Sunday, December 03, 2006

Crunch Time

After the intensity of last week's round of holiday baking (only the first round!), you wouldn't think I'd turn right around and bake some more. Or would you?

Well, I just couldn't help myself, especially since I didn't have anything available for breakfast. Sure, I could have made pancakes –- I'm an old hand at that –- but come a wintry weekend morning, I want to fire up the oven and bake something laden with spicy goodness.

I still had two pumpkins from the farmers' market sitting on the counter, and one had started to develop a soft spot, so I knew it was time to cut it open and cook it for use in baking. Why not muffins?

Searching through my recipe notebook, I found a recipe for Pumpkin Praline Muffins (originally from the King Arthur Flour web site) and thought I'd go ahead and make those... with, of course, the requisite "tweaks" that make baking in my kitchen such a joyful adventure. Pumpkin, spices, and a sweet crunchy pecan topping... how could I resist?

Since I had laid in a large store of local baking ingredients for the holidays, I was able to dip into them for this recipe: locally ground whole wheat flour and oats, local maple syrup, local butter and eggs, and, of course, that pumpkin. I also switched the light brown sugar in the original recipe with maple sugar, and I added ground pecans to the muffin batter.

The batter turned out a little thicker than most muffin batters I've made, but the muffins themselves turned out moist and cake-like. The quantity of streusel topping might have been a bit over the top, but I certainly wasn't going to complain!

Good pumpkin flavor enhanced by warm spices, a soft crumb contrasted by a satisfying sweet crunch... the best of all possible muffin worlds, really. I'm afraid I ended up eating three warm samples for my breakfast along with a cup of hot spice tea.

Before the holiday baking kicks into gear again, I'll have to catch up on other cooking (not to mention cleaning and other chores). But such necessary food production can feel like a sweet indulgence sometimes.

It might be crunch time, but I'm going to enjoy it!

Pumpkin Maple Praline Muffins

I printed the original recipe from the King Arthur Flour site a couple of years ago and was very happy with the results then, but in my efforts to include more local goods and to satisfy my love of pecans, I've made more than a few changes. If you don't have maple sugar, Sucanat or regular brown sugar work just fine, but try to find maple sugar: its rich, caramel flavor makes such a difference. Pair these with a cup of spiced tea or coffee, put your feet up, and enjoy a quiet morning (if you can).

3 T unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c unbleached flour
1/3 c maple sugar
1 c chopped pecans
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 c rolled oats
1/4 c pecans
1 c unbleached flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 c maple sugar
1/4 c butter, melted
1 c mashed cooked pumpkin
1/4 c maple syrup
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease muffin cups or line with muffin papers.

Make topping: Combine butter, flour, and sugar together until smooth. Stir in pecans and cinnamon. Set aside.

Grind oats and pecans together in small food processor; add to large mixing bowl. Add flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices; stir until well blended. Add maple sugar and stir to blend. Create a well in the center of the mixture.

In small food processor or blender, puree butter, pumpkin, maple syrup, egg, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture gradually and stir until all flour is incorporated.

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups. Press the topping onto the top of each muffin; use as little or as much as you like. Bake until edges pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, 20-22 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before removing from the pan.

Makes 12 muffins


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