Some years ago, while living in the back of a converted delivery truck in Vanouver, Canada, I came across my favourite bakery ever. It seems that substandard and frigid lodgings have a way of making the sweet fresh funk of newly-baked goods ever more enticing.
Solly’s Bagelry in the funky West Vancouver suburb of Kitsilano is about more than just its boiled breads. Actually their cinnamon buns are the star attraction and have been posted to gourmets in just about every corner of the globe, a fact attested to by the pin-covered map that graces the wall.
When the doors open at 6.30am, a tidal surge of cinnamon perfume washes onto the street, signalling to the gathered hordes that the frenzy may begin. That smell, that rich, dense smell. It’s etched onto my brain. Cinnamon does that.
Cinnamon is the inner bark of a large evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka. It’s related to avocadoes and bay tress. Farmers carve off the corky outer husk from specially-grown shoots, before gently prizing off the agissa (the bit we use) using a curved brass rod. These paper-thin sheets are overlapped and rolled tightly before being set aside to dry in the shade. These are the cinnamon quills.
Good quality cinnamon should be pale tan in colour, very thin and highly aromatic. If you’ve stored it for a while it may need refreshing by baking in a slow oven (130°C) for 5 minutes before grinding.
Cinnamon can then make its way into curries, cakes and drinks, buns, pancakes and icecream. Cinnamon is a universal spice that can match well with a wide variety of cuisines and the full spectrum of courses.
Cinnamon’s cousin from southern China and Vietnam is the cassia bark. It is much thicker, a little darker, and has a slight red tinge. Cassia’s flavour is more earthy and an ethereal bitterness that makes it appear more elegant and lingering. It’s worth looking out for, although you’ll probably need to track down a good Asian grocer or Chinese herbalist to get some.
Cinnamon crepe cake