November 21, 2010

Hello, winter

Winter kind of crept up on us this year. October was warm and felt like an extension of summer, there were a couple of gorgeous fall weeks early this month that just breezed by, and then wham, the rain hits, winter is full on, and Thanksgiving is only a few days away. The cooler temperatures are welcome, especially with cozy fires and homemade soups, but I miss the balmy days already, and a drop from eighty degrees down to fifty in just a week is jarring. It makes one feel so unprepared and almost unable to enjoy the season, which is a travesty, because I love this time of year.

Fortunately, during one of those weeks, I managed to capture the fleeting colors of the sunset maple in the front yard. It's one of those types of trees that blazes into a crimson flame with the first puff of an autumn breeze and then litters the grass with a fading remnant of that color almost as quickly. I like the leaves in their somewhat faded state, as they shimmer in the breeze, before they really start to blanket the lawn. They look mellow and rich and golden and crisp, words that capture much of what I adore about the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and those surrounding the holidays. There are still quite a few leaves hanging on to that tree. It seems they are just as unwilling to relinquish their hold on the fall as I am.

And those favored words? Mellow fires in the evenings, rich foods one can only stomach when the air is chill, golden afternoons that beckon for a stroll, the crisp air on the clear days, the crisp bite of a juicy apple.

And so, with golden leaves in mind comes golden muffins, flecked with spices and toasty walnuts, a warm welcome on a chilly morning. Sweet potatoes, one of my favorite foods, are so versatile. Mash them, purée them into a soup, roast them till their edges crisp, use them in a sweet or savory dish, red-skinned sweet potatoes, what some people call yams, are a kitchen workhorse. Not in the same sense that onions are, which, you know, flavor much in the savory side of the kitchen, but more in the sense that you can create all sorts of things with them as the star ingredient, like muffins, for instance.

These muffins are flavorful, light, and moist, just as they should be. Quick bread batter (under which category muffins fall), especially something like pumpkin bread, on which this recipe is based, should not bake into a dense, chewy loaf. The method of mixing the ingredients together ensures this. If your muffins come out rubbery, most likely the batter has been overmixed. A careful folding of the dry into the wet until both components are just barely mixed together is what's needed, not a thorough stirring. Any quick bread with a batter as its base should benefit from this method.

Although I'm partial to one warm from the oven, they're just as appealing the next day. If you're on the receiving line of visitors this week, this is a recipe that will feed a small crowd, preferably for breakfast. Or, if you're a visitor, a basket of these may be a welcome sight to your hosts as a way to help feed that crowd one morning. Whatever you do, please share and relish the sweet potato's versatility. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Sweet Potato Muffins
Adapted from an old recipe for pumpkin bread, from an unknown source

To make the sweet potato purée, peel a pound of red-skinned sweet pototoes, dice into ½-inch pieces, place in a medium saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until tender enough to mash. Drain all but a couple of teaspoons worth of the water and mash with a potato masher. Let cool, then chill until ready to use.

3 ⅓ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 ¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
⅓ cup unsalted butter, softenend
⅓ cup safflower oil
2 ⅔ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
16 oz puréed sweet potato
⅔ cup water

Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir in walnuts.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, oil, and sugar with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated. Add sweet potato, then water, and mix until combined. Carefully fold in dry ingredients until just blended. There will be some lumps.  

Fill muffin tins ¾-cup full, then bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for a few minutes, then turn muffins out of pan onto rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter, oiling muffin pan between batches.

Muffins will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Makes around 26 - 28 muffins.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very poetic post - it captures much about the season that I enjoy as well. These muffins remind me a little of pumpkin bread, with flavors that appeal to my taste this time of year. I think that photo at the beginning of the post is great! -- Michael