God of spices: Cinnamon
When we open our box of spices, its wood worn out with time, we are hit with a host of fragrances that stir a little something in us. Each spice with its own distinct personality, color and stance; each reciting a different story, making every dish they touch with its own unique song of joy. The god of all such spices is Cinnamon.
Cinnamon is derived from the bark of a tropical evergreen tree and can be used for both- sweet as well as savoury dishes. Its distinct smell, almost impossible to mistake, always takes one back to the happiest memories- mum’s freshly baked cinnamon rolls and what not. The smell of cinnamon is definitely the smell of Christmas.
Cinnamon’s aroma has enchanted many cultures. Being one of the first few spices to be traded, it has left its traces in many a folklore. In the Hebrew bible, ‘Song of Solomon’ the song talking about the beauty of his beloved relishes in the memory of her scent, that is, the scent of cinnamon. This spice was actually held in such high regards that it was considered fit enough to be gifted to kings and even gods. So much so that it was priced higher than silver and gold at the time. By the middle ages, kings started to regard cinnamon as a status symbol. It was spices such as cinnamon that eventually played a key role in Europe’s expansion towards Asia.
If spices could talk, cinnamon would have the best stories to tell. Having left no corner of the world a stranger to its magic, every single culture has a recipe for this spice; each culture has made cinnamon its own. So presenting, a cinnamon recipe from each part of the world:
- Italy- The Italians are nothing if not passionate about their food. They use more of savoury spices than sweet, since cinnamon plays the role for both it is used widely and generously.
Cinnamon Sweet Ravioli
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)
½ lb all-purpose flour
½ lb ricotta cheese
3 ½ oz prunes
1 dried fig
1 tablespoon sugar
30 minutes preparation + 10 minutes cooking
Make a dough with the flour and the egg and roll it out very thin. Cut out disks 2 inches in diameter, then in the centre of each disk put a dollop of filling made mixing together dry figs and prunes boiled in water, chopped and mixed with ricotta cheese and sugar.
Seal well the edges of the stuffed disks giving them the shape of a crescent, then drop them into salted boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and dress with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon.
- France- At the time of kings, cinnamon and other such spices were very expensive and hence luxury items. They were therefore treasured and used with a lot of care. Even though the spices are now easily available, the French have retained the care they provide to using them.
6-ounce package dried figs
2/3 cup hot water
2 tablespoons Cognac
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar (powdered)
Halve the figs lengthwise and place them in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the hot water and Cognac over the figs. Allow the figs to soak until they soften, about 10 to 15 minutes. Pour off and discard the remaining soaking liquid and set the figs aside for a moment.
Preheat an oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch by 9-inch square baking dish or a 9-inch deep-dish pie round with the softened butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt until it forms a smooth, thin batter. Spread 3/4 cup of the batter onto the bottom of the prepared baking dish and bake it for 2-4 minutes. Watch the batter closely and remove it before it cooks through completely. It should just start to thicken and set when it is removed from the oven.
Transfer the dish to a heatproof surface and arrange the prepared figs in a fan pattern over the hot batter. Pour the remaining batter over the figs and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar over the finished clafouti and serve it warm.
This fig clafouti recipe makes 8 servings.
- India- Indians love their spices. Since their country is rich and laden with many spices, they also master the art of using them. Cinnamon sings out in their everyday kitchen, too.
Cinnamon and cardamom Kulfi
1 small tub of double cream
1/2 tin of evaporated milk
1/2 pint of milk
6 cardamom pods, crushed
1 stick of cinnamon
Sugar to taste
Heat the milk and cream together in a saucepan with the spices. When it comes up to the simmer, take off the heat and add sugar, probably about 3 tablespoons. Stir and leave to cool. Then pour into lolly moulds and freeze.
This is one spice that mixes extremely well with most ingredients. Usually used as a crushed cinnamon powder but is also used whole in some instances. It is a little known fact that there actually exist a few different types of cinnamon. Cinnamomum verum is considered to be “true cinnamon”, while the commonly traded cinnamon is not as pure and is called “cassia”. Here are some ways to add flavour to your everyday dishes with this god spice.
- Coffee or tea- If you feel like you’ve earned an indulgence, what better way to do so than coffee or tea? Breaking about a 3 inch cinnamon stick into the drink will do the trick. To make things more exciting, add a spoonful of honey.
Breaking the cinnamon into pieces helps to bring out the flavor perfectly.
- Rice- Next time you’re cooking rice, toss in a stick of cinnamon as the rice is boiling and let the spice work its magic.
- Mulled wine- A stick of cinnamon makes for the perfect mulled wine, you won’t regret it.
- As a relish- Add a pinch of cinnamon on grilled chicken/vegetables and give a break to the monotony of the boring everyday chicken.
The spice was used by medieval doctors in their medicines, offers numerous health benefits. It helps in the treating of colds, indigestion, keeps a control on one’s cholesterol and diabetes. If a periodic table of spices had to be prepared for a chef, then cinnamon would definitely be the Hydrogen- the base element.