Want the family to wake up on Christmas morning and exclaim, "It smells like Christmas in here!"?
Then crank up the stove and break out the cinnamon to make iced buns, coffee cakes and muffins. Serve them warm either before or after the gift-unwrapping extravaganza with hot drinks and strips of crispy bacon. Merry Christmas, for sure.
Augment the seasonal smells from the oven by floating a couple of cinnamon sticks in a pot of simmering apple cider (throw in a few cloves for good measure) and hanging a few more from the tree with bright red ribbon. In years to come, the sweet smell of cinnamon will be laced into their memories of Christmas.
The spice that comes from the bark of the cassia tree has long been associated with the holidays, but it also gets high marks for its medicinal properties. Recent research claims that just ¼ teaspoon can help people with Type 2 diabetes reduce blood sugar and LDL (bad!) cholesterol. Isn't it nice to know there's a benefit from indulging in one of nature's most wonderful products? Sprinkle ground cinnamon on your coffee or over your oatmeal in the morning for an easy way to get your daily intake.
There are two types of cinnamon, and the one used most commonly in the United States comes from Southeast Asia. That variety is strong and spicy. The other comes from Ceylon and is considered the true cinnamon. It is more common in English and Mexican sweets and doesn't show up much in American markets. It actually has citrus overtones and a more complex flavor than the cinnamon we are accustomed to. Its popularity in savory Mexican dishes — mole for example — makes sense because of the reduced sweetness. A teaspoon of cinnamon and ¾ of a teaspoon of chili powder stirred into a brownie mix destined for a 9- by 13-inch pan results in a dessert with a Mexican accent.
Don't want to fuss over baked goods but still want the house to smell like the elves set up their bakeshop in your kitchen? Make a stove-top potpourri by adding a few tablespoons of cinnamon or 4 or 5 sticks to a pot of boiling water. You can even add chopped apples for a more complex aroma. Even easier? Pick up a cinnamon broom at Publix ($3.99).
Today's recipes require you to break out the mixer and measuring cups. I think they are worth the effort, but I do know that some of you prefer to get some help from convenience items. In October, our Taster's Choice panel tasted new cinnamon products and gave high marks to BelVita Cinnamon Brown Sugar Biscuits ($2.99 for a box of five from Publix). While these aren't likely to make an impression with the kids, the adults might enjoy one or two with their Christmas morning cup of joe.
I have also had good results from the refrigerated cinnamon rolls from Pillsbury. If you would like to doctor them, scatter toasted chopped pecans over the top of the icing or even mix orange zest into the icing. There are other suggestions for embellishments at pillsbury.com.
If you have the time and inclination, I recommend the Cinni Mini Bun Bites recipe that accompanies this story. It's from Hedy Goldsmith's Baking Out Loud (Clarkson Potter, 2012). She is the clever executive pastry chef at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami. What I like about this recipe is that the cinnamon buns are small — the recipe makes 36 — so they fit nicely into a Christmas morning buffet with lots of other offerings.
The recipe is too involved for Christmas morning unless you want to miss all the action around the tree. When I tested it, I let the buns cool after icing and then wrapped well and refrigerated. I reheated the next day in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Delicious. If your family has a taste for the light buns produced by the dough that comes in the refrigerated tubes they might think something is amiss. This is a dense yeast bread dough and so the buns are heavier.
The family won't know what to make of Cream-Filled Cinnamon Coffee Cake. Is it breakfast or dessert? But they will hardly care once they sink their teeth into two layers of cinnamon cake separated by a rich cream filling. Besides the flavor, you'll get an "A" for presentation here. This coffee cake shows well.
Coffee Ripple Coffee Cake marries cinnamon and coffee, two natural partners. Bake it in a Bundt pan and then drizzle on a glaze that's also coffee flavored. I like this coffee cake to bring to a breakfast potluck or even to drop off at a friend's or neighbor's as a special holiday treat. It feeds a lot of people, especially as part of a larger table of food.
Cinnamon Apple Muffins are another tasty offering. Despite a longish list of ingredients, the recipe is simple enough for the kids to help with. Most of the preparation is measuring and mixing. This is another totable recipe.
Sometimes I like my cinnamon in liquid form so I make Mexican Hot Chocolate Shots With Spicy Foam. Don't let the word "shots" throw you off; there's no alcohol in the mix. The spicy foam, made by whipping slightly slushy evaporated milk, gets its kick from cayenne pepper. There's enough to serve eight people in 4-ounce demitasse cups. But if you do your math right, two of you can have a cupful.
Now it's not only smelling like Christmas, it's tasting like it, too.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.