Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Speci-oil O-Cassia-n

I have discovered Easter biscuits (biscuits = cookies), which remarkably many English have not discovered. Let me explain:

The other day I was in the local greengrocer/butchers, at the checkout counter. By the register was a little display with small bottles of something called Oil of Cassia. They were advertised as being "for Easter biscuits". So I asked, "what is oil of Cassia?"

"It's a spice," replied the clerk, "sort of like cinnamon."
"Here, have a sniff," said the butcher.
A wonderful, if strong, smell of cinnamon mixed with cardamom (a bit fruity) emanated from the little bottle. 'Hmm,' I thought, 'this would be nice in hot chocolate or coffee.' "Can you use it in beverages?" I asked.
"No, it must be cooked!" said the clerk, "It can burn your skin!"
"I once put a drop on my tongue, and I couldn't taste anything on it for awhile." remarked the young butcher.
"Oh, perhaps I'll stick to cinnamon, then." I said, taking my purchases and heading out to continue my shopping.

Two doors down from the greengrocer/butchers is a bakery. And what to my wondering eye should appear, but a large bin with packets of Easter biscuits. Well, I had to at least try them. So, for the Queen's ransom of GBP 2.10, I became the proud owner of 6 large Easter biscuits, about 3 1/2 inches in diameter.


They are shortbread with a few dried currants per large cookie, and of course, oil of Cassia. The flavor(flavour) is subtle, much like in anise cookies, except that I don't like anise and I do like oil of Cassia. It is cinnamony with a fruity perfumy edge.

After consuming my 2nd package from that bakery (over a period of a couple of weeks, OK?), I was walking by another bakery in the high street, and what do I see in their window? More Easter biscuits! Obviously, I need to compare biscuits. I am on a mission to explore the cultural nuances of the English, after all. So I bought a packet of 4, as these were even larger than the other bakery's.

These were more like sugar cookies, lighter and fluffier with sugar crystals sprinkled over the top. But still there was that oil of Cassia.

My husband had never heard of these Easter biscuits. I have since come to find out from his cousin that many English don't know about them because they are a Catholic Easter treat, and most English are from the Church of England. Looking on the Web, the oil of Cassia flavouring may be a Southwestern English tradition.

I must ask this cousin if she knows which style is more authentic. I prefer the shortbread, as they are less sweet and more dense.

Then I can start on the hot cross buns ...

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