(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 4, 2008. We hope you enjoy it as we count down to Christmas but please keep in mind that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to questions and comments.)
Many of us grew up sprinkling cinnamon sugar on toast or oatmeal. As a child, I was fascinated to learn ground cinnamon was actually the bark of a tree. I think I nibbled on several other kinds of bark, just as an experiment, before deciding most trees didn't taste good, no matter what the beavers might think. The cinnamon most of us know in the U.S. is actually Cinnamomum cassia, rather than "true" Ceylon cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum.
I associate the scent with comfort foods and holiday baking, so the slightest whiff of cinnamon brings a blissful smile to my face. I'd love my house to smell of cinnamon all winter long! In addition to using it in all sorts of recipes, I've burned cinnamon candles, put cinnamon sticks in humidity water pots on the radiator, added a few chips of cinnamon to my coffee pot filter, and even put a few drops of pure cinnamon oil on a pinecone or in a bowl of potpourri.
A while ago, I came across a recipe for cinnamon-applesauce craft dough. I loved the idea of hanging cinnamon scented ornaments all over the house, so I couldn't wait to try it! My first ornaments were dried in a low oven, which worked well enough. This year I thought of using my new dehydrator, on the same setting I use for making fruit roll-ups. That worked perfectly, and my home smelled absolutely spectacular after a day of warm, apple-pie-scented air wafting out from the dehydrator.
For this project, you do not need high quality gourmet cinnamon; save the good stuff for your snickerdoodles and cinnamon rolls. The large and economical containers of ground cinnamon available at big box stores will work just fine. In fact, I once incorporated some high grade cinnamon and discovered the additional cinnamon oil made the craft dough difficult to work with. I had to wear gloves to protect my skin from the burn of the essential oil.
Your cinnamon dough will be easier to work with and require less cinnamon to make if you drain some of the liquid from the applesauce. I pour the applesauce into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl and let it sit until a cup or more of juice per quart has drained out. If your strainer isn't fine enough for that, just line it with paper towel or cheesecloth.
Note: Despite the tasty ingredients, these ornaments are not edible because of the very large amount of cinnamon involved.
For me, a workable dough seems to require about equal parts by volume of thickened applesauce and ground cinnamon. For every cup of applesauce, I add two or three tablespoons of white school glue - the nontoxic kind, just in case somebody licks their fingers while making the ornaments. It's an optional ingredient, but the glue seems to add a little elasticity to the dough, making the finished ornaments just a bit sturdier. Save out a little of both the cinnamon and the applesauce, so you can adjust the texture and stiffness of the dough if needed. Hands work well for the final mixing and kneading of the dough. If your skin is sensitive, plastic or latex gloves will protect your hands from the oils in the cinnamon.
Dust your work surface and your rolling pin with cinnamon. The cinnamon dough should be thick enough to roll out easily, with a consistency that reminds me of damp Play-Doh®. If the surface of the rolled dough cracks, the dough is too dry and needs a dab of applesauce or a few drops of water kneaded in. Roll to a thickness of about 1/4 inch, just as if you were making cut-out cookies.
Use cookie cutters or a knife to cut shapes from your rolled dough. With a spatula, carefully transfer the ornaments to a cookie sheet or a flat drying rack. Unused dough scraps can be gathered into a ball and re-rolled to make more ornaments. Use a straw to cut a hole in each ornament for hanging. For a less obvious hanger, insert a u-shaped piece of wire (I carefully cut paper clips in half with wire snips) into the top edge of the dough shape. If necessary, the wire can be secured with a little glue after the ornaments are dry.
Ornaments can be dried several hours in a low oven (175° F or the lowest heat setting) or at room temperature for several days. The air flow and warmth of a dehydrator is ideal for this project. Dry the ornaments until they are completely hard. Just as when you dry fruit, the finished ornaments will be somewhat smaller than the dough pieces you started with. If you're not sure, dry them a little longer, as remaining moisture can lead to little spots of mold or mildew.
Hang your ornaments right away, or store them in an airtight container so they retain their scent longer. A drop or two of cinnamon oil will restore the scent to older ornaments.
This is fun afternoon project, with or without the kids. These cut-outs will last much longer in the average household than their edible cookie counterparts. I can't resist leaning in for a whiff each time I pass the ornaments that I've hung all over the house! If you love cinnamon too, I hope you'll give this project a try.
You will need:
1 large jar (64 ounces) unsweetened applesauce,
drained several hours or overnight.
1 large container (18 ounces) cinnamon
(more or less depending on thickness of applesauce)
½ bottle white school glue
straw for making holes, or paperclips for wire hangers
skinny decorative ribbon for hanging
Photos by Jill Nicolaus.