July 1, 2010

Figs in the sunshine

Freshly baked muffins are wonderful in the mornings. They're especially wonderful when catered to your specific taste preferences: banana and cinnamon, carrot-raisin and cinnamon, or banana and coconut, or butternut squash, or apple, or any other number of combinations using a formula that a specific recipe for a whole wheat muffin provides. It's practically foolproof, as long as you don't overbake or overmix the batter.

My first attempt was with a classic approach, using mashed up banana and adding a touch of spice, about a teaspoon of cinnamon and a large pinch of nutmeg. You really can't go wrong with banana muffins. The second attempt was slightly more creative, with grated carrots, golden raisins, and the same mix of spices. However, the third attempt was gold. Fig purée and flaked coconut. Oh man, that's the way to start your morning. Even during a hot week, warm muffins are very much welcome. Just make yourself an iced latte and you won't mind eating a steaming muffin straight from the oven.

The idea for fig muffins was kind of a whim. After making ice cream last week (yes, it is ice cream season, even if one still wants a baked something for breakfast) with a fig purée that had previously been residing in the freezer for some time, quite a bit of the purée was leftover, which took up residency in the fridge. One morning early this week, I wanted to make another batch of the whole wheat muffins and decided that fig would make a tasty version, since there just happened to be enough for the recipe. It wanted more than just fig, though. Walnuts were my first choice, but the pesky things were hidden so well that they didn't turn up until after the muffins had been baked, which turned out to be fortunate, because then the coconut flakes came to mind. That the combination seemed a little unusual made it appealing to me, and since nothing else in the pantry would work, I went ahead with the coconut. The whim was an excellent choice. These are some of the best muffins I've had in a long time.

Both the banana and carrot versions were slightly dry, possibly due to being slightly overbaked, but the figs made a very moist, flavorful rendition. It's my favorite so far. Make sure you use unsweetened flaked coconut, which has a thicker consistency and better flavor than the shredded sweetened types.

What's nice about this recipe in general is that it calls completely for whole wheat pastry flour. The pastry flour has less gluten than whole wheat, which, in addition to a cup of mashed fruit or vegetable providing moisture, makes for a light, tender muffin that has the taste of whole wheat without being dense, heavy, or dry. Buttermilk helps with that, too.

Whole Wheat Muffins
Adapted from Mark Bittman, via The New York Times, February 2010

2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
¾ to 1 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup melted unsalted butter, plus more for greasing tins
1 cup mashed or puréed ripe banana, fig, or other fruits or
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
Optional: ½ cup chopped toasted nuts, raisins or other dried
       fruit, or flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or fill with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. If using one of the optional ingredients, stir in here.

In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, banana (or whatever you're using), egg, and buttermilk. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture, and stir until just combined. Be careful not to overmix, or the muffins will turn out rubbery.

Divide batter among muffin tins. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until muffins are puffed and turning golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack. Carefully remove muffins from pan, allow them to cool for about a minute on rack, then place in a towel lined basked to keep warm.

Makes 12 muffins.

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