Spice up the holidays with cinnamon

Cinnamon apple cranberry cake 
(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Cinnamon apple cranberry cake (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

It’s December. The ground and the forest are all coated with white. Decorations are sprouting up all over town. Craft sales abound and include lots of sweet treats. It’s the season to indulge. And ’tis the season to bake. ‘Tis time to dig out aprons and seek out grandma’s old recipes.

Sweet treats have marked special occasions before history was ever written down. The Christmas cookies and cakes we know today trace their roots to the Middle Ages, when traders brought spices and other novel foods back from their excursions to the East. These flavorings traveled from India and China to Europe along the caravan route, via the Persian Gulf and Arabia (which became the center of the spice trade). From there, they reached Europe. Exotic and expensive, they were a sign of wealth and were saved for special times like the annual Christmas feast.

By 1500, many types of cookies with national variations were popular all over Europe. Ginger was loved in Germany and gave us gingerbread men. Cardamom and saffron became popular in Scandinavian julekake, Swedish kardemummabullar, Finnish pulla and Norwegian lussekatte.

Cinnamon, which comes from the bark of a small, bushy evergreen tree native to India and Sri Lanka, was once so prized that it was more precious than gold. In ancient Egypt, it was a medicine, a flavoring and an embalming agent. It was one of the first commodities traded between the Near East and Europe.

Today, cinnamon is one of the more common spices for baking. It is cultivated in warm, humid climates like the Caribbean. The bark is ground into powder or rolled into cinnamon sticks. Modern cooks use it in apple pie, pumpkin bread, mince pies, spiced cider and other mulled beverages. In India, it is used in savory dishes.

In addition to great flavor, cinnamon has many health benefits. It helps improve blood levels of glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides, so it is important in the fight to control both diabetes and heart disease. A study carried out by the nutrition lab at U.S. Agricultural Research Service found that cinnamon increases responsiveness to insulin. Its anti-inflammatory properties can be helpful in alleviating muscle pain, stiffness and arthritis. In ancient times, it was used to cure congestion, colds and flu, aid circulation and soothe the stomach, easing nausea and diarrhea. In India, it has been used for centuries to warm you up and stimulate the appetite. And the aroma of cinnamon stimulates the brain and boosts circulation, so simply sniffing cinnamon can enhance alertness and motivation.

Cinnamon combines well with apples, which are abundant this time of year. It adds flavor to desserts like apple pie, apple bread, apple tart, apple Betty, apple crisp or apple muffins. Few things can compete with the sweet fragrance of baking apples and cinnamon!

Whether you’re baking for yourself, your family, co-workers, guests or for gifts, traditional baking makes for good eating, pleasant memories, and holiday cheer.

Cinnamon Apple Cranberry Cake

9-by-13 inch pan (or 2 smaller pans)

Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Wet ingredients:

3 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 cup sour cream

Fruit:

4 apples — core, chop; no need to peel.

1 cup craisins (dried cranberries)

Cinnamon filling:

2 Tablespoons soft butter

2 Tablespoons cinnamon

1/3 cup brown sugar

Nuts:

1/3 cup walnuts (optional)

Directions:

In bowl, combine dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon). Set aside.

In another bowl, beat eggs with oil, sugar, maple syrup and sour cream. Set aside.

Prepare cinnamon filling: In small bowl combine soft butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Set side.

Core and chop the apples; mix in a bowl with the craisins. Set aside.

Butter 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

To assemble:

Combine egg mixture with flour mixture; stir in fruit. Spread half of batter in bottom of baking dish.

Sprinkle with chopped walnuts (optional) and the cinnamon-butter filling.

Top with remaining batter.

Bake at 350 degrees F about 30 minutes (or until done)

Easy Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

1 pie crust, homemade or store-bought

3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in small bowl and mix well.

Roll out pie crust on a floured surface. Sprinkle evenly with the sugar-cinnamon mixure.

Roll up tightly into a log. Slice. Place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake about 8 to 10 minutes, until pie crust is cooked but slightly underdone. Remove from oven and allow to rest on baking sheet a few minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Apple Cinnamon Bread

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cup honey

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 cup raisins

2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl, and set aside.

In large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.

Beat honey and butter together in a bowl using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated; add vanilla extract.

Combine the 2 bowls. Stir applesauce and raisins into batter.

Pour half the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Peel core and dice the apples; spread half the apples over the batter and sprinkle with half the reserved brown sugar cinnamon mixture.

Pour the remaining batter over apple layer; top with remaining apples and remaining brown sugar-cinnamon mixture.

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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