Cinnamon And Spice In Vienna

When thinking about Austrian cuisine, spice is not the first thought that comes to mind. While it is not one of the world’s spice capitols, my trip to Vienna did allow me to see first-hand the spices that are regularly used. One Viennese merchant at a specialty spice shop explained that the use of spices, including ethnic blends, are peaking the interests of the local inhabitants at an ever increasing rate, perhaps due to the increase in international travel and migration.  I was pleasantly surprised when visiting the Naschmarket (a market in the city center teeming with restaurants, specialty food stores and a plethora of food stalls all lined up waiting for the hungry) had row after row of spice stands stocked with blends and pure spices of all sorts. This certainly supported my Viennese spice merchant’s claim!

Spices and herbs at the Naschmarket in Vienna

Spices and herbs at the Naschmarket in Vienna

In addition to the ubiquitous black peppercorn, caraway is a classic element in sauerkraut and cinnamon, nutmeg and mace are no strangers to traditional Austrian baked goods. Let’s focus on one of my favorite spice, cinnamon. Now, as a dutiful Spice Houser, I would usually be very particular in clarifying whether I am referring to Ceylon cinnamon (true cinnamon) or cassia cinnamon, and if cassia, which variety thereof (due to differences in flavor and strength.)  While Ceylon cinnamon is common in European cuisine (in America we typically use the word “cinnamon” liberally and are accustomed to cassia cinnamon), I noted that Indonesian Korintje cassia cinnamon (the variety most commonly used in the U.S.) was the variety sold most frequently at the Naschmarket.  So, please pardon my lack of cinnamon specificity in this blog (although as a cinnamon enthusiast, I believe there is usually room for personal preference as long as the cinnamon is fresh!)

In Austrian baking, cinnamon is a favorite spice used to help sweeten treats. Many desserts (or snacks) can be found at kaffeehauses (Viennese coffee houses) all throughout Vienna. Cinnamon is used in abundance in Christmas cookies, as well as in some of Austria’s classics including Linzer Torte, apfelstrudle (apple strudel) and zimtschnecken (cinnamon rolls). As it was not Christmas time when I was in Vienna, Christmas cookies were not available. But for the sake of this blog, I made sure that I sampled the apple strudel and cinnamon rolls.

Apple strudel at a coffee house in Vienna

Apple strudel at a coffee house in Vienna

Apple strudel was available at every coffee house and bakery that I visited. This was of no surprise as it is considered the national dish of Austria. It was advertised at many restaurants and sold at street stands, tempting those who passed. One of my coffee house samplings was topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. It was flaky, fresh and the cinnamon, while present, was a fairly delicate note (I suspect Ceylon cinnamon was employed).

The cinnamon rolls were not as easy to find as the apple strudel, but I did not leave Vienna empty handed. My cinnamon rolls were wonderfully soft and gooey (not like a Pilsbury or Cinnabon roll, but still gooey). While it did have a sugary glaze, it was not frosted with icing. As you would expect, the cinnamon was much more prominent than in the strudel. While I am not sure which variety of cinnamon was used for the rolls I ate, at the Spice House we advise the use of the sweet and spicy Saigon cassia cinnamon (of which I am particularly fond since it has a high volatile oil content, meaning lots of flavor and aroma) for cinnamon rolls.

Needless to say, as a cinnamon lover, I was not disappointed in the baked goods available in Vienna and was pleased to learn about the increasing use of a broader range of spices in Austrian cooking.

 

 

Warming Up For Winter: The Classic Hot Toddy

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As the temperature begins to drop, it’s official. It’s time for bourbon. During the summer, the drink of choice definitely trends toward clear liquors, and clean flavors. Fruit and frosted glasses take center stage. But, as soon as the weather begins to turn drizzly, I find myself craving amber spirits and spices. It’s the season for mulled wine, hot buttered rum and, of course, my favorite winter warmer: the hot toddy.  This spiced drink is relaxing, invigorating, and somehow a mysterious cure all. Whether it’s at get together with friends, or just to sip by yourself on some blustery evening, this drink is always warming, and always a hit.

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Who is your public relations director?

 Ocassionally we end up on a really nice roll of fun PR. In the current Greek Issue of Saveur magazine, we are recommended in their section called The Pantry, as a resource for our Aleppo pepper. They use it in this really great sounding recipe, roasted lamb with rosemary.  (Saveur's photo at left) We also had a nice mention in Food and Wine magazine this month, we are included in their list of five obsessed spice importers. This is one obsession we are okay with!  NBC Chicago did a piece on our cinnamon last week, running with a trace back the ingredients concept. While tasting one of Bill Kim's fantastic desserts, a Vietnamese Cinnamon caramel ice cream, at Urban Belly, they wanted to source his ingredients.  He very generously led them to our Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon. We can not wait to go and try this, by the way. Interesting how reporters sometimes know more about where are spices are ending up than we do! Last, but not least, we have made some wonderful connections via email correspondance with some really interesting food blog posters. I really want to thank Alice and Jared Zhao, who blog under eataduckimust,  for their sensational blog post about The Spice House, calling us a Chicago Landmark. Your photography is awesome, by the way. So, who does handle the PR? Continue reading

Spice House owner guest on WPR's Here on Earth

This past Friday, I was a guest on the WPR radio station, Here on Earth. We were to talk about cinnamon for the hour.  After 51 years in business, it is nice to be considered spice experts. As such we get to share our knowledge in a variety of venues  from cooking magazines, to radio (NPR) to television (Alton Brown Good Eats and Real Simple) HOWEVER, I could not imagine how we could spend an hour talking about cinnamon. I spent the entire day furiously scouring our spice manuals, and the internet for fun cinnamon facts and history that would help add up to an hour. I arrived very nervous!

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