Vasundhara Chauhan

Gourmet Files: A dash of cinnamon

In the 16th century, when chocolate was shipped back to the homeland from South America, the Spanish cooked it with cinnamon.  

Cinnamon bites and kisses simultaneously.

— Vanna Bonta, poet, writer, actor

I had a great-uncle who kept a silver caster at his dining table. Filled with neither salt nor pepper, but cinnamon, to sprinkle on his watermelon. Because, he said, watermelon has no flavour of its own. Cinnamon, brown and dry and sweet and warm, is unarguably a compelling flavour. On a visit to Kerala, we were welcomed into the hotel with the routine garland and a small tray of spices, including sticks of cinnamon. From that day, I keep some in my bag because you can chew gently on it, like supari; it’s sweetish, smells fresh and finally gives a tingle.

While the FDA has not approved cinnamon as a cure for any disease, its touted health benefits range from curing digestive and bone ailments, aiding memory and cognitive development to the prevention of cancer. I know people who eat a teaspoon of it powdered into their morning cuppa.

There is confusion about the two kinds of cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum and Cinnamomum cassia, because in the course of time the barks entering the cinnamon trade changed. Also Arab traders protected their business interests by shrouding their sources. Both are accepted as cinnamon but The British Pharmacopoeia requires cinnamon to be C. verum. This, the “true” cinnamon, is the dried bark of the tree indigenous to Sri Lanka and the Seychelles. In 1505, the Portuguese found cinnamon in its wild state in Ceylon and proceeded to occupy the island chiefly for it. A few years later, the Dutch took over both the island and the monopoly, and began its cultivation, until 300 years later, when the East India Company took over.

Europeans use it to flavour baked goods and confectionery and in fruit compotes. Elsewhere, it’s also used in savoury dishes. Not just in India, as in the traditional garam masala, but in the West Asia, in dishes like the Moroccan tagine and Iranian khoresht. In Lebanon and most of Syria, the only spices used on meat are allspice and cinnamon. I use cinnamon in meat curries, but only in some — and then only a small stick, because the aroma can be overpowering. Ground cinnamon darkens the curry and, in a soup stock, it muddies the waters. But in an apple cake or applesauce spice “brownies” or an apple cobbler, cinnamon as the defining flavour uplifts the confection. It’s strange but it doesn’t work in a date-walnut or orange cake. My daughter and I walk into a mall and she starts gravitating towards the smell from the cinnamon coffee stall, while I wrinkle up my nose at the excess. And yet I love the teatime quickie: hot buttered soldiers of toast sprinkled with cinnamon and crunchy sugar. As the saying goes, “ De gustibus non est disputandum”: there’s no arguing with taste.

In the 16th century, when chocolate was shipped back to the homeland from South America, the Spanish cooked it with cinnamon. I don’t think I’m very taken with the combination but some years ago, sitting at a seaside café with a soft breeze cooling the evening, a cappuccino arrived with, instead of a spoon to stir the sugar, a stick of cinnamon. And it was delightful.


Makes 64

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg


2 tbsp milk

1 egg

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp cinnamon

Sift flour with salt and cinnamon and set aside. In large bowl, with electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour mixture, continuing to beat until well combined. Shape dough into ball and refrigerate, wrapped in aluminium foil. Take out and cut into four parts; wrap each and refrigerate. Preheat oven to 200º C. Make topping by whisking together milk and egg. Separately, combine sugar and cinnamon. Reserve.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough, one part at a time, into a 9-by-7-inch rectangle. With sharp knife dipped in flour, cut into 16 rectangles. Lift with spatula and place on ungreased cookie sheets, about 11/2 inches apart. Brush tops of cookies lightly with egg mixture. Then sprinkle with sugar mixture. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until set and golden-brown. Remove to wire rack and cool.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 1:42:21 PM |

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