Cinnamon was a great idea for our December recipes. It’s such a versatile item, and almost everyone has some somewhere in the spice cabinet.
I use it for several unconventional reasons. I like to put a cinnamon stick in with a pot roast in the slow cooker. I also like to make homemade cinnamon ice cream, and I worship Middle Eastern food, largely because of its unabashed use of cinnamon.
But for this project, I couldn’t help but go traditional. I know the first thing everyone thinks of is cinnamon rolls, and I almost went with that, but I decided everyone already pretty much has a go-to cinnamon roll recipe, which may or may not include cracking open a tube of “whomp”um rolls. You know what I mean, right? The spiral paper tubes that you “whomp” against the counter until they crack open? I love those. I love homemade ones more, but it’s not something we have time to do every weekend.
Next up, of course, was apple pie. But again, we all have our apple pie recipes. So I decided to offer up apple pie with a festive twist. I made it right in the apple. Genius, right? So happy and Christmas-y looking, and everyone loves an individual dessert. I know I do, at least.
This is so simple, you will be sad you didn’t think of it yourself.
Apple Apple Pies
1 teaspoon good cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
1 recipe (1 crust) pie crust — you can either make this or go buy a refrigerated one at the grocery store. They’re pretty good!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the tops off four apples at the widest part. Using a paring knife, cut a circle about 1/4 inch inside the apple all the way around, and then use a spoon to “core” the apple. Hollow it out and remove the core bits from the apple and reserve any good parts you can salvage.
Peel the extra apple, core and dice. If this isn’t quite enough apple to fill your “boats” you can peel and cut up the tops for a little extra filling. I had enough apple from the one I cut up and the insides of the apples I removed. Be careful!
Mix the cinnamon, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in the with the diced apples and put the mixture back inside your cored out apples.
Roll out your pie crust and cut it into 1/2-inch-wide strips. You will need 6 strips, about 4 inches long for each apple. One crust was just enough with a few scraps left over.
Lay three strips across the top of each apple, and then with the other three, create a lattice top. Over under over, and then repeat with under, over, under. You get the idea.
Place the apple “pies” in a baking dish and pour 1/2 cup water in the bottom. Give the tops a little egg wash if you wish — it makes them get nice and brown and beautiful. You can also top with a little sugar if you so desire.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for 5 or 10 more, until the tops are golden brown.
Serve warm with ice cream. Beautiful.
With all apologies to pepper, nutmeg and ginger, I’d have to say that out of all the little bottles on my spice rack, cinnamon has to be my favorite.
Which is why I totally invest in my cinnamon.
You might call it silly or a waste of money, but I pay top dollar for fancy Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzeys Spices. OK, it’s not like it’s the price of gold or anything, but buying the good stuff there definitely comes at a markup.
But that also means I don’t seem to have to use very much of it to get a good cinnamon kick in everything from smoothies to burritos to pancakes to cookies.
For this particular column, though, I decided to tackle a side dish. And the recipe below is so dang simple, it’s kind of criminal.
You don’t need anything but an oven, a knife, parchment paper on a cookie sheet, squash and cinnamon. Maybe cumin if you want. The dish is even self-contained in that you can serve it as is, just reassemble the little squash and go.
And the reason it’s so simple? Dressing warm squash with cinnamon is the kind of fool-proof perfect you and I and everybody needs on cold winter nights when it’s dark before dinner.
Note: Be careful that you’re truly picking sweet dumpling squash and not its lookalike cousin, carnival acorn squash. While the carnival acorn squash is delicious, it’s not nearly as sweet at the sweet dumpling and you might find yourself a tad bit disappointed with the results.
Sweet Dumpling Squash with Vietnamese Cinnamon
1 sweet dumpling squash per person
Vietnamese cinnamon (or regular cinnamon if you can’t find it)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Halve each squash around the equator, scoop out and discard the seeds and place each half cut side down on the parchment. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Using an oven mitt, flip each one over and sprinkle with cinnamon and a tiny bit of cumin, if using. Serve warm.