Get out the cinnamon and bake something sweet


These are trying times. The new year often brings resolutions to lose weight by avoiding high calorie foods, which includes most baked goods, but this year perhaps even dieters will sneak in a piece of something comforting in the name of sanity. It’s not a total blowout, though. Take that cinnamon in your scone or coffee cake: It offers substantial health benefits to balance the carbs and sugar. According to research, one teaspoon of cinnamon contains 28 milligrams of calcium, one milligram of iron, fiber, vitamins C and K, and manganese. Other studies suggest antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits to help with joint and muscle pain, digestive ills, even blood sugar regulation and metabolism.

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree, and has been used in Chinese medicine dating back to 2800 B.C. for treating sore throats, coughs and other respiratory infections. The practice of aromatherapy uses cinnamon oil to stimulate the senses, restore vigor and treat anxiety. The scent of cinnamon has been shown to boost cognitive function and memory. Look for real cinnamon with a warm, smooth flavor. Most store-bought cinnamon is cassia, which has a biting or bitter taste. Better yet, check out Oceanfire Cinnamon, made right here on the Big Island by Adaptations Farms. I’ve been dousing everything from my morning coffee to afternoon smoothies with a shake of real cinnamon. Here are a few easy ideas.

Cinnamon biscuit crisps

These wafer-thin biscuits, topped with cinnamon sugar, are delicious with fruit compote, hot chocolate, coffee or a glass of lemonade. Recipe from “Biscuits and Scones” by Elizabeth Alston; makes about 40 crisps.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut up

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon; stir to mix well. Add butter; cut in with a fork until mixture forms a dough. Gather into a ball; place on a lightly floured board and knead 10 to 12 times. Cut dough in half. Mix remaining 1/4 cup sugar with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

On a lightly floured board, roll out half the dough into a 7-by-6-inch rectangle. Lift dough and sprinkle board with half the cinnamon sugar. Roll dough on the sugar, without turning, into a rectangle about 14-by-11 inches; trim edges. Cut dough in 4 lengthwise strips, then 5 crosswise strips to make 20 rectangles. Put rectangles, sugar side up, an inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until medium brown on top; watch that undersides do not scorch. Cool, uncovered, on a wire rack. Roll, cut and bake remaining dough. Store cooled crisps airtight at room temperature.

Cinnamon-brown sugar drop biscuits

If you prefer a sink-your-teeth-into-it breakfast roll, these provide not only irresistible aromas, but a satisfying morning treat. You can make the dough in advance, premix the topping, and refrigerate these components separately overnight, then assemble and bake in the morning. Recipe from “Breakfast in Bed” by Jesse Ziff Cool; makes about 20 biscuits.

Dough:

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Approximately 3/4 cup milk or apple juice

In a medium bowl, stir together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until mixture is grainy. Stir in enough milk to form a dough, just moist enough to plop from a spoon. Set aside.

Filling:

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons unbleached white flour

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients until well mixed.

To assemble:

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly oil one large or two average baking sheets. Drop a generous teaspoon of dough onto prepared baking sheet. Crumble about 1/2 teaspoon of topping into the center. Top with another teaspoon of dough, followed by a final 1/2 teaspoon of topping. Continue dropping biscuits and topping, about 2 inches apart. Bake until flaky and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Buttermilk-cinnamon coffee cake

This coffee cake was a favorite of Cafe Beaujolais regulars in Mendocino, Calif. Try eating just one piece! Recipe from “Morning Food” by Margaret Fox.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup corn oil

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg, beaten

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, 1 tsp. of the cinnamon, ginger, both sugars, and corn oil. Remove 3/4cup of mixture to a small bowl, and to it add the nuts and remaining teaspoon of cinnamon. Mix well and set aside to use as a topping. To remaining batter, add baking soda, baking powder, egg and buttermilk; mix well. Small lumps in batter are okay. Pour batter into a well-greased 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with topping mixture evenly over surface. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes; serve warm or at room temperature.

Cinnamon-pear tart

Make this for an elegant dessert; enjoy leftovers with a cup of coffee the next day. Recipe from “Cooking Light Cookbook,” makes 8 servings.

1 cup sifted cake flour

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 to 3 tablespoons ice water

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

5 medium pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

2 cups vanilla nonfat frozen yogurt

Ground cinnamon for garnish

In a medium bowl, combine cake flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and baking powder; cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal and is pale yellow. Sprinkle ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, over surface; toss with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened and mixture is crumbly. Gently press dough into a 4-inch circle on heavy-duty plastic wrap. Cover with more wrap; chill at least 15 minutes. Roll dough, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed. Remove top sheet of plastic wrap. Invert and fit dough into an ungreased 9-inch tart pan; remove remaining plastic. Prick bottom of pastry with fork; chill 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Bake crust for 10 minutes or until lightly browned; cool completely on wire rack. In a large bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and all-purpose flour. Add pears; toss gently to coat. Stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Arrange pears in prepared crust; pour any remaining juices over pears. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until pears are tender. Cool completely on wire rack. Serve with frozen yogurt, sprinkled with ground cinnamon.