Another Sunday with Dorie: pumpkin muffins

Another Sunday, another muffin recipe from Dorie Greenspan. These are Dorie’s take on a pumpkin muffin, which is one of my favourite baking flavours. Tell me, why do we relegate pumpkin to a four week slot around Halloween and Thanksgiving when canned pumpkin puree is available all year round? Because let’s be honest – that’s what we’re all using in our autumn baking, anyway. Yes, I’m talking to you. I know you don’t bake and puree your own pumpkin to make that annual pie!

So we’ve got the ingredient available (even in London, where you can get it at the Canada/South Africa/New Zealand/Australia shop in Covent Garden) – let’s bring it out more often, shall we?

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Getting back to muffins, Dorie says the best pumpkin muffins are made at Sarabeth’s Bakery in New York. On Dorie’s advice, my mum visited Sarabeth’s location in the Chelsea Market on her recent NYC trip to see how the muffins stacked up. And apparently they are that good. But these are wonderful too, with a nice dense crumb and a beautiful spicy flavour, and they’ll have to do until I can get myself to Sarabeth’s in the first weekend of May. Because that’s when I’m going to New York! (Does little dance of joy at the computer because she really needs a holiday.)

Now Sarabeth’s is obviously a real bakery, making real baked goods. But I’m often alarmed at what passes for a “muffin” at many retail establishments. You know what I’m talking about – heavy, greasy cakes that are baked in muffin form but bear little resemblance to the light homemade version. And the situation is even worse in Britain than it is in North America. Most “American muffins”, as they’re called here, are just awful. I almost feel it’s my duty to introduce real muffins to the country.

Maybe we could all revolt against these unspeakable “muffin” atrocities by baking a real batch at home?

To help you on your way, here are my top tips for muffin making. There’s nothing new or revolutionary here, so I apologize if I’ve insulted your culinary intelligence. I probably have, because my readers would know a real muffin when they see one.

Muffin making tips

  1. If you want a cake-like muffin, choose a recipe with a creamed butter and sugar base. If you want a more bread-like muffin, choose a recipe that uses less sugar and a wet fat like vegetable oil or melted butter.
  2. For breakfast in a hurry, combine the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another bowl the night before. Refrigerate the wet ingredients overnight. (This won’t work if your muffin recipe calls for a creamed butter and sugar base, as it will solidify in the fridge.) Don’t be tempted to mix the entire batter the night before.
  3. Silicone muffin pans don’t need any greasing. Any other kind of pan should be greased with butter or cooking spray (including the top of the pan) or lined with paper muffin cups.
  4. The key to tender muffins is to gently fold the wet and dry ingredients together. If using an electric mixer, I often stop it as soon as I’ve added the dry ingredients and finish folding with a spatula. Joy of Baking says this should take no more than about 10 sweeps of the spoon. It’s fine if there are some lumps left in the batter – it shouldn’t be perfectly smooth or you’ve overmixed.
  5. Don’t fill the cups more than three quarters full. Any fuller and you’ll end up with flat tops, or the batter may collapse all over the pan in a gooey mess (it’s happened to me).
  6. Fill any empty muffin cups with a few tablespoons of water to protect the pan.
  7. Muffins are best eaten as soon as they’re out of the oven, but they can be reheated in a warm oven a day or two later and spread with butter. They can also be frozen for several months. Cake-like muffins tend to last longer than bread-like muffins.

Pumpkin Muffins
From Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes 12 regular sized muffins or 6 jumbo muffins

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
pinch allspice
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling!)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup plump raisins (soak in hot water first if yours seem too dried out) (optional)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
unsalted raw sunflower seeds, for sprinkling on top (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F / 200C. Grease your muffin tin or fill it with paper muffin cups (unless you’re using silicone bakeware, which needs no greasing).

In a small bowl combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each one, then add the vanilla. Lower the mixer speed and add the pumpkin and buttermilk.

With the mixer on a low speed, add the dry ingredients. To avoid overmixing, I tend to have the mixer on for only a couple of seconds when adding the dry mixture, then to turn it off before everything is completely incorporated and finish mixing by hand. Dorie recommends this too! Stir in the raisins and nuts, if using.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and sprinkle a few sunflower seeds over each muffin, if using. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean (jumbo muffins will take longer).