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.
Makes around 26 - 28 muffins.