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There are certain times of the year that are defined by specific flavor profiles, and autumn is undeniably the time for spice. Anise, clove, and allspice all seem to find their way into sauces and seasonings as the days grow shorter and the leaves fall from the trees. But there is one spice in particular that I find myself craving both in my food and in my drinks during the fall months -- and that is cinnamon.
Using cinnamon for culinary purposes can be a confusing proposition, as any baker can tell you. There's Ceylon cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, and Saigon cinnamon -- the choices are plentiful, and to make it worse, average purveyors won’t go out of their way to find out which cinnamon they are selling. Speaking broadly, there are four types of cinnamon (all belonging to the Cinnamomum genus, a cousin of laurel) that are sold in the market today: Ceylon cinnamon (C. verum), Indonesian cinnamon (C. burmannii), Vietnamese cinnamon (C. loureiroi) and, by far the most common, Chinese cinnamon (C. cassia), which is the one that you’ll find most often in the supermarket.
The good news is, all of these cinnamons are appropriate for making a delicious syrup. Cinnamon syrup can be substituted for sugar syrup in a cocktail in order to give it an autumn cast, and can even be used in an Old-Fashioned instead of the more traditional sugar cube (try 1/4 ounce of syrup instead of one sugar cube to start). Rather than a simple syrup, cinnamon syrup is best with a rich sugar syrup, so using a little goes a long way.
Start with 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, and bring everything to a low simmer in a saucepan. Once it's reached a simmer, add enough broken up pieces of cinnamon (my personal favorite is Ceylon, but it's up to you) to more or less cover the surface of the pan you’re using. Depending on the size of the pan and how much cinnamon syrup you’re making, this could be a little or a lot, so think about quantities before you start. Once they’ve simmered for a couple of minutes, remove the pan from the heat and cover until the entire batch until totally cooled. Strain into a clean glass jar, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Try cinnamon syrup in any classic tiki cocktail, particularly the Zombie. It’s also wonderful paired with grapefruit in any way, shape, or form. Or, as mentioned, replace the cube of sugar in your next Old-Fashioned -- then take a sip, sit back, and settle into fall.
Photos by Alpha Smoot