- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Sniff, sniff, mmmm. That’s cinnamon. One whiff can make you downright wistful for ooey-gooey sticky buns, fragrant apple pie, melt-away walnut coffeecake and more. There’s hardly an aroma so irresistible. No wonder cinnamon is the world’s most loved spice, with Americans consuming 6.5 million pounds a year.

Cinnamon trees thrive in the coastal plains of South and Southeast Asia. It takes 20 to 30 years for a tree to mature enough to harvest. Then cinnamon is cut from the inner bark of the trees. After that, it can be harvested every two to three years.

There are two basic types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon. Most of what we consume in the United States is cassia cinnamon. Many believe the highest-quality cassia cinnamon comes from an area near Saigon, Vietnam. Others say Korintje cassia cinnamon from Indonesia is the best. Korintje is the spice used in the Cinnabon stores, and you can smell it from one end of the shopping mall to the other. Saigon cinnamon is the spiciest of all, with a tantalizing, pungent and robust flavor.

Ethnic cooking preferences determine the way cinnamon is used. In India, cinnamon is never used with desserts but is a main ingredient in some curry blends. In Mexico, we find it in mole sauces, in combination with chocolate and chili powder. In the Caribbean, it is added to jerk seasoning.

In China, it is one of the quintet in five-spice powder. In Greece, it is added to lamb dishes. In North Africa, cinnamon seasons couscous and tajines. In the United States, cinnamon finds its way onto Pennsylvania Dutch dishes, in which a cinnamon-sugar mixture is sprinkled over ripe tomato slices and served as a relish.

Cinnamon partners in a wonderful way with breakfast and brunch favorites. In the United States, we like it paired with such spices as ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. It is at home with all sorts of nuts, and its flavor is brightened by the presence of butter and dark brown sugar.

Here are other ways to enjoy the spice: Add a cinnamon stick to a hot mug of tea, cider, chocolate or coffee. Powdered, it works well in marinades and rubs. Add a dash to custards, fruit pies, baked apples or applesauce. Add it to streusel toppings, batters, doughs and fillings — but if you want to see your family and friends run quickly to the table, pick up local apples from the farmers market and make these apple cinnamon rolls.

Apple cinnamon rolls

5 to 5½ cups flour

½ cup sugar

2 packages rapid-rise yeast

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

¼ cup butter or margarine

3 large eggs

Apple filling (recipe follows)

Cinnamon-sugar topping (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, undissolved yeast and salt. Heat ½ cup water with milk and butter until very warm (120 to 130 degrees). Gradually add to dry ingredients.

Beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add eggs and 1 cup flour; beat 2 minutes at high speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.

Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Roll each portion into 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Spread apple filling over evenly.

Beginning at long end of each, roll up tightly as you would for a jelly roll. Pinch seams to seal. Cut each roll into 12 equal pieces. Place, cut sides up, in two greased 9-inch round pans. Cover, let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar topping.

Bake in 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until done. Remove from pans; serve warm. Makes about 24 rolls.

APPLE FILLING:

2 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped

2 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup sugar

¼ cup butter

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

In medium saucepan, combine apples, flour, sugar and butter. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly until thick. Stir in cinnamon and nutmeg. Cool completely.

CINNAMON-SUGAR TOPPING:

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Combine sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir until well blended.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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