or Indonesia. They were drawn to the darker color and familiar flavor of the Cassia cinnamon. None chose the Ceylon cinnamon as their first choice.
What does this signify to most home cooks? It means you can choose the flavor you enjoy the most. There is no wrong answer. Trust your own sense of smell and taste and use the one you enjoy.
Or use and enjoy both types of cinnamon. After some experimenting, you might discover that Cassia cinnamon is the one you want to use for most baking, but you will choose the mild, yet more expensive, Ceylon cinnamon for dusting on your prize custard. That is OK, too.
No matter the kind of cinnamon you use, baking with it will fill your kitchen with a sweet, inviting smell that can’t be beat. If you can’t get that delicious thought out of your mind, get into the kitchen and bake a batch of these snickerdoodle cookies now.
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
Beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low and gradually blend in the flour mixture.
For the topping, stir together the sugar and cinnamon.
Using a scoop, scoop out dough (it will be soft) and gently shape into twenty 1 3/4 - inch balls. Roll each in cinnamon sugar. Place cookies 3 inches apart on baking sheets.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until just set. Let cool on parchment sheets on a wire rack.
Makes 20 cookies
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cookies (Clarkson Potter, 2008)
Kathy Moore is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is “Delicious Dump Cakes.” Other recent books include “Slow Cooker Desserts, Oh So Easy, Oh So Delicious” and “The Newlywed Cookbook: Cooking Happily Ever After.” She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com.