Cinnamon will become your new favorite ice cream flavor | Pittsburgh City Paper

Cinnamon will become your new favorite ice cream flavor

You’ve had the usual flavors — mint chocolate chip, Rocky Road, strawberry, butter pecan — but I want to introduce a less obvious ice cream flavor you need to try: cinnamon.

Now, I should probably mention that I am a cinnamon fiend. I drink my favorite tea — Harney & Sons’ hot and cinnamon spice. Almost every morning for breakfast — I have a small bowl of cinnamon oatmeal, and some nights, before going to bed, I’ll have a glass of warm milk with a dash of cinnamon. I like to joke that the quickest way to my heart is through cinnamon.

Cinnamon flavors are well-supported in Pittsburgh. The Bagel Company’s Super Cinnamon bagel is a boon to cinnamon lovers and tastes like a delicacy when toasted and spread with lots of butter. The Friendship-based restaurant Spork features house cocktails that change with the seasons, and it usually has at least one excellent cinnamon-flavored cocktail, usually paired with a dark liquor. Oakmont Bakery makes a hearty cinnamon swirl French toast (kind of like a cinnamon roll without icing). And lastly, you can find Oram’s best-selling mega-cinnamon rolls at some Coffee Tree Roasters locations.

What makes cinnamon such a unique flavor? It’s a warming spice used in a lot of comfort foods. Most people consume it with baked goods containing a lot of sugar, giving the spice an association with sweet things. It’s also a flavor enhancer of brown sugar (a combination of granulated sugar and molasses), and caramel, which is sugar introduced to high heat to bring out a sweet and nutty flavor.

That nutty quality of cinnamon is used widely in traditional and savory foods, including garam masala, chutney, curries, spiced rice, and other dishes from around the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Cinnamon is said to have been used since Ancient Egypt in 2000 BCE. (I should note that there are other types of cinnamon, like cassia cinnamon, that are related, but ultimately different from “true” cinnamon or ceylon cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is more bitter and used in Chinese five spice as well as many traditional Chinese medicines.)

While traditional medicines often use cinnamon as a digestive aid or as a preventative for Alzheimer's, no conclusive research exists to support its effectiveness. I do believe, though, that it is good for the soul.

The comforting qualities of a warming spice like cinnamon aren’t just for the winter months. Since cinnamon works as a flavor enhancer, it’s best used as a topping for carb-heavy desserts. Cinnamon ice cream is incredibly good when paired with pies, waffles, waffle cones, or blended into a milkshake — you can even dip French fries into the latter for an extra special treat.

If you want a true Sicilian-style ice cream experience, I imagine cinnamon ice cream would be awesome in a brioche con gelato, which is exactly what it sounds like — a brioche bun filled with ice cream. This is also a popular treat in many Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, where ice cream is sandwiched between a piece of bread or a hot dog roll. Don’t be too surprised by this pairing; it’s kind of like Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake. Pairing comforting carbs with sweet ice cream and a nutty, earthy, and warming spice could never taste bad.

Where can Pitttsburghers find cinnamon ice cream? This is a tough question. You can make it yourself (see the recipes below.), but those who don’t care for the challenge have a few places to buy this ice cream.

The best is at Waffallonia in Squirrel Hill, from which the smell of sugary waffles wafts down Murray Avenue. Their homemade cinnamon ice cream is superb especially when paired with one of their Liege waffles.

Cinnamon can be hard to find in supermarkets, but commercial brands from Wegmans and Perry’s have their own takes (Wegmans’ being superior).

For those of you who aren’t true fans of cinnamon, you can often find cinnamon in ice cream paired with other flavors. Jeni’s boasts a Skillet Cinnamon Roll and Millie's locations offer a cinnamon roll ice cream off and on as well. While some Cold Stone Creamery locations carry cinnamon-flavored ice cream, all the Pittsburgh area locations only offer cinnamon as a mix-in. Similarly, you can usually find cinnamon as a topping at most rolled ice cream stores.