Would you be surprised if I told you cinnamon came from the bark of a tree?
By Sarah Kauzmann | December 25, 2021
My grandmother was 99 years old when she passed away this past month. She was a poet, lived through WWII in Belgium, read The New York Times every morning, spoke countless different languages, and loved to play, and win, Scrabble. She doted on her 10 grandkids and 13 great-grandkids, calling us all “darling” in her French-accented English and although she wouldn’t always admit it, she loved sweets of all kinds.
She was a French style cook and baker and enjoyed many simpler French desserts, the palmier, or elephant ear, being one of her favorites and mine too. Layers of flaky puff pastry rolled up with cinnamon sugar in the center make this a simple yet delicious treat using my all time favorite spice: cinnamon.
Would you be surprised if I told you cinnamon came from the bark of a tree? That’s right, when you eat fresh cinnamon buns, drink a spiced latte, or munch on an elephant ear, you’re actually eating finely ground bark.
There are two main types of cinnamon: Cassia and Ceylon. Cassia cinnamon is the most commonly sold type in the US and mostly comes from Indonesia (with trees also grown in Vietnam, China, and Burma). It’s typically purchased ground as it’s too hard to grind easily at home.
Ceylon is cassia’s expensive relative. It’s mainly grown in Sri Lanka and is typically sold in sticks as it can be easily ground at home in a coffee grinder due to its thin and crumbly texture. Most people can’t taste the difference between the two varieties of cinnamon but cassia is typically described as having a hotter, more intense flavor while Ceylon is known for a lighter, more complex flavor.
They may be slightly different but they are harvested in the same way. Branches (and sometimes whole trees) are cut down, typically after a heavy rain which makes the next step easier. The outer bark is peeled off to reveal the inner bark which is the cinnamon. These peels are set out in the sun to dry, while doing so they curl up naturally into quills, or sticks, which can be packaged up and used as is or ground down into a fine powder. Farmers can harvest the bark from trees/branches up to twice a year.
So whether you’re adding a bit of cinnamon to your coffee for an extra spicy twist or making a batch of palmiers to remember your sweets-loving grandmother, you’re using dried up bark from a tree. A little strange? Yes. Delicious? Definitely. ■
Palmiers (Elephant Ears)
Yield: 25 small palmiers
Include everything your reader needs to make this recipe perfectly, with measurements, optional additions, or alternatives. For example:
¼ cup sugar
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 tbsp. butter, melted
⅓ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375°
Sprinkle ¼ cup sugar on clean work surface.
Unfold room-temperature puff pastry over sugar and roll to 10” x 15” rectangle.
Brush puff pastry with butter.
Combine ⅓ cup sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon then sprinkle over butter.
Lightly score a line through the middle of the cinnamon and sugar, long-ways. Starting with the long end, tightly roll up the puff pastry to the marked center line, then repeat on the other side.
Refrigerate dough for 10-15 minutes. Grease or line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove dough from fridge and using a sharp knife, cut ¼” slices and place on baking sheets, two inches apart.
Bake for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges/bottom.
Serve warm or cool. Store in airtight container.
Sarah Kauzmann, Montgomery High School Class of 2012, Lehigh University masters degree, 2017. She has been baking since she was old enough to hold a spoon, and is the owner/operator of pipitsbakery.com.