In celebration of the “The New Year for the Trees” which this year falls on January 20, it is customary both to eat and cook with the fruits of nature, literally fruit and nuts, the center of most Tu B’Shvat tables and feasts. This seems, however, to overlook the gifts that the tree itself can provide! The bark of one tree is actually edible, has become commonplace in both its whole and ground forms, and is indispensable in both our sweet and savory culinary creations. Which bark am I referring to? It is cinnamon, the warm, sweet, fragrant and versatile spice which is the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree of the laurel family.
Cinnamon is harvested in quills, which are the dried strips of inner bark rolled one into another, and is also ground into powder for ease of culinary use. Whole quills, commonly used to infuse flavor into hot liquids such as hot chocolate, coffee, and tea, will keep their flavor indefinitely, but store them in an airtight bag or container to maintain freshness. Like other ground spices, ground cinnamon will lose its flavor more quickly and so should be purchased in small quantities and also stored in airtight containers, and out of direct light.
The sweet, warm flavor of cinnamon is used frequently in dessert dishes such as custards and rice
puddings, fruit desserts (especially with apples and pears), and an abundance of cakes and baked goods. Highlighting the familiar flavor of cinnamon in a dessert can be accomplished by pairing it with another flavor that balances and complements it without being overpowering. For instance, chocolate and cinnamon are classically paired in many cultures such as Mexico, as the two flavors complement each other beautifully. I have combined these two flavors in a moist, richly flavored and easy to make Cinnamon Chocolate Cake with Cinnamon Glaze. Measure the ingredients in the recipe carefully to ensure the correct flavor balance is achieved. Cinnamon also pairs beautifully with nuts, especially walnuts. In my Cinnamon Walnut Cookies, the bitterness and crunch of the walnuts add a pleasant contrast to the sweetness of the spice and the tenderness of the cookie.
This Tu B’Shvat, go beyond the dried fruit and nut platters – embrace the entire tree and start a new sweet cinnamon tradition with your family and friends.
Rachelle Ferneau is the pastry chef/owner of Eden Cake, a boutique kosher bakery in Potomac, Maryland which specializes in pareve desserts. Visit her website www.EdenCake.com and leave a comment for Rachelle here.