I’m not quite sure what’s going on but it’s becoming more difficult to find really good cinnamon—frequently what is sold as cinnamon is its coarser cousin cassia. Most of the real cinnamon comes not from India but from Sri Lanka. The latter is the biggest exporter of cinnamon in the world by far. Cinnamon trees grow happily in the same kind of tropical climates as tea and rubber. They can grow to a height of 20-30ft but are carefully pruned to a height of 6 ft so the branches grow in a spindly fashion. These are cut when they are about the thickness of a brush handle and 6-8ft long.
I visited a cinnamon plantation in Sri Lanka some time ago, the grower explained that one can start to harvest the cinnamon after 3 ½ years. In December and January and then again in August. The art of peeling the bark is very specialized and done by a people from a particular caste called Salagama. The cinnamon peelers sit side-by-side, cross-legged in a shed. It is fascinating to watch, one person peels off the outer bark, then the next carefully slits the inner layer with a short knife and lifts it off in long pieces. This will curl up as it dries and then be sold in cinnamon quills or sticks for use in sweet and savory dishes and medicines. Cinnamon is now known to be a cure for type 2 diabetes. It brings blood sugar levels down naturally and mimics the action of insulin. In Sri Lanka people also drink cinnamon tea to help reduce cholesterol—just add a ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon to a cup of weak tea. Omit the milk.
From the cook’s point of view, good cinnamon is a beautiful flavour enhancer however the majority of ground cinnamon is now adulterated with the cheaper and more acrid cassia. You will notice that it is darker in colour than it used to be and has a much less appealing aroma so it’s best to buy whole cinnamon sticks or quills and grind them yourself in a coffee or spice grinder.
Cinnamon and Orange Cake
45g/ 1 ½ oz slightly stale white breadcrumbs (yeast or soda bread)
200g/ 7 oz caster sugar
100g/ 3 1/2 ozs ground almonds
7 fl ozs / 200ml oil
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
finely grated zest 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1/2 lemon
85g /3 ozs sugar
1 cinnamon stick
crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt
8 inch x 2 1/2 inch deep (20.5cm x 6.5cm deep) tin OR 4 small loaf tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm) lined with greaseproof or silicone paper.
Mix the breadcrumbs with the sugar, almonds, and baking powder. Whisk the oil with the eggs, pour into the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the orange and lemon zest. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined tin.
Put into a cold oven, and set the heat to 180C/350F/regulo 4.
Bake for 45-60 minutes or until the cake looks a rich golden brown. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a plate.
Meanwhile make the syrup
Put all the ingredients into a stainless steel saucepan, bring gently to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved completely. Simmer for 3 minutes. While it is still warm,
pierce holes in the cake with a skewer and pour over the syrup. Leave to cool. Spoon excess syrup back over the cake every now and then until it is all soaked up.
One can remove the cinnamon sticks but I like to leave them on top of the cake.
Serve with crème fraiche or thick Greek yoghurt.
Cinnamon & Marzipan Apples
A Swedish friend called Bo Hermansson gave me this mouth-watering recipe for baked apples. The centre is filled with homemade marzipan and then the apples are rolled in cinnamon-flavoured sugar.
Serves 12, 1 per person
12 medium eating apples, eg. Worcester Pearmain, Golden Delicious or Cox’s Orange Pippin
175g / 6 oz ground almonds
225g / 8ozs sugar
4 fl ozs /110ml water
1 egg white
natural almond extract to taste (beware, 1 drop only)
4 ozs /110g melted butter
8ozs /225g castor sugar mixed with 4 rounded teaspoons ground cinnamon. (This is approximate: the amount of the mixture depends on the size of the apples.)
To Make the Marzipan
Put the sugar and water into a deep saucepan. Stir over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar in the water. Bring to the boil. Cover the pan for 2 minutes to steam any sugar from saucepan sides. Remove cover and boil rapidly just to thread stage -106-113°C (236°F).
Remove from the heat. Stir the syrup for a second or two until cloudy. Stir in almonds. Set aside to cool briefly.
Lightly whisk egg white, add the almond extract and stir into the almond mixture. Transfer the paste from the saucepan to pyrex plate. Cool. The cool marzipan should feel like moulding clay.
Meanwhile, peel and core the apples. Stuff the cavities with the marzipan filling. Roll the apples first in melted butter and then in the castor sugar and cinnamon. Arrange side by side in an ovenproof dish and bake in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 1 hour approx. The apples need to be very soft and almost bursting.
Serve warm with a bowl of softly-whipped cream.
(Marzipan will keep for 2-3 months in a fridge).
Apples may take less/more time to cook depending on the variety and time of the year.
Makes 18-20 scones using a 7 1/2 cm (3inch) cutter
In season: all year
900g / 2lb plain white flour
175g / 6oz butter
3-4 teaspoons cinnamon
3 free-range eggs
pinch of salt
50g /2oz castor sugar
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
450ml /15floz approx. milk to mix
egg wash (see below)
granulated sugar mixed with one teaspoon cinnamon
First preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/gas mark 9.
Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round. Roll out to about 21/2cm (1inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones.* Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in the cinnamon. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve split in half with good Irish butter.
Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.
– Stamp them out with as little waste as possible, the first scones will be lighter than the second rolling.
Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon Tart
A yummy pud to share with family and friends. Pecans and hazelnuts are also delicious.
225g/ 8oz self raising flour ½ teasp. baking powder
75g/ 3oz butter
150g /5oz castor sugar
freshly grated zest from ½ lemon or lime
1 free range egg
5 fl.ozs /150ml milk
500g/18ozs cooking apples – we use Grenadier or Bramley Seedling
25g/1oz butter, melted
25g/1oz chopped walnuts or pecans
50g/2oz granulated sugar
1 teasp. freshly ground cinnamon
1 rectangular tin 30x20x2.5cm (12x8x1 inch)
Line the tin with parchment paper (Bakewell)
Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ regulo 4
Sieve the flour and baking powder in a wide bowl, cut the butter into cubes, and toss in the flour. Rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the castor sugar and freshly grated lemon or lime rind.
Whisk the egg and milk together. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the liquid and mix well with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be soft and smooth.
Spoon the mixture into the lined tin and spread evenly.
Brush the top with melted butter; arrange the apple slices in overlapping layers. Sprinkle the roughly chopped walnuts or pecans evenly over the top. Mix the cinnamon with the sugar and sprinkle evenly over the entire surface.
Bake for 40 minutes approx. or until puffed and golden. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
Serve with softly whipped cream or crème fraiche.
Variations; substitute mixed spice for cinnamon.
Fool Proof Food
Apple and Cinnamon Fritters
Apple Fritters have been one of my absolutely favourite puddings since I was a child – nothing changed I still love them.
4 cooking apples, Brambly, Seedling or Grenadier
110g / 4 ozs plain white flour
pinch of salt
1 egg, free range if possible
150ml/ ¼ pint milk
sunflower or peanut oil for frying
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
1 teasp. cinnamon
Serves 6 approx.
Sieve the flour into a bowl, add a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre, whisk the egg slightly, pour into the centre slowly add the milk whisking in a full circle; gradually bring in the flour from the outside. Continue to whisk until the batter is light and bubbly. Peel and core the apples, cut into 5mm thick slices. Heat about 4cm of oil in a frying pan. Dip a few slices of apple into the batter one by one. Fry on both sides until crisp and golden, drain well. Add cinnamon to the castor sugar, toss each fritter in and serve immediately with softly whipped cream.
Michael Brenock, known to home gardeners and self sufficiency buffs throughout the country and a regular on ‘Ask about gardening’ on RTE radio has just published ‘The Irish Gardeners Handbook’ (O’Brien Press) a brilliant, simple guide for those of us who want to grow their own. Michael also provides weekly classes to allotment growers.
Cork Free Choice Consumer Group presents ‘How to make your own Compost’. Donal O’Leary from Wastedown will explain how to make compost at home. Billy Wigham will talk about how he produces ‘Gee-Up’ compost and Caroline Robinson will demonstrate how to make compost teas. Crawford Art Gallery Café, Thursday 29th April at 7.30pm. The entrance fee of €6.00 includes tea/coffee
When you’re next in Cloyne, East Cork, it’s worth going to Cuddigan’s Bakery run by Siobhan Cronin – she stocks all sorts of delicious goodies. She sources most of her stuff locally – fresh fish from Ballycotton Seafood , meat from Kevin Day and Cormac O’Connor, potatoes from Ballycotton, smoked fish from Frank Hederman and goats cheese from Ardsallagh. Her salmon and potato cakes are yummy and her pear and almond tarts a treat. 021 4652762.
Contact Green Saffron to get fresh cinnamon quills – 021 4637960. Also try your local health food shop.