Like her cousin did years ago, Lucy likes to play the sniffing game with us. She pulls spice jars from the drawer, opens each one with gusto, and pronounces, “Mmmm. This one smells great!” She’s come to love turmeric and curry powder. She has always loved dried basil. But her very favorite spice, by far, is cinnamon.
The kid has good taste.
We adore cinnamon around here. Rather than relegate it only to holiday baking, we put it in our herbal tea, roast chickens with coconut oil, cinnamon, and a hint of vanilla, and put a pinch of it into most anything we cook. It’s bright, with a hint of spice, and good for the palate. (And for our health.)
Long ago, I stopped buying ground nutmeg. Microplane, meet whole nutmeg. Everything tastes better when I tap a few scrapes of fresh nutmeg into the dough. And yet, it never occurred to me to grind cinnamon fresh.
After we grated the Saigon cinnamon from Cinnamon Hill onto buckwheat crepes with fresh ricotta, we were convinced. I’m never using ground cinnamon again.
You might not have grated fresh cinnamon before either. We’d like to introduce you to Cinnamon Hill, our latest sponsor, with answers from its founder, Rupert Beeley. And seriously? Buy some of this cinnamon.
Cinnamon is the inner bark of the branch of a bush or tree. We get our Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka and our Saigon cinnamon from Vietnam. These are the two finest cinnamons in the world. We go there every year and choose the best sticks, which we then wrap individually to preserve their freshness. Ceylon cinnamon has a warm, citrusy aroma whereas Saigon cinnamon has a hot, distinctly sweet taste.
Why do you sell cinnamon in stick form with a special grater? Why not just sell ground cinnamon?
The unique taste of fresh cinnamon comes from its natural oils. Cinnamon loses a lot of these oils during the industrial grinding process, under the heat generated by the whirring blades. To avoid this, some spice brands use a cold process called cryogenic grinding (ugh!). We don’t go for that. We like natural things. Nothing can be more natural than grating fresh gourmet cinnamon at the table. That’s why we designed this special grater – so that you get the very best of the taste.
What are the health benefits of cinnamon?
There is a lot of evidence that cinnamon reduces blood sugar levels (which is why many diabetics use it daily) and also lowers bad cholesterol. More generally, cinnamon is a good alternative sweetener and helps people to cut down on sugar and lose weight. In the US it is thought of as a “Fat-Buster” whereas in Europe and Asia it is better known as a “Super Spice,” helping against various ailments. You can only be sure of these health benefits if you’re using fresh, pure cinnamon.
Are there any downsides to using cinnamon?
There are occasional internet conversations, generally very ill-informed, about the health risks of coumarin. This is a natural flavouring which occurs in many plants, including cinnamon. It occurs in negligible concentrations in Ceylon cinnamon but in higher concentrations in Saigon cinnamon. In large doses it can cause liver damage in a small group of particularly sensitive individuals.
As well as offering a new, tasty, real food for you to try, we want to offer you a cinnamon that is without doubt gluten-free. Some brands specify that their ground cinnamon is gluten-free but most brands don’t. This is because flour is sometimes mixed with ground cinnamon to protect it from caking. If you grind whole cinnamon at home then you don’t need to worry. And if it’s fresh cinnamon, you unlock this fantastic goodness and baking flavour.
I made walnut butter for the first time. It won’t be the last.
Growing up, the only nut butter I ever ate was peanut butter. In fact, I didn’t know there was such a thing as nut butter. Peanut butter was its own entity, a world unto itself. I didn’t know that it was something a person at home could make. Didn’t it just come in a jar?
(Did you have the natural peanut butter when you were a kid, the one that contained a pool of oil on the top, the one you had to stir yourself? I sort of hated that stuff then. Now, it’s the only one I want. Also, what was that abomination that had goopy peanut butter with grape jam mixed into the same jar? Was it actually called Goober? And did we actually eat that?)
My education about nut butters has become far more catholic since then. I’ve come to love almond butter, hazelnut butter, and even sunflower seed butter. (Okay, it’s not a nut. You understand.) Last year, I tasted Marilyn’s Nut Butters, made here in Seattle, and I was hooked. Spicy hot pecan butter with cayenne and chipotle, with just a bit of sweetness. Hazelnut walnut spice with cardamom. Pistachio with fennel. Before I tried her nut butters, it never occurred to me to mix spices into nut butters to create new flavor combinations. Or to use nut butters in savory dishes. You’ve come a long way from white bread sandwiches, baby.
However, until a couple of weeks ago, I had never made a nut butter from scratch.
Do you know how much time it took to made homemade walnut butter? Well, there was the soaking that happened overnight, as I slept. There was the roasting 15 minutes in the oven while I typed away at something. There was the pulsing in the food processor, then adding of spices. All of 3 minutes.
Active time to make honey-roasted cinnamon walnut butter and cacao nib walnut butter? 7 minutes. And that’s estimating generously.
This is the first in a now-ongoing series we’ll be doing here: making things from scratch. Sure, all the meals we create are from scratch. However, I mean we’ll be making the ingredients I once thought magically appeared in a jar. Like our friend Maggy, I learned to make fresh ricotta cheese from our friend Jennifer Perillo, and I can never buy it in a tub from the grocery store again. (Check out Jennie’s other blog, Simple Scratch Cooking, for a real treat.) Like everything else we have made from scratch, it was far easier and more fun than I once thought. Since I went gluten-free, I want to know where my food comes from. I want to feed our daughter simple good food she helped us to make. Making food from scratch is nothing but good.
HONEY-ROASTED CINNAMON WALNUT BUTTER, slightly adapted from Mollie Katzen
Honestly, writing a recipe for this feels a little silly. Its technique more than anything. Soak, toast, puree, and add some flavor. Thats it. However, since Mollie Katzens recipe spurred me onto make this, were offering this more precise guide in the hopes you might feed this to your family too.
Also, once you have made this one, you can play with flavors. We made a cacao nib walnut butter that is addictive and goes great with roast chicken. Cut out the honey for that one.
p.s. If you want to skip the soaking and toasting, you can do this with raw walnuts too. The taste is different more raw but still good.
2 cups walnuts, shelled
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon roasted Saigon cinnamon
2 teaspoons walnut oil (or grapeseed or canola oil, if you dont have walnut oil)
Soaking the walnuts. Put the walnuts in a large bowl and cover them with water. Soak them overnight. This will remove some of the bitterness that can be in walnuts.
Toasting the walnuts. Preheat the oven to 350°. Drain the water from the walnuts. Spread the walnuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Slide the baking sheet in the oven and toast the walnuts until they are thoroughly dry and a bit toasted, about 15 minutes, turning them halfway throug. Do not let them grow dark! You dont want burned walnuts. Take the walnut butter out of the oven and allow them to cool entirely.
Making the walnut butter. Put the toasted walnuts in the food processor. Run the processor until they are broken down and starting to turn sticky. Add the salt, honey, and cinnamon. Pulse. Taste the walnut paste to see if you want more salt, honey, or cinnamon. Trust your instincts. Keep the food processor running and add the oil, drizzling it in slowly. You have walnut butter.
We put our walnut butter into a small jar and have been eating it for nearly 2 weeks. It still tastes great.