It is hard to believe that 2021 is almost over and that we are getting ready for the holiday season once again. Many of us enjoy the fun of holiday baking, especially if you have children to help. Visions of sprinkle covered cookies, bars, cakes, and cupcakes are already dancing in our heads! Unfortunately, up until now one thing that has discouraged us from participating in the baking madness is the chemicals – especially synthetic dyes, high fructose corn syrup and artificial colours that lurk in so many of the baking ingredients. Imitation extracts, poor quality spices and chemical laden sprinkles and coloured sugars are widely used in baking at this time of year and we just didn’t want to be a part of this anymore. But let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a gingerbread cookie with sprinkles on it? Or cupcakes with nonpareils? Or sugar cookies without vanilla icing? And… well you get the idea.
So we set off to find healthier and safer choices for these yummy treats so we can feel confident that our kids (and yours) are getting the best treats possible. Our journey led us to some amazing tasting organic extracts in vanilla, chocolate, peppermint, orange, lemon, almond and maple flavours. From there we added wonderful organic spices and spice blends, including the oft prized organic Ceylon Cinnamon. Then finally we found our favourite, the one that has us jumping for joy – sprinkles and coloured sugars. The kid in all of us let out a cheer when we found ones that are made with natural plant colour, natural flavours and non-GMO cane sugar.
Could the holidays get any better? Bring on the baking!
Below are some scrumptious recipes to get you on your way to a great holiday dessert-fest.
Holiday Sugar Coated Cookies
2 - 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Tilia’s organic vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon Tilia’s organic peppermint or almond extract (optional)
Tilia’s Ruby Red and Emerald Green Coloured sparkle sugar
Directions: Heat oven to 375°F. Line cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper; set aside.
In a small bowl stir together the flour and baking soda and set aside. Place 1/4 cup of each of the coloured sugars in separate small bowls for rolling the cookies (one with red sugar and another with green sugar).
In a large bowl, beat 1 cup granulated sugar and butter with electric mixer on low speed until light and fluffy. Stir in the egg, vanilla and other extract if using. Stir in flour and baking soda. Shape dough into small balls (about the size of a tablespoon). Roll each ball in the sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until set. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 20 minutes. Store covered in airtight container.
Tilia’s Rainbow Sprinkle Brown Sugar Bars
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons Tilia’s organic vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Tilia’s natural rainbow sprinkles (take 2 tablespoons out for sprinkling the top)
1 cup chocolate chips
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9”x13” baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Measure the flour, salt and baking soda into the mixing bowl whisking to combine. Set aside.
In a large bowl using an electric mixer (or a spoon and muscle power!), whip the softened butter, granulated and brown sugars on medium - high until the butter is fluffy, a light yellow colour and the sugars are well incorporated. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides.
Add in the egg and vanilla extract, beating at medium speed until combined. Scrape down the sides and add flour mixture and then turn on the mixer at a low speed. Continue mixing until the batter has come together and soft and slightly sticky. Measure in the sprinkles and chocolate chips, and gently fold them into the batter incorporating well.
Scoop the cookie dough out of the bowl and into the prepared baking pan. Use a spatula (or your hands if you prefer) to press the batter out evenly into the pan. Sprinkle additional sprinkles on top of the bars. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Let cool completely on a wire cooling rack before cutting. This makes 24 to 36 cookie squares (depending how big you want them!).
What’s the story on Cinnamon?
So cinnamon is cinnamon, right? Well not really.
There are actually two types of cinnamon that are generally used in cooking, Cinnamon Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia) and Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum vera/zeylanicum). They come from different varieties of the Cinnamomum tree and they are close cousins. Cinnamon cassia is widely grown in China, and Eastern and Southern Asia and is often referred to as Chinese cinnamon or simply Cassia. The Ceylon cinnamon, which is often referred to as “true cinnamon” and is native to Sri Lanka and now southern parts of India.
Cassia tends to be a dark brown-red colour with thicker sticks and a rougher texture than Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is considered lower quality and is quite cheap in comparison to Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia is the type most commonly consumed around the world and, in fact, almost all cinnamon found in supermarkets is the cassia variety.
The Ceylon cinnamon is a little more expensive and generally is a little harder to find at most grocery stores. When Ceylon cinnamon is harvested, the sheets that are taken from the tree are usually processed by hand and rolled into flat layers that are much thinner and finer in texture than those rolled from cassia cinnamon and are a lighter colour. Ceylon cinnamon’s flavour and aroma are milder and more delicate—it definitely tastes "cinnamon," but with subtle, almost floral notes in there. The truth is once you taste this cinnamon, it is really hard to use anything else!
In 2018 Bon Appetit Magazine had a whimsical comparison of the two types of cinnamon:
Tasting Ceylon cinnamon is like listening to your favourite vinyl record on a $4,000 stereo system, from the comfort of a leather Eames lounge chair, while cassia cinnamon is like listening to an mp3 version of the same album on the stereo in your friend Steve’s 1993 Honda Civic. You can still appreciate the music in the car, but...the chair. That’s where you want to be.
Some people will tell you that that cassia cinnamon is "fake" cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon is real cinnamon. This is not exactly true. They are both real types of cinnamon, but we're inclined to think that Ceylon is a higher quality spice across the board. Using cassia cinnamon is totally fine, but Ceylon cinnamon is definitely worth seeking out, especially if you're a cinnamon enthusiast.
At Tilia we are so excited that we are able to offer all our wonderful customers a chance to experience the taste of organic true Ceylon cinnamon at a reasonable price. To help you get started on this delicious experience we have included below a few of our favourite cinnamon-based recipes.
Apple Cinnamon Scone with Cinnamon Honey Butter
Perfect for holiday brunches as well as lazy afternoons by the fire, these scones are so delicious you best make a double batch as they go fast!
2 -1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup very cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 small apple, peeled and chopped into small pieces (Granny Smiths, Gala, or Delicious are all good)
3/4 cup half and half, plus more to brush scones
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon Tilia’s organic true cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, blend flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt until combined. Add cold butter and pulse until butter pieces are the size of peas. Don’t over pulse; you want some texture from the butter pieces. Pour the dry mixture from the food processor into a large bowl. Stir in the apples, making sure they are coated by the flour mixture. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the cream mixture in the well. Gently combine to create a ball that is well formed but not sticky. (If the mixture seems a bit dry add 1 Tbsp. more cream at a time until it is a smooth ball. Do not over-add the cream though, you don’t want it sticky). In a small bowl combine the sugar and cinnamon for the topping
Place the ball on floured surface and very gently knead about 8 times and then pat into a circle about 8 inches across and ½ inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges and brush the tops with cream and then generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on the tops. Using a spatula or palate knife gently place the scones on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until lightly golden brown. Makes 8 generous sized scones.
Cinnamon Honey Butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup liquid honey
1 teaspoon Tilia’s organic true cinnamon
1 pinch salt
In a medium bowl, beat the butter, honey, and cinnamon until smooth. Add the pinch of salt and beat until light and fluffy. Taste and adjust salt, honey, and cinnamon to your preferences. If you like your treats on the sweeter side, you can add a tablespoon of icing sugar to this recipe.
Tilia’s Cinnamon Bun Cheesecake Bars
In this recipe cinnamon is front and centre giving a sweet spice flavour to add to the creamy cheesecake filling. Blended together it results in a fabulous fusion of cinnamon bun and New York style cheesecake. Heavenly!
For the crust:
24 square graham crackers, ground to fine crumb (or use about 2 cups crumbs)
¼ cup sugar
½ cup melted butter
1 tablespoon Tilia’s organic true cinnamon
For “Cinnamon Bun” Topping:
¼ cup butter
½ tablespoon Tilia’s organic true cinnamon
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
For the Cheesecake Filling:
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg, room temperature
⅓ cup sugar
2 teaspoons Tilia’s organic vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F, line an 8x8 inch pan with lightly buttered parchment paper (or foil, greased).
To a food processor add the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Pulse and then with the machine running slowly add the melted butter to combine. Press the mixture into prepared pan. Bake 5 minutes. Allow to cool while preparing the toppings.
To prepare cinnamon bun filling combine butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Warm over medium heat and stir until butter is melted and ingredients are combined. Stir in the flour and whisk to incorporate. Set aside.
In a large bowl beat the egg and sugar until light coloured and foamy. Add cream cheese and vanilla and continue to beat until smooth then pour the mixture on top of baked crust.
Drizzle cinnamon bun filling over cheesecake layer and then use a fork to swirl into cheesecake layer. Bake 20 minutes or until cheesecake is set. Allow to cool 30 minutes, then continue cooling in the fridge. When completely cooled, cut and serve. Store in airtight container in fridge for up to 1 week.