Posts Tagged With: October

Autumn Recipes: Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread

The Source of Cinnamon

The Source of Cinnamon

The Source of Cinnamon

With cinnamon always at the ready in our modern kitchens for spicing up coffees, teas, breads, cakes, candies, and potpourris, it’s almost impossible to imagine a world where this commonplace commodity was simply untasted and untouched by the common people. However, in the ancient world (at least 3,000 years ago), cinnamon was only known to grow on the small island nation of Sri Lanka (located off the coast of India). Cinnamon’s isolation in the times before globalized trade caused the price of 12 ounces of cinnamon (current market price: ~$10 USD) to be sold for over five kilograms of silver (current market price: ~$3,370 USD). With such a high price point, the use of cinnamon was limited to a very niche market: Gods and kings.  Cinnamon became prized for its use in religious ceremonies (most notably in Egyptian embalming and mummification rituals and in the Jewish practice of anointing priests with spiced oil and offering consecrated spice mixtures in the Tabernacle).

By the time of the ancient Romans (according to a document from 301 CE), the cost of cinnamon began to fall, now costing only 125 denarii per pound, or roughly the amount made by a farmer in a week. This (relative) drop in price led to cinnamon’s use as an aromatic addition to funeral fires. According to legend, Emperor Nero is said to have used Rome’s entire annual supply of cinnamon to use in the pyre for his wife, either to show his grief and love for his beloved, or to mask the smell of the fire in order to hide his guilt for, allegedly, causing her death.

While cinnamon was used sparingly in food and drink during this time period, most culinary historians point to the 18th century as the true turning point for cinnamon’s role as an ingredient in food instead of religious ritual. By the late 1700’s, the European superpowers had fully annexed the cinnamon shores of Sri Lanka and India, and began growing their own cinnamon groves in their Asian landholdings, providing the common cook access to a near limitless supply of  cinnamon.  And, for better or worse, this unending supply of what just might be the modern world’s favorite spice continues to this day.

Can Cinnamon be Seasonal?

Since our first few excavations, we’ve been digging into recipes and skills that have been heavily reliant on the seasonality of key ingredients (pumpkins, apples, and peanuts, primarily), a practice I cannot help but stand behind.  I find seasonality to be truly important in our modern kitchens because, with so many ingredients forever present in our modern grocery superstores, it’s far too easy to forget that every ingredient still has a season. And it just so happens that we’re in the midst of one of cinnamon’s two harvest times right now! From October to January, and from May to August, the rainy seasons in Sri Lanka provide cinnamon harvesters with the pliable bark necessary to successfully gather the spice. So, with November falling nicely in that window of seasonality, I thought autumn would be the perfect time to make a batch of cinnamon swirl raisin bread, a modern twist on an ancient ingredient!

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread Recipe

Ingredients for Bread

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk (I used soy, but any milk will work)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter (I used 2 Tablespoons butter and 2 Tablespoons applesauce)
  •  2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour + 2 Tablespoons (I used white whole wheat for a healthier kick)

Ingredients for Filling

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon (about 4 full cinnamon sticks, if you’re grinding your own)
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 teaspoons water

Directions

  1. Place raisins in the cup of hot water to plump up for 10 minutes. Then, drain the raisins and pour the leftover water into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the yeast to the water and stir until dissolved.
  3. Stir in the milk, butter, and salt, followed by the flour. Stir until the mixture forms a rough dough, then knead for 8-10 minutes, or until the dough easily forms a lightly sticky ball (see pictures below). If the dough is very sticky, add another 1/2 cup of flour and continue kneading.
  4. Toss the plump raisins with 2 Tablespoons of flour to absorb any extra moisture. To incorporate the raisins, flatten your dough and cover with half of the raisins. Fold the dough in half from top to bottom (see pictures below), and then repeat. Continue kneading the dough for 3 – 4 minutes so evenly distribute the raisins.
  5. Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
  6. While waiting for the dough to rise, mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl; and mix the egg and water in another bowl.
  7. When the dough has doubled in size, divide it into two equal pieces. Flatten each piece until it is about the width of your bread pans, then stretch it as long as possible (see pictures below). Coat each piece with the egg wash and generously sprinkle the dough with cinnamon sugar.
  8. Starting from the bottom, tightly roll up the dough and pinch the seam closed. Place the rolled loaves in your bread pans and let rise for another 35 minutes (or until the loaves are about 1 inch above the edge of the pans.
  9. Preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C, and coat the top of the risen loaves with egg wash and cinnamon sugar.
  10. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown.
  11. Let cool completely, and enjoy a spicy slice of cinnamon raisin swirl bread!

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Categories: Autumn Recipes, Baking, Bread, Breakfast, History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Preparing Pumpkins

Piles of "Unique" Gourds

Piles of “Unique” Gourds at a Local Farm Stand

Growing up surrounded by fields in the farm country of Pennsylvania, it’s no wonder that I love autumn as much as I do. Seeing crops that were no more than “dead” seeds only months before being harvested and transformed into food always struck me as a fantastic, if not somewhat magical cycle. Now, as we slowly sink into the cool evenings and chilled rains of October, my heart is warmed by the roadside stands piled high with vibrant globes of orange, red, green, and blue, which silently call to passersby, asking that they slow down, admire, and perhaps take a flicker of autumn home with them. Far from the farm, in our grocery stores and supermarkets, the light of the pumpkin, a light which has been burning since the time of the Ancient Greeks (who gave the first written name to these large gourds, “pepon”), is processed and hidden inside rows of metal cans. So today, I hope to show you how easy it can be to abandon canned pumpkin, and instead tap into the “ancient” skill of transforming fresh, seasonal pumpkins into purée that will last well into next summer!

Picking Pumpkins

 

For our first excavation into the world of autumnal artistry, we’ll be focusing on pumpkins best suited to baking: varieties such as the New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin (an adorably tiny heirloom), the Fairytale Pumpkin, and the Long Neck Pumpkin. These cultivars have flesh best suited to baking/roasting, and the smaller varieties (such as the New England) will have a much higher sugar content, making them great for use in pies, muffins, cookies, and any other fall treats you’re looking to conjure!
It just so happened that a family friend had a bumper crop of long neck pumpkins this year, so that’s the variety I’ll be using for today’s recipe. Whatever pumpkin you use, though, the process will remain the same.

Pumpkin Purée

Ingredients

  • Pumpkins!

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 400 F / 205 C
  • Using a sharp knife (Our old bread knife worked perfectly), cut off the top of your pumpkin.
  • If your pumpkin has a neck (like you’ll see in the images below), cut the neck into equal sized chunks.
  • If your pumpkin is neck-less, cut the body of the pumpkin in half, and scoop out all of the seeds and strings (But don’t throw the seeds away! We’ll use them later!)
  •  Cut your pumpkin sections into chunks small enough to fit onto an ungreased baking tray.
  • Bake for 40 minutes, or until the pieces are fork tender (solid pieces may take longer)
  • When your pumpkin pieces are tender, remove them from the oven and begin removing the skins when you can safely handle them.
  • Put the cooked and skinned pieces into your choice of food processing device (potato masher, food mill, electric food processor), and process until smooth.
  • Congratulations! You’ve just puréed a pumpkin!
  • To store, divide your purée evenly (I measured mine into cups) into airtight, freezer-safe bags, and freeze for future use. Conservative sources say that the pumpkin will stay fresh this way for up to 8 months, but other sources indicate that their pumpkin survived over a year of freezing!

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Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Hopefully you saved your seeds from your now puréed pumpkin, because there’s no greater fall treat than simple, roasted seeds, fresh from a local gourd!

Ingredients

  • Raw pumpkin seeds
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional for sprinkling

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 F / 160 C
  2. If using seeds from a fresh pumpkin, first separate the seeds from the flesh, and rinse the seeds in a colander. Try to remove as much of the orange stringiness as possible.
  3. Add seeds to a medium sized pot of water with the teaspoon of salt.
  4. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. After simmering, drain the seeds in your colander and pat dry (don’t worry about the seeds being completely dry, you just don’t want them dripping when you put them in the oven).
  6. Place the seeds onto an ungreased baking tray, then drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Stir the seeds to coat.
  7. Roast the seeds in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then stir the seeds and return to the oven for 8-10 more minutes. During the last few minutes of roasting, remove a seed and crack it open – if the inner flesh of the seed is starting to turn black, remove the seeds from the oven – this is a sign that the seeds are starting to overcook.
  8. Let the seeds cool, and then enjoy one of the greatest tastes of autumn!

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Pumpkin Seeds, Juice, and Purée!

Pumpkin Seeds, Juice, and Purée!

With all of your pumpkin roasting, puréeing, and processing complete, your home will be aglow in the sight, smell, and taste of seasonal, autumnal cooking! I hope you’ll return to the dig next Tuesday for a recipe that will be implementing some of our fresh purée, and may include a special drink concoction using the pumpkin juice that was unexpectedly created with the food mill!
Happy Excavating!
~Nate

Categories: Autumn Recipes, Odds and Ends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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