An Accidental Muffin

October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

As someone who has chosen a career working with books and who adores cooking, it’s hardly surprising that I have something of a penchant for cookbooks. And although I will admit (sheepishly and under duress) that I will add to my collection whether there be good cause or not, I did genuinely need to invest in a few new staples when we first moved over from the UK. Sure, this is partly because of the ubiquitousness of ingredients like self-raising flour or ground almonds in UK-authored recipes that are a pain to find here, and the reliance on sticks and cups and other previously alien measuring forms in their US counterparts, but it’s also more subtle than that. One of the things I love most about cookbooks and, indeed, food in general, is the window they provide on cultural practices and the everyday. I was pretty sure I couldn’t assimilate to life in America without a good pecan pie recipe under my belt or being able to drop the word snickerdoodle into conversation when needed. And not only did Dorie Greenspan’s acclaimed tome Baking: From My Home to Yours come to the rescue in those awkward early days, it turned out to be so helpful, accurate and reliable that it quickly became the most-used book I owned. The creamiest tartest lemon tart, dense and chewy brownies, dimpled plum cake, and the frankly sublime world peace cookies emerged one after other from the oven and were devoured. And while I didn’t quite make every recipe in the book (although there are many who have!) I felt like I had come pretty close to exhausting it.

Indeed, this recipe for allspice muffins might have been condemned to languish unnoticed in the book had I not been about to leave town and, keen to use up some eggs lest they go to waste but without time to pick up ingredients other than those already in the house, scoured my books looking for something that met my constraints. The only exotic ingredient this recipe demands is allspice and I knew I had some berries left over from a pickling spree I had been on earlier in the year. If you are in a similar pinch you could substitute a smaller amount of ground cloves, or maybe a dash of nutmeg, but I do recommend the allspice if possible. It lends a subtle warmth to the muffins without being in any way overpowering. But the allspice is really the supporting actor to the star turn played by the streusel topping. It tops off a light, open-textured bun and is simultaneously moist and crunchy. It’s downright addictive.

A concluding word on the Muffin. The pattern in which I bake these buns reflects that of the proverbial omnibus. They are absent from our kitchen for months in favour of sexier bundt cakes or chic tarts but once the drought breaks I will make batches one after the other. The reason: muffin baking is easy! No need for the stand mixer, no need for fancy ingredients or excessive washing up of multiple pots and pans. Just mix up your dry ingredients, mix up your wet ones separately, combine as lumpily as possible and bake. I even use silicone muffin cups which cuts out yet another stage as they don’t require greasing. If you are going to follow my lead with this trend, make the freezer your friend. I will leave out two or three of each batch for immediate consumption and freeze the rest, wrapped tightly in plastic film. You can defrost them overnight for instant breakfast happiness, or indulge sweet cravings by sticking them in a hot oven or microwave for a minute or so. Which I am off to do right now.

Allspice Crumb Muffins
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Yield: 12 Muffins

For the Streusel:
½ cup/60g all purpose/plain flour
½ cup (packed)/85g light brown sugar
½ tsp ground allspice
5 tablespoons/70g cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

For the Muffin Batter:

2 cups/220g all purpose/plain flour
½ cup/85g sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup (packed)/40g light brown sugar
1 stick/110g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
¾ cup/180ml whole milk
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 F/190 C. Grease your muffin pan and place it on a baking sheet or, alternatively, use silicone muffin cups and place them on the baking sheet.
If you haven’t already done so, melt the butter for the batter now so it can be cooling while you make the streusel.
To make the streusel you should combine the flour, brown sugar and allspice in a small bowl and use your fingers or a whisk to sift and blend them together. Add the bits of cold butter and toss them in the flour mixture to coat, then use your fingers to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until they resemble large breadcrumbs of irregular size. You want to try and prevent the butter from melting too much: a good trick is to use only the tips of your fingers and to crumble a little above the bowl so the mix aerates as it drops back down. Set the streusel aside in the refrigerator while you assemble the batter.
To make the batter, you should begin by taking a large bowl and whisking together the flour, sugar, baking powder, allspice and salt. Stir in the brown sugar, making sure there are no lumps. In a separate bowl, whisk the melted butter, eggs, milk and vanilla extract together until well-combined. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones and use the whisk to bring the batter together. You want to avoid overmixing so only stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated. The batter will and should be lumpy.
Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Take the streusel from the refrigerator and sprinkle some over each muffin, pressing lightly so it is slightly submerged in the batter.
Bake for around 20 minutes, until the tops of the muffins are golden and a thin knife or wooden skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pans for 5 minutes then turn out onto a rack and leave until fully cool.


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