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Versatile Muffins

By Anne L. Desjardins

My husband is not too fond of muffins. He contends that nine times out of 10 they are imposters: either they mimic cupcakes and are too sweet and loaded with bad trans fats; or they are more on the healthy side and, in that case, he says, they look (and taste) like hockey pucks or like animal feed. Mind you, he is the one behind this August food column on muffins. “Why don’t you try to prove me wrong and convince me and probably many readers too, that there is a breed of muffins that I would love and be eager to bring along on our next paddling session?” So I took him up to the challenge. Because I love muffins. Not the commercial version that’s more or less a cheap individual cake; but the real thing.

Muffins are among the most versatile of foods: they adapt to your taste and humor, they can be a treat for breakfast, a complement to a sturdy lunch, a mid-afternoon or post workout snack or, even, a healthy dessert, when accompanied with berries and – why not – ice cream.

Rich history
Historically, muffins deserve respect. They’ve been around since the 11th century, originating in England. The term is derived from the French word moufflet, which means “soft bread”. But don’t mistake our muffin with the British version, the famous English muffin, made wildly popular in America through the egg McMuffin. Those are made with flour, yeast and milk and are a type of bread more than our North American muffin, which resembles a cake and uses baking powder and soda powder instead of yeast. Some historians also claim that the origin of the American-type muffin is linked to Germany, where the word “muffe” means cake.

The health conscious muffin
Nevertheless, recipes of the latter come in two distinct styles: one resembles a cake and the other is more like a loaf and looks more like bread. The first one contains more butter and flour and uses the same technique as for a cake batter (creaming butter and sugar together with an electric mixer, than adding the eggs one by one and mixing by alternating the dry and liquid ingredients). The loaf-like, though, is more health-conscious, with good mono or polyunsaturated oils instead of butter, a higher fiber content (whole wheat flour, nuts, berries) and much less sugar. The method for the preparation of the batter is simpler too. They can be assembled and cooked within 30 minutes using only two bowls, one for the dry ingredients and the other for wet ingredients that, ultimately, are mixed together.

The result is slightly different in the sense that they are more seen as a filling snack or a good breakfast item than as a dessert. Of course, those bread-like muffins are my favorites because I like to think that food can be good quality fuel, a bone and muscle builder, as well as a delicious treat.

Although they are not meant to be cooked during a paddling trip using the typical camp cooking arsenal, I carry muffins on any paddling trip that is 24 to 72 hours long because they are very easy to eat on the go and can be used almost as meal replacement if made with the right ingredients. But let’s admit that the fresher the better… They can also be created in a salted version, using cheese or some meat. But in that case, they absolutely need to be refrigerated at all times to avoid food poisoning.

Basic Do’s and Don’ts about muffins

  • Chose some ingredients that will make your muffins burst with flavors: citrus zests, berries, dry herbs, dry fruit such as apricots, figs, cranberries; cornmeal for a pleasant natural sweet taste and crunchy texture, peanut butter or buttermilk for extra moisture, nuts, cheddar cheese or bacon for proteins.

  • If you use frozen berries, add them at the very last minute and make sure that they remain frozen to avoid discoloration and a mushy texture in the batter.

  • Don’t over-mix the bread-like muffin batter. This is a recipe for disaster because it gives a chance to gluten to develop, which makes for a muffin that resembles hockey pucks. So when you assemble dry and wet ingredients mix them as little as possible, just to combine them, and without trying to remove lumps or get a creamy texture.

  • If you want your muffins to cook evenly, make sure not to overfill the muffin molds. Cups should not be filled more than one half to two thirds.

  • Always place the muffins in the center of the oven and avoid overcooking, because muffins tend to become tough easily. And don’t let them sit in the mold on the kitchen counter top more then 5-10 minutes once cooked because they might stick to the pan.

Recipes

Orange-chocolate-coffee and hazelnuts muffins

    Liquid ingredients:
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup of liquid espresso coffee, cooled
  • 3/4 cup organic canola oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh orange rinds

    Dry ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp soda powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped dry apricots
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
In one large bowl, combine all liquid ingredients and whisk until well blended.

In another large bowl, mix all dry ingredients and make sure that nuts, chocolate chips and apricots are evenly distributed.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray 12 medium size muffin cups with a non-stick cooking spray. Fold in the liquid ingredients in the dry ingredients and mix gently, just to combine. Do not over-mix. The batter has to remain lumpy. Fill the muffin cups to two thirds with an ice cream scoop. Place in the center of the oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes on a rack before removing from the molds.


Corn-cheddar-herbs and bacon muffins

    Liquid ingredients:
  • 1 - 14 oz can creamed corn
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup yellow cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup organic safflower oil

    Dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1 / 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tbsp real bacon bits (such as Hormel)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp dry chive
  • 2 tsp dry parsley
  • 1 tsp dry marjoram
  • Black pepper to taste
In one large bowl, combine all liquid ingredients and whisk until well blended.

In another large bowl, mix all dry ingredients and make sure that bacon and herbs are evenly combined.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray 12 medium size muffin cups with a non-stick cooking spray. Fold in the liquid ingredients in the dry ingredients and mix gently, just to combine. Do not over-mix. The batter has to remain lumpy. Fill the muffin cups to two thirds with an ice cream scoop. Place in the center of the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes on a rack before removing from the molds.


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