Cinnamon is maybe the most used baking spice, and for good reason - it's sweet, mellow, warm and aromatic without being pungent. It's a robust flavour, though, and when used too generously it can lapse into an overbearing clagginess. While there's an elegance to a simple cinnamon glaze or buttery cinnamon bun, I think cinnamon's at its best when made to work alongside other spices. Try it with a pinch of sharp cardamom, fennel and black pepper in a chai spice blend, perhaps, or balance it with hot chilli as in the chocolate tarts below.
Cinnamon-spiced chilli chocolate tarts with honey cream
You don't have to serve these with the honey cream, but I find it helps to balance out the bittersweet flavour of the chocolate ganache.
250g plain flour
75g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon1/4 tsp salt
125g unsalted butter, firm but not fridge-cold
3 tbsp milk
For the filling
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150ml double cream
3 tbsp runny honey
2 tsp cinnamon
Chilli powder, to taste
For the cream
4 tbsp honey
150ml double cream
Cinnamon, to dust
1 In a large bowl, stir together the flour, caster sugar, cinnamon and salt. Cut the butter into 1cm cubes, then add to the flour mixture and rub into the dry ingredients using your fingertips, or blitz in a food processor. Keep going until there are no visible chunks and the mixture is fine and sandy. Add the milk and cut it into the mixture using a small sharp knife (or, again, in the food processor), distributing the liquid evenly until no dry flour remains and the dough is beginning to come together in small clumps. Add a drop more milk if necessary. The dough ought to be just moist enough to hold together as a mass when squeezed between your hands.
2 If the dough's a little sticky, press it into a flattish disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill it for 15-20 minutes before continuing. Otherwise, get straight to work rolling it out of a lightly floured surface. Roll to a sheet no thicker than 5mm - it should measure roughly 30x40cm. Use a 10cm-diameter pastry cutter to stamp out circles. Press the pastry circles into the moulds of a 12~CHECK~hole muffin/cupcake tin, taking care to press out any folds and push the pastry firmly into the sides of the tin. Trim any excess and place the tin in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 15 minutes, giving the pastry a chance to relax and so minimising shrinkage during baking. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/400C/gas mark 6.
3 While the pastry chills, cut a dozen 12-15cm squares of baking parchment and have some baking weights or uncooked rice, dried chickpeas or lentils ready. Once the pastry has chilled, line each tart with a square of baking parchment and fill the parchment with baking weights or whatever you have to hand. Bake the cases in the preheated oven for 15 minutes before gently removing the baking weight parcels, parchment and all, and returning the tart cases to the oven for a further 5 minutes to crisp and lightly brown. Leave to cool in the tin.
4 While the pastry cools, prepare the ganache filling. Finely chop the chocolate, then place in a heatproof bowl along with the cream. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir while the mixture gently steams. Once all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy, add the honey, cinnamon and salt. Stir in a pinch of chilli powder, then add more to taste.
5 While it's still warm and runny, spoon the ganache into the pastry cases in their tin. Leave to cool completely, then transfer to the fridge for at least 30 minutes before unmoulding.
6 Once the tarts are ready, prepare the honey cream. Beat the mascarpone with the honey until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the double cream to soft peaks, then fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture. Serve each tart with a spoonful of honey cream and a dusting of cinnamon.
Chai swirl loaf cake
This is just a simple marble cake, but with a chai spice mixture in place of the usual cocoa powder. You can bake it in a 20cm round tin, too, cooking for a slightly shorter time if so.
150g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder1/4 tsp salt
6 cardamom pods, seeds only, ground
1 tsp fennel seeds, ground
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger1/4 tsp black pepper
25g soft light brown sugar
For the topping
50g unsalted butter, very soft
150g cream cheese
50g icing sugar
Ground cinnamon, to dust
1 Set the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 2lb/900g loaf tin.
2 Cream together the butter and sugar until light and smooth, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. Don't worry if the batter curdles a little. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl then fold these dry ingredients into the wet mixture to form a thick batter.
3 Put 250g of the cake mix in a separate bowl. Combine the spices and sugar, then add this to the bowl of batter, combining gently, but thoroughly.
4 Scoop the light and dark cake mixes into the tin, dolloping spoonfuls of each haphazardly to create a patterned batter. Swirl a small knife lightly through the mix a couple of times to marble the two colours.
5 Bake for 50-55 minutes or until the cake has risen, set and lightly browned. A skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out with just a crumb or two stuck to it. Leave to cool in its tin for half an hour or so before unmoulding on to a wire rack.
6 Once the cake has cooled completely, prepare the topping. Beat the butter until very smooth, then stir in the cream cheese a little at a time. Sift in the icing sugar and mix well until combined. Spoon this on to the cooled cake and slather thickly all over the top, nudging it into soft swirls and ripples as you go. Dust a little extra cinnamon on top to finish.