I like a good muffin for breakfast sometimes, with my hazelnut decaf. If it’s a really tasty muffin, then it makes for a great snack as well, along with my faithful and frothy friend, chai latté. Depending on what type it is, savory or sweet, or what ingredients in general go into its preparation, one of these little “cakes” mates well with all forms of hot drinks, from teas to espresso to cocoa. And when I want one, I prefer home-baked for three reasons: first, I know everything that’s gone into them and none of it sports a weird, chemical-sounding name; second, the expression “cheaper by the dozen” rings true in this case (individual muffins at our local Hannaford now cost $1.19 each!); and, third, unless I really screwed up with ingredients or prep, they taste better than store-bought. Besides, in my opinion, muffins are among the easiest of baked goods to quickly create in your own kitchen.
Even though there are two excellent bakeries in this area where we sometimes stop for goodies (Bella Napoli in Latham and Schuyler Pastry Shop in Watervliet), I can’t think of any time we’ve purchased muffins at either. Bella Napoli is our source for amazing Italian pastries (the best cannoli!) and my favorite cookies, pignoli (those almondy delights with pine nuts). I’ve made pignoli cookies before (oh- there’s another blog possibility!), when I wanted to serve them at one of my women writers’ gatherings, and (upon inquiring) learned that Bella Napoli includes a bit of flour in their renditions – not acceptable for the few gluten-free gals in my groups. Great cakes, breads, rolls at BN… and Bill’s most-favored plain donuts (browned and crusty on the outside, great for dunking).
We stopped at the Schuyler Bakery just a couple days ago, where we picked up donuts for Bill, a couple lusciously-decorated cupcakes for Kristen and two baklava for me (the best I’ve ever had). Muffins just weren’t on our radar. Schuyler is a family business that’s been in the small city of Watervliet for years, despite economic turndowns for that location. At one time its Watervliet Arsenal was a bustling place, manufacturing much of the country’s artillery (at least its cannons!), including tanks. Some of that continues to happen. It’s designated as a National Historic Site and is the oldest operating arsenal in the United States. Now a large portion of the site, while still government-owned, sports other businesses which rent space. Still, our reason for being in that area at all was because we’d first stopped at the Base Exchange (or is it a commissary? – I always get the two mixed up) for a few things. (Story: When we were in Florida in January 2009, my cousin Diane took us to Fort de Soto, another historic site. While strolling about the grounds, we noted that many, or perhaps all, of the ancient cannons were engraved with something like “Made in Watervliet, NY.” Seemed pretty cool to be that far from home and find this reminder of our local history.)
A few weeks ago I was craving a good muffin and I remembered that one of my cookbooks, The Sweet Melissa Baking Book: Recipes from the Beloved Bakery for Everyone’s Favorite Treats, by Melissa Murphy (Viking Studio, 2008) includes a “Sweet Muffins” recipe that the author touts as her “standard sweet fruit muffin recipe.” Murphy says, “It works with a variety of fruits, spices, citrus zests and herbs,” and urges readers to try the few variations she provides and then start concocting their own. I skipped the trying of her variations, choosing instead to go with what fruit I had on hand, which included a Braeburn apple, a Red Pear, a lemon (which was already listed in her basic ingredients) and some dried fruit (Craisins). I would add a link to her basic recipe but the Sweet Melissa website doesn’t include it, although it looks like the author is planning to include recipes eventually (one set of videos is already in place, for what looks to be an pie fit for god[desses]). If you want Melissa’s helpful Sweet Muffin formula, buy the book!
What you get here, on KitchenCauldron, is my own formula for turning out a dozen or so moist-yet-crumbly, just-sweet-enough, comforting treats – with thanks to Melissa’s Bakery for the inspiration and headstart. Don’t let the seemingly long list of ingredients fool you – they’re simple enough to throw together and pop into the oven in no time, once you’ve diced the fruit! (You might want to sprinkle the apple and pear chunks with lemon juice to avoid their turning brown before you add them to the batter.)
- 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, plus an additional ⅓ cup light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon Roasted Saigon cinnamon (or regular cinnamon)
- ½ teaspoon cardamom
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg (or the pre-ground stuff)
- a pinch of mace (optional—sometimes it’s hard to find nowadays)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- ¼ cup heavy cream, at room temperature (you might use more or less, depending on the thickness or looseness of the batter)
- ½ cup milk (Melissa said whole milk; I used 2% since we only use 1% or 2% in our house)
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 small pear, pared and diced into approximately ¼ to ½” pieces
- 1 small apple, pared and diced into approximately ¼ to ½” pieces
- ½ to ¾ cup Craisins (cranberry-flavored dried raisins)
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, mixed with extra cinnamon if desired
- Position a rack in the center of your oven. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit).
- Either line a standard muffin tin with paper muffin cups, or lightly grease/butter and flour each of the muffin sections.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, ¼ cup brown sugar, and sea salt together in a large bowl, along with the spices.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, the additional ⅓ cup brown sugar and eggs until there are no lumps.
- Whisk the heavy cream into the butter/sugar/egg mixture.
- Add lemon zest to the flour mixture. With your hands, gently rub the mixture together (this releases the oils and breaks up the bits.
- Add diced apple, pear and Craisins to the flour mixture and toss by hand to combine.
- Make a well in the center of the flour/fruit mix and pour the butter mix into it. With a spatula, gently pull the flour mixture over the butter mix until everything is just combined.
- Divide batter evenly among the muffin tins, filling until full. (I was using extra-large tins, so my yield, given the “full” cups of batter, was only 10 muffins.)
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly golden. Check with a wooden skewer, ensuring it comes out clean.
- Remove tins from oven and sprinkle with sugar while warm.
- Remove muffins from tins to a wire rack, cooling to warm.
- Enjoy. Immensely.