Pumpkin and Autumn

It’s autumn — the beginning of the holiday season here in the US as we count-down to our Thanksgiving Day on the 23rd, and Black Friday —the day after.

Some just-out-of-the-oven pumpkin muffins served with a mug of spiced apple cider will warm things up nicely, using seasonal foods. I tweaked a recipe printed on an ad insert for something health-related that I received in the mail. The original recipe included whole grains and seeds, but my husband, for whom I make these, won’t eat that sort of thing.  The oats, which were my addition in place of the whole grains and seeds, aren’t so obvious after the muffins are baked.

I don’t know where the original recipe on that little slip of paper has got to.


Pumpkin Muffins

1/4 cup oatmeal (quick or old-fashioned, not instant)

1/4 cup milk (whole or 2%)

2 cups flour (whole wheat or all-purpose)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 (15-ounce) can solid pumpkin (not pie filling)

1/4 cup honey

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt

3 tablespoons canola oil

Up to 1 cup dried fruit, nuts, etc., if desired, chopped

1. Soften oatmeal with milk in large bowl for half an hour. Preheat oven to 375°F (191°C). Grease 12-18 muffin cups; if using paper cups, grease as well.

2. Sift or whisk together in medium bowl flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, salt, and brown sugar. When oatmeal is softened, add honey, eggs, yogurt, and oil. Mix well.  Stir in flour just until incorporated.  Gently fold in fruit and nuts.

3. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out with a few crumbs. Tip out of pans onto wire racks; eat warm or at room temperature.

–Muffins will keep, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days. I usually keep out four or so and freeze the rest by putting them on a baking sheet; freeze for an hour, then wrap in plastic wrap and store in freezer bags, or plastic-wrap lined storage container with air-tight lid.


Bake Appeal

I was very young when I became interested in baking. Cooking, not so much. In the past several years, with the emergence of televised über-chefs and the home-cooking craze, I have become more inclined to upgrade my usual (read that boring) dishes with some gourmet touches. Such as using more herbs, or some combinations I may not have thought of before.

Still, I prefer the science of baking. The precision. The ingredients. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs — I get a warm feeling inside when I think of these things. Some people like puppies, some like motorcycles. I like a good large egg, and a perfectly measured cup of flour, topped neatly with a straight spatula. Packing brown sugar, creaming butter, whipping egg whites to a glossy sheen—these things give me a thrill. Scraping vanilla beans—ah! There’s nothing like the aroma of cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, lemons zested! Nuts toasting in a skillet, permeating the air with an earthy warmth. Yeast bread rising, adding a peculiarly homey aroma to the ménage.

I love to chop nuts, and fruits; set raisins to plump in warm water spiked with a little rum; to sip a bit of brandy while I “measure” it for chocolate truffles. Sifting, stirring, beating, whisking: the music and rhythm of the baking kitchen is my niche.

Searing beef or steaming vegetables just doesn’t do the same thing for me—although the browned, caramelized crust on a roast ready for the oven, the gentle crispness of a perfectly cooked vegetable, does make me want to pull up a plate. I like to make Hollandaise, and dark gravy, as well as to eat these sauces with vegetables and meats. Mixing smooth creamy bases for soufflés or a gratin; I like the combination of ingredients. Butter, flour, eggs. . .

In short, I love the elaboration of the measuring, mincing, mixing; the science of baking soda and baking powder and eggs used to lighten; the denseness from sour cream, the short flakiness of butter, the perfect layering from shortening. It isn’t the actual baking, or forming the cookies (tedious, to say the least) or decorating I love—it’s the combination of ingredients which fuse and form a complete change to produce those fantastic pastries and desserts for others to enjoy without a thought of what went into them.