Instead of marking this Valentine’s Day with chocolate, I propose a celebration with cinnamon. Can you think of a better candidate for a global love affair?
Thanks to our adventurous ancestor who brought tree bark to the cooking fire, this is the one spice I can’t live without, and I’ve got three recipes for you today that will put cinnamon front and centre in your kitchen.
Cinnamon Gingered Sweet Potatoes
Although usually associated with sweet dishes, cinnamon adds a welcome note to many savoury recipes. This side dish goes perfectly with any meat you like, or even with a flavourful seafood like salmon.
Besides tasting great, this is low-fat, nutrient-dense and perfect for a quick supper on a cold night. Pair it with couscous or rice to soak up every drop of the delicious juice, or serve it in bowls as a simple stew with chunks of poached boneless skinless chicken breast, green peas and maybe a little dollop of plain yogurt. This amount easily serves 4.
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled
1/4 cup chicken broth (or water)
2 tbsp. orange juice
small pinch saffron (optional)
Fry onion and sweet potatoes in oil in a frying pan until starting to colour. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer together about 15 minutes, or until sweet potato is tender. If you used water instead of broth, taste and add a pinch more salt if needed. Discard cinnamon sticks and ginger before serving.
Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice Cake
Yes, this recipe starts with a cake mix, but it’s easy to make and delicious besides, so why not? Dress it up with a vanilla or chocolate drizzle, whipped cream or fresh fruit, or serve as is with a cup of coffee. Substitute walnuts or hazelnuts for the pecans if you prefer. If you don’t have a bundt pan, by all means bake it sheet cake style in a 9 by 13 pan, reducing the time to about 40 minutes.
1 18-oz. spice cake mix
1 small package (4 servings) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup sour cream (not light)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Beat together cake mix, vanilla pudding mix, sour cream, eggs, oil and vanilla until creamy and lump-free. Spoon half into a greased and floured bundt or tube pan; smooth the top. Combine white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans and spoon most of the mixture over the batter. Top with remaining batter and smooth the top again; sprinkle on remaining cinnamon-nut mixture. Bake at 350 F for about 50 minutes, or until a tester in the middle comes out clean.
Cinnamon Apple Galette
If you can’t face a scratch pie for your honey-bunny this Valentine’s, I’ll bet you can do this. After all, why fuss the crust when apple pie is really all about the cinnamon? A galette is a free-form version of pie that requires much less fuss — the more rustic the better — so it sucks the angst right out of the whole experience. Feel free to substitute a packaged pie crust for this recipe — no guilt required — but this crust is not difficult if you’d like to try it. The butter is for flavour, but the lard is for flakiness — use vegetable shortening if you prefer but it won’t give you quite the same result. This recipe makes two galettes — you can make one large one but it is harder to manage.
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground hazelnuts or almonds
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. each cinnamon and salt
finely grated zest from 1 lemon
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cold lard or vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1 tbsp. sour cream (not light)
3 tbsp. ice cold water
1/4 cup apricot jam (or other jam you like)
3 cups big tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup sugar (divided)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom (optional but great)
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
Combine flour, hazelnuts, sugar, cinnamon, salt and lemon zest. Cut in butter and lard — a food processor works great — so the mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few larger pieces of fat in the mix.
Whisk together sour cream and water and add to flour mixture, mixing lightly to form a ball. Gather together and divide in half; flatten into disks and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate an hour or two.
To make the galettes, roll out each pastry disk into a 10-inch round on a well-floured surface — don’t worry about the edges being rough. Place one on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Spread on half the jam to within about 2 inches of the edge.
Toss together apple slices, 3 tbsp. of the sugar, butter, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Place half the apple mixture in the centre of the first pastry circle and fold the edges up and over, allowing them to overlap as necessary and leaving an opening in the top about 3 inches across.
Repeat with the second disk, filling with remaining apple mixture.
Whisk egg and brush generously on top of pastry. Sprinkle remaining sugar on top of the crusts and bake at 400 F for 35 minutes or until golden. Cool 10 minutes before serving with whipped cream or ice cream to people you love.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.