Martha Stewart

Not-So-Exciting (Yet So Exciting) Pumpkin Muffins

In the chicken yard of baked goods, muffins are probably at the bottom of my baking pecking order. Don't get me wrong, I love them - they just seem to be something more "utilitarian", something to satiate a hunger pang rather than something I'll go out of the way to bake just for the joy of baking. Because they tend to be more virtuous than cupcakes, some muffins beg to be slathered in jam or butter: a hope of becoming more than they are. Some are perfect candidates for the freezer, pucks of frozen nutrition, waiting for me to remember that I stashed them in there. They do come in handy when I remember I'm hungry as I'm running out the door, but I don't often crave them, pushing them aside for other sweet, compact grab-ables such as cookies.

Every once in a while, I make a muffin that I want to eat all 12 of, and then set out to make a second batch. When that happens, I make a note and then change my tune. "What was I thinking", I ask myself, "I love muffins"! I would all of a sudden travel the world over to be able to crawl humbly back to my kitchen and mix up a batch of hand-sized quick breads, and I wouldn't even wait for them to cool before popping them into my mouth.

I have two confessions, and one of them involves Martha Stewart. The first confession is that I'm cheap. I like to think I'm cheap with class, but not always is that the case. When standing overwhelmed at the baking aisle at the non-food-co-op-grocery prior to Thanksgiving, I evil-eyed the cans of pumpkin. I don't know why, but I could not bring myself to buy the 15 oz. cans, when the 29 oz. cans were cheaper per ounce. I solemnly cursed the manufacturers that they are always putting one ounce less in something just so that a purist baker somewhere will succumb to buying the 15 oz. cans instead of a 29 oz. can so that she won't be short. Seeing as I don't buy all that much canned food, my steaming was brief, but still. Do they think I don't notice? I do. I still buy the large cans to spite them, then store the leftovers in the fridge for a few days until I can figure out what to do with them... in the case of this post, making pumpkin muffins.

My second (and unrelated) confession is that I have no real opinion about Martha Stewart. She's smart, obviously driven, and has more well appointed houses than I'll ever have. She cooks, bakes, decorates, and reads and still has time to gild a lily. I like her books, love their layouts and photography, but often find fault in her recipes. I take her recommends with a grain of salt, and don't buy into every new adventure she concocts. When I grabbed SoNo Baking Company Cookbook from the new shelf at the library, admittedly it was for the gorgeous cover. When I opened it up and read the preface by Martha herself, I discovered that it's writer was at one time one of the minions of Martha's staff. I had the book sitting on the counter for 2 weeks before reading any further.

Just a few days ago, I finally cracked it back open and was rewarded handsomely with this recipe. Besides a tome of hugely interesting baked goods, I also found in it that I shouldn't judge Martha. She is what she is, and she does recognize great talent. John Barricelli writes this book well, and also clearly has amazing ideas about baking. When I couldn't actually decide what muffin to try first, I knew he had me. And after the first bite of soft, almost-as-good-as-a-cupcake pumpkin muffin, I knew that this indeed is a great book.

I hardly alterered John's recipe. I did reduce the sugar slightly (and I used raw instead) and omitted the raisins on request of the Boy-O. He eats them fine on their own, but doesn't like them "in things" all of a sudden. I added walnuts instead, and sprinkled some on the tops prior to baking. Because the muffin is so moist and cake-like, they stuck out like ants on a rock. No matter, they tasted great all toasted up. Next time, I'll probably leave them off though.

Pumpkin Muffins (adapted from John Barricelli, The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook)
  • 1 1/2 c. ap flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger (or 1/2 T. grated fresh ginger)
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves
  • 1 c. sugar (1/2 cup is plenty!)
  • 1/2 c. coconut oil (or part coconut part olive oil)
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 15 oz. pumpkin puree (I just now noticed that the recipe called for half a can of pumpkin... I used a whole can equivalent, and I was more than happy with the results!)
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 c. raisins, optional (John suggests adding 1/2 c. nuts and/or chocolate chips as well)
  • 2 T. chia seeds, optional
Preheat oven to 375, with rack in middle position. Spray a standard 12 cup muffin tin, or butter generously.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt and spices together.

In a large bowl, whisk sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin and applesauce together. Add the dry ingredients and fold until the mixture is well combined. Fold in raisins and chia seeds if using, and any other mix-ins.

Portion into muffin tin, about 1/4 c. per muffin (I use a disher). Bake for 20-25 minutes, until tester comes out clean.

Transfer pan to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then, using a knife as an aid, gently upturn the muffins onto their sides to cool completely in the pans.

Well, I guess the extra pumpkin I unknowingly added explains the incredibly soft and custard-like interiors... and why I got more than a dozen. I baked the remaining batter into bite-sized mini muffins, and Boy-O ate all 6 of them straight away, I ate the remaining 2. He was impatient for the bigger ones to cool, and couldn't wait to gobble up even more of them, so we know this is a good recipe.

Just as I was thinking I was "pumpkin-ed out", these beauties prove me wrong. I almost think that I could never be tired of pumpkin. Or muffins. Now that we're best friends again, the muffin and I have to have some more serious talks. If you have any varietals that I need to meet, please be sure to let me know. Meanwhile, it's almost cookieposter time... unless I decide to give Christmas Muffins this year. I doubt I'd hear any complaints if I use more of John Barricelli's recipes.

Saturday, 8 a.m.

Yesterday morning I woke up and it was rainy. Since I figured taking a walk was out of the question, I decided before I even got out of bed to make English Muffins - something I never made before. And by accident last week, I watched a new 2009 episode of Barefoot Contessa on Food Network and immediately began plotting to make the Date Nut Spice Bread she made. Anytime Ina makes something sweet with only 4T. of butter, you know it's going to get tested at my house. SO...I thought: the Boy-O is still in bed, I am going to bake all morning.

About a month ago, I had 24 whole hours to myself. My Husband took the Boy-O to Chicago, and I had the day to do whatever I felt like. It's funny that the first thing that came to mind was baking something I never baked before, but that's the first thing that did. I did manage to fight the urge, but did do something somewhat related and went to the shops.

I do never really go browsing in shops anymore, so I took the opportunity to go to Williams-Sonoma to buy some egg rings. Technically, they are a little small for English Muffins, but I thought I'd try a recipe first and see what I thought before finding small rings that are slightly larger. (I did find some on the King Arthur Bread website, and they are super cheap too.)

Originally, I thought I would make the recipe in Martha Stewart's baking book, but after recent semi-disappointment with the super healthy wheat bread (that I made using the weights published in her book), I decided to go the fool-proof Alton Brown way. I have yet to make something he published (and either by weights or volumes) that failed to be anything less that fantastic... Crackers, Pancakes, you name it...he has a prominent place on my bookshelf. That, and his version took about a quarter of the time that Martha's takes.

So, long story short, Alton scores again. These were really great, only took 30 minutes to rise and were super simple to mix up. I did have a bit of trouble regulating the temp on my pan (it's a yeasted batter you cook on the stove top - or as Alton recommends, an electric skillet). The photograph above was my final attempt out of the 3 batches that I made in the egg rings. I didn't have exactly the equipment that Alton recommended, so I'm counting that all 12 weren't a complete success as my fault. I am certainly going to get the larger rings, and make this recipe again. They were really moist and eggy, although there were no eggs, and I can imagine they would make a good breakfast sandwich. And considering I never buy commercial bread products at all anymore, I think they will become a standard in my freezer.

After I get my larger rings, I will also break down and try Martha Stewart's more labor intensive version as well. I'm sure I will photograph the results.

Project #2: Date Nut Spice Bread

As enamored (translation: obsessed) as I am with Alton Brown, I also have a penchant for Ina Garten. I really have loved all of the recipes of hers that I have tried, and confess that I have read 5 of her cookbooks front to back as if they were novels. I don' t always grab her recipes though because they tend to be of the reckless abandon ilk when it comes to healthful eating. However, I will alter her recipes to fit the way I cook as opposed to Alton Brown' s recipes which I feel are as exacting as they are for a reason.

When I saw her making this bread on her show a week ago, I knew I was going to have to make this. I really had to stop watching and DVRing Barefoot Contessa because I was eating up all the space on our recorder and because some of the shows I had seen 2 or 3 times already. Still, I can watch episodes again and again and imagine how it would be nice to have the counter space and oven space and endless baking pan collection in her fairytale Hampton's world. (I HAVE to get a kugelhoph mold to make her Baba au Rhum from another episode I've seen at least twice...) Her world of aesthetics is right up my alley. I think I was folding laundry the day I'm glad I watched it again - and of course it renewed my obsession and I promptly reset the DVR to record all the new shows.

Let me tell you, this bread alone is was worth the cost of her new book, The Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. You can also find the recipe on the Food Network website, if you can't wait to order - or if you happen to doubt my assessment...

This recipe has 10 oz. of chopped dates that are marinated in 1/3 cup of Cointreau. My husband bought me the Cointreau for an early Mother's Day gift, because while I am cheap, I would never dreamed of making this recipe with an inferior liqueur. Cointreau is the only thing in the world that tastes like Cointreau, and I admit to being an unabashed food snob when it comes to certain things.

This bread was smelled so good when it was in the oven that I knew there was no way I was going to be waiting until it cooled completely to cut into it. As we had thick slices after our lunch, Boy-O loved it as much as I did - confirmation in my mind that I know he's going to grow out of his picky-eatingness. I am already sure that I will be purchasing a swanky little petite-loaves pan so I can make these at Christmas time to give away.

The end of my new recipe morning concluded with an enormous mess in my little galley kitchen. Sometimes I do really think I would like a dishwasher, though I wouldn't know where to put it. I'm just really thankful that the former owners of this 1948 home decided to add a small dining room onto the kitchen or I would really have been in trouble.