It’s been baking weather lately, which means cool enough to love the side-benefit of a heated-up oven as I bustle around in the kitchen, and wintry enough that I crave warm-from-the-oven treats even more than usual. Muffins and quick breads are among my earliest kitchen projects, and the fact that they are simple and straightforward means that I had had success and was motivated to keep moving along in my kitchen adventures.I came across this copy of a postcard which was tucked into a cookbook that ended up in the give-away pile for the public library. (I have way more cookbooks than I can ever use, so I’ve become more discerning in the last few years about what needs to live here and what can be accessed via a trip to the public library or a quick online search.) I love this because my dear friend sent it to me in the mail, back in the 1980’s, when I was living in my very own apartment, teaching 7th and 8th grade English and social studies, and cooking for pleasure every weekend. I love his instruction: KEEP NEAR OVEN Good advice. I’m sharing it with you here and then using a fridge magnet to make sure it stays nearby, along with memories of a buddy who loved to cook and eat and gather friends at the table.
This kind of recipe needs only a whisk or a big spoon and a spatula, though you can use a mixer if you prefer. It’s best to beat the butter and sugar and eggs together with vigor and focus, so that they are smoothly and evenly combined. Once you’ve stirred the flour and baking powder and spices together into The Dry Ingredients, go easy. You want to make everything wet and make the dry’s disappear, but nothing more than that. No vigor at this point — it will keep your muffins tender and delicate if you mix with a light hand. And once you get the dry ingredients wet, get them in the oven ASAP so that the baking powder’s action won’t be for naught. Once it gets things rising, it wants the heat to finish the job.
I added some candied ginger to the recipe, finely chopped, just as an extra treat because I had it. It’s easy to stack up, slice into strips, and then cut crosswise into tidbits. And it’s delicious so eat any that are oddly shaped. I played around, making a batch of mini-muffins, one of muffin-muffins, and even a little side-pan of pumpkin bread. It was shallow, but if you want bread, add more and you’ll have a nice little loaf.
One could call these Pumpkin Spice Muffins, but since they pre-date Starbucks and half-caffe lattes by several decades and come from a restored 18th century bakery, I decided to stick with pumpkin muffins. They freeze well and we found that the pumpkin butter we had on hand made for a very pleasing pumpkin x pumpkin treat that was not over the top.
The spices don’t matter one bit, in terms of this one versus that one. If you love cinnamon and cardamom, add them too; and if you can’t bear nutmeg, leave it out. Brown sugar can be dark or light, and if you don’t have molasses or just want a milder flavor, use any syrup, from sorghum to maple syrup. Honey should work too, though I haven’t tried it yet. I greased one pan and used paper muffin pan liners in the other, and they both work just fine.
The recipe makes about a dozen standard-sized muffins (the recipe says large muffins but that is from a time before the gargantuan coffee-shop muffins of the 90’s changed our perception of portion size in muffin-land. You’ll get about 2 dozen mini-muffins, and they freeze wonderfully, especially if you can reheat them gently after thawing them out.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅓ cup raisins
- ¾ cup brown sugar, light or dark
- ¼ cup molasses, or sorghum, or maple syrup, or another syrup
- 2 eggs, beaten well
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- ½ cup milk
- Prepare muffin pans, greasing them well or adding paper muffin cups to each muffin location.
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Use a fork or a whisk to stir them and combine everything together evenly and well. Add the raisins and toss to coat them well. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and molasses. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, beat them together to make a smooth, creamy, gooey mixture.
- Add the eggs and pumpkin and continue beating and mixing until you have a thick, smooth and creamy mixture.
- Add the flour and spice mixture, and use a wooden spoon or a spatula to mix the flour into the pumpkin mixture. Stir and scoop gently, mixing just until the flour disappears. (Mixing flour in gently encourages tenderness in muffins).
- Bake at 375 degrees F for 16 to 18 minutes, until the muffins rise and pull away from the edges just a little. (Mini muffins bake faster so check from 12 minutes onward.)
Dark metal pans bake faster and hotter than silvery-colored pans, so be sure to check often to see how your muffins are doing. The times we give are a guide, not a commandment or a promise. Check, check, check!
Remember that mini-muffins cook faster because there is less of them to transform from batter to bread. Start checking at about 12 minutes for the smaller ones.