26 March 2012

Op ALPHABET SOUP: M is most definitely for Muffins!

Muffins are, without a doubt, my ultimate comfort food. We've always got at least one kind of muffin stored in our freezer, if not two, where they can be accessed for breakfast, snacks, to to make a more substantial lunch. Zapping one of those for 30 seconds in the microwave gives us a piping hot treat.

The great thing about making your own muffins, rather than buying the store-made kind, is that you get to control both the ingredients (for health or for flavour) and the size of your muffins. Personally, I'm a fan of a good sized muffin - but even I know that buying a massive bakery muffin means eating, essentially, two.

There's nothing difficult about making muffins, so long as you follow one simple rule: never over mix your batter. Mix up your wet ingredients in a separate bowl from your dry, and when the time comes to combine the two, fold them together gently and only so much as is required to wet the batter and integrate the ingredients. You want to avoid pockets of dry ingredients, but you don't need to mix everything up so well that you can't see bits of dry when you're scooping out the batter. Mix too vigorously, and you'll get tough, rubbery muffins.

Generally, with a standard-sized muffin tin, I'll make 9 muffins out of these recipes. If you're a fan of the miniature muffin, you'll get at least 18, if not 24 out of these recipes. Whether you use muffin/cupcake papers to line your tins is your call. I'm a fan of just greasing the tins and doing without. When you pull the muffins out of the oven, some will need to cool in the tins, while others (generally fruity muffins) should get removed and cooled on racks right away -- otherwise they steam themselves into a being somewhat tough.

The following are some of my all-time favourite muffin recipes. Most of these originated in the 1980's cookbook "Muffin Mania", which has the most gawdawful layout and design in the world, but has been my family's go-to for muffin recipes for as long as I can remember -- and that's at least 30 years. I've adapted these all from the original recipes for both healthiness and taste, but props are due to the original cookbook that started it all.

We make these a lot. If you don't like the taste of the orange peel the first time you try them, you can always try again using just half the orange peel, or none of it. 

1 whole orange
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 cup pitted dates
1 egg
1/3 cup butter (at room temperature)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (or omit, and use a bit more butter, to make 1/2 cup total)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tsp vanilla
1 Cup white flour
1/2 Cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 Tsp baking soda
1 1/2 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 Tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Celsius.

Wash the orange, and cut it into quarters. Remove seeds if required, but do not peel. Place the pieces into a blender, along with the orange juice. Pulse to chop the orange.

Add the egg, butter and yogurt to the blender, and mix for about 20 seconds. Add the dates, vanilla and brown sugar, and pulse a few times to chop/mix.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the remaining (dry) ingredients, including the spices. Create a well (indent) in the middle of the bowl, and pour in the wet ingredients. Fold gently together, taking care not to over mix. The batter will be dense.

Spoon into greased (or papered) muffin tins and bake for 18-20 minutes (approximately 13 minutes for miniature muffins). Upon removal from the oven, transfer immediately to wire racks to cool.

TROPICAL MUFFINS (Carrot/Pineapple/Coconut)
These are a nice, dense, fruity muffin - a bit like having carrot cake for breakfast, minus the icing (who would bother making carrot cake without the cream cheese icing, one wonders, but you get the point).

2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk or yogurt
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (or 2 tsp white rum)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1 cup finely grated carrot
1 cup crushed pineapple (well drained)
Optional: 1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Celsius.

In a beater bowl, combine sugar, oil, milk or yogurt, eggs, and vanilla or rum. Beat on medium speed for about 20 seconds.

In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients, and mix well. Transfer to the bowl of wet ingredients, and with a large spoon, fold together. Add the carrot, pineapple, coconut and raisins, and gently fold in just until incorporated.

Scoop into greased or papered muffin tins, heaping the batter high in each cup. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, then place tins on wire racks for 10-15 minutes to cool slightly before removing the muffins to finish cooling directly on racks.

These are my favourite, and since my wife doesn't particularly like them, I get to eat them all myself. This is a hybrid of two muffin recipes -- one for plain raisin muffins, and the other for more of a gingersnap muffin.

1 1/2 cups water
1 heaping cup raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (or omit, and use an extra 1/4 cup of brown sugar)
1/2 cup butter, softened but not melted
1 egg
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup white flour
1 tsp ginger powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Celsius.

Put the water and raisins in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer for about 5-7 minutes, then remove from heat. Drain the raisins, reserving 1/2 cup of the boiling liquid. Set that aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Add egg and beat until fluffy. Mix in the 1/2 cup of raisin water and mix well.

In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add to the wet mixture, folding in until about 50% incorporated. Add the well-drained raisins, and gently stir until mixed.

Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 16-20 minutes. These don't rise all that much, so fill the tins right up.

Cool in pans, then remove muffins from the tins.

Everyone - and I mean everyone - loves a good chocolate chip muffin. Adding the subtle hit of orange just brings these up to a new level. Omit the orange if you wish - you'll just have a good, basic chocolate chip muffin. If you're looking to get totally decadent, add about 1/3 cup of toffee bits to the batter when you add the chocolate chips.

1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp milk
1/2 cup yogurt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
Optional: 1 Tbsp Triple Sec or other orange liqueur
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp finely grated orange zest
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup chocolate chips (add an extra 1/4 cup if you are feeling the need)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Celsius.

Mix your orange zest in with your sugar and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together milk, yogurt, and butter. Beat in the egg, vanilla and liqueur, if you're using it.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together your dry ingredients, including the chocolate chips. Gently mix in the sugar and orange zest mixture. Create a small well in the centre of the bowl. Add the wet mixture, and fold together, just until blended.

Pour into greased muffin tins. For extra pizzazz, drop a couple of chocolate chips onto the top of each muffin, and/or a tiny dusting of orange zest.

Bake for about 18-19 minutes (about 12-13 minutes for mini muffins). Avoid over-browning the tops - if  you think the muffins aren't done but they're browning too fast, turn the oven down to 325 degrees and allow to finish baking at the lower temperature.

Allow to cool in tins. Utterly delicious while still warm and gooey.

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