There's something very special about summer weekend mornings away from home. For me, it's at a cottage - but depending on where you live in Canada, the spot of ultimate relaxation could be called a chalet, a camp, acreage - or a place in the country. What counts, is being out of the city, preferably by the water, breathing the proverbial fresh air and working up an appetite as your mind starts to focus on the day.
It's a time when you can give the high-fibre cereal a day off, and forget about the usual grab and go fare. Weekend mornings are the time to putter in the kitchen, make a batch of muffins, and once they're in the oven, put on a pot of coffee, pour some blueberries into bowls and sit down to visit - read the paper. Or enjoy the view.
Nobody needs to be told that muffins are popular in Canada - even though we love our doughnuts. But doughnuts are for getting in the car while muffins are about getting out an egg and milk, checking baking supplies and not worrying about getting out of your pyjamas...for a little while yet.
The recipes I've chosen to showcase weekend muffins represent two kinds of muffins - the first , the Cherry Orange Muffins, make no pretense at being earnest - just fabulous to look at, and great to serve when there's company. The Honey Bran Muffins fall into the sort-of -health-oriented with bran cereal, milk and eggs. For neither recipes do you need to be a pastry chef to succeed - or require a lot of equipment, although muffin pans are useful.*
Another point to think about as you whisk up the dry ingredients. Muffins may be the entry point into baking, i.e. easy to tackle, but in terms of appreciation and compliments, they rank right up there with fancy almond chocolate croissants. Hot from the oven with butter and honey, muffins have a knack of making most people weak in the knees - as they ask you to pass another one...or two.
Cherry Orange Muffins
This recipe is a framework with which you can indulge your talents for culinary improv. It calls for orange rind, juice and dried cherries. But, replace the cherries with blueberries, wild ones are best and they can be fresh now or frozen later and you have a whole new muffin. Ditto for dried cranberries or halved fresh or frozen cranberries, golden raisins or currants or chopped walnut or pecan halves. Or even chocolate chips if you so desire - but do call them cupcakes when you go that far.
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1 large egg
1 tbsp (15 mL) coarsely zested or grated orange rind
1/2 cup (125 mL) each orange juice and milk
1/4 cup (50 mL) canola oil
1 cup (250 mL) roughly chopped dried cherries
3 tbsp (45 mL) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) coarsely zested or grated orange rind
. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or grease; set aside.
. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
. In separate bowl, whisk the egg until smooth. Whisk in the orange rind, orange juice, milk and oil. Pour over the dry ingredients; sprinkle on the cherries
. Mix with a wooden spoon just until dry ingredients are moistened.
. Scoop into prepared muffin cups.
[caption id="attachment_429" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="An ice cream scoop, or a "disher" as it's known in restaurant kitchens, is a neat way to scoop the batter evenly into muffin cups. A #16 disher, slightly heaped, fills typical muffin cups perfectly. "]
. Topping: In a small bowl, toss the sugar and orange rind together. Sprinkle equal amounts over the muffin batter.
. Bake in the centre of 375°F (190°C) oven until beautifully domed and golden, about 18 minutes. Let rest in the pan for 5 minutes for the still-delicate structure to firm up. Serve immediately, or let cool on rack. (Make-ahead: Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or, wrap individually in plastic wrap and enclose in airtight container and freeze for up to 2 weeks.)
. Makes 12 muffins.
* Instead of muffin cups, it is possible to bake the muffin batter like a snacking cake in a 9- x 9-inch (2.5 L) square metal cake pan at the same temperature, but for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester or skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Kitchen Tip: a large navel orange yields 2 tbsp (30 mL) coarsely zested orange rind and about 1/2 cup (125 mL) orange juice. If there is not quite enough juice, simply add a bit more milk so that the liquid in the recipe totals 1 cup (250 mL).
Honey Bran Muffins
There's no doubt that muffins taste better when hot. So, if you do make muffins ahead and store them at room temperature for a day or two, reheat in a toaster oven. If the muffins come straight out of the freezer, unwrap, cover loosely and microwave on high until steaming hot, about 20 seconds.
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) 100% Bran or All-Bran cereal
1 cup (250 mL) raisins, preferably golden or Thompson, or currants
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) buttermilk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup (75 mL) canola oil
1/4 cup (50 mL) liquid honey
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
1-3/4 cups (425 mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly grated nutmeg**, or ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped walnut halves
8 walnut halves, optional
. Line 16 muffin cups with paper liners or grease; set aside.
. In medium bowl, stir together the cereal, raisins and buttermilk; set aside to soak for 15 minutes. Whisk in the eggs, oil, honey and vanilla.
. Meanwhile, in large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Pour bran mixture over dry ingredients; sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.
[caption id="attachment_441" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="The nutmeg at bottom is still wrapped in mace, a lacey covering that is a traditional spice, close to nutmeg in flavour but more delicate. You can remove the mace easily with your fingers, second from bottom. To get at the actual nutmeg, you have to remove its hard shiny shell. Set the nutmeg on a cutting board and press down gently with a small saucepan. Remove the pieces of shell to find the nutmeg, top item in the photo. This is the part you grate using a nutmeg grater, left."] Stop stirring when the last of the dry ingredients meld into the batter.
. Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling to top.
. If using walnut halves, cut in half lengthwise; centre one per muffin on muffin batter.
. Bake in centre of 375°F (190°C) oven until domed, deepened in colour and firm to the touch, about 18 minutes. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes; serve immediately or let cool on rack. (Make-ahead: Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or, wrap individually in plastic wrap and enclose in airtight container and freeze for up to 2 weeks.)
. Makes about 16 muffins.
Like all spices, nutmeg starts to lose its unique flavour as soon as it's ground or grated. To maximize nutmeg's aroma in a recipe like Honey Bran Muffins, I recommend buying whole nutmegs - sometimes still in their shells and wrapped in mace, but more often already shelled and ready to grate. A few years ago whole nutmegs were hard to find, but now they are available in Indian and West Indian shops, specialty food and bulk stores. They are worth searching out.