Sunday, February 05, 2006

Is There Muffin I Can Do?

When the heart aches, a baker bakes.

Maybe that little proverb won't make it into Bartlett's Famous Quotations, but I think a couple of my friends would agree that when someone is in need of consolation -- or at least stress relief -- a baker will head into the kitchen and work a little magic.

And given the recent tumult, frustration, and intensity both in the world at large and in my own little circle, I felt that urge to pull out pans and ingredients this weekend, hoping to create a little comfort in one corner of the universe.

My Fabulous Aunt and I have been drooling over the latest issue of The Baker's Catalogue, especially a new recipe for ginger-carrot muffins. Since I had offered to pick up a couple of the more exotic ingredients for her (well, exotic in her kitchen -- I always keep cardamom and flax seeds on hand), I decided I would give the recipe a try, too.

So Saturday morning, I whipped up half a batch of the muffins, following the recipe to the letter save for the addition of a little vanilla extract. I also made a quick little cream cheese frosting with maple syrup and cardamom for an extra treat.

The muffins came out moist and tender, full of good flavor, and it was difficult to stop with just two!


But as I ate, I started thinking about how the combination of organic carrots, crystallized ginger, sweet cardamom, and nuts reminded me of carrot halwa, one of my favorite Indian desserts... and thus was born the idea: why not translate the flavors of halwa into muffin form?

After mulling over the possibilities, I returned to the kitchen this morning to make another half-batch of muffins, but with a few variations (changes in spices, replacing local walnuts with organic pistachios, adding a streusel topping).

When the muffins came out of the overn, naturally I had to do a side-by-side comparison of the recipes:


On the whole, though I'm fond of that cream cheese topping, I prefer the rich depth of spices in my variation, and the streusel adds a nice texture.

And not only did those muffins make a warm, comforting breakfast, but I also saved one particularly large, lusciously frosted one for dessert last night after enjoying some leftover curry.

I may not have control over much in this world. I can't stop fighting, natural disasters, or even some of the day-to-day workings of my own life.

But I can bake.

And I feel much better.


Carrot Halwa Muffins

Based on the Ginger-Carrot Muffins recipe from the Winter 2006 Baker's Catalogue, this spicy treat folds warm Indian spices into tasty carrots, bright bits of ginger, and crunchy nuts. Use all pistachios if you can find them, but almonds, cashews, or any combination of the three should work well, too.

1 3/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c oat flour (or use finely ground oats)
3/4 c Sucanat or maple sugar (Sucanat deepens the spices)
1/4 c nonfat dry milk
1/4 c milled flax seeds
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c mini diced crystallized ginger
1/4 c chopped pistachios (or almonds or cashews)
2 large eggs
1 c water
1/3 c canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
2 c grated carrots

Heat oven to 400 F. Grease or line 12 muffin cups. Set aside.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients (including ginger and nuts) in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together eggs, water, oil, and extracts, then add to dry ingredients, mixing well. Fold in carrots.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups until cups are almost full. Sprinkle with streusel (below). Bake at 400 F for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven, cool in pan 5 minutes before removing to cooling rack.

Streusel

1/4 c oats
1/4 c pistachios
2 T maple sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1 T melted butter

Grind together dry ingredients until finely chopped. Add melted butter and toss with fingers to blend. Sprinkle on top of full muffin cups. (Save leftovers for yogurt!)

Makes 12 to 14 muffins

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