There's no pumpkin in these muffins.
I bought an enormous butternut squash for another recipe, and quickly realized I had way too much. I considered making a pie, since it is officially time for the orange flesh + cinnamon + cloves + nutmeg combination. But pies are big. I wanted something smaller. And butternut squash could easily stand in for pumpkin in these fabulous little muffins.
Since I had already baked the squash, I threw the unused portion into the food processor to purée it. This makes better-than-canned pumpkin. Or baby food. Whatever. The purée was sweeter than canned pumpkin, so I reduced the sugar in the recipe by about an eighth of a cup. I also used hazelnuts instead of pecans or walnuts, because that's what I had. I toasted them in the oven before I added them to the batter, because that's how I like them.
The recipe calls for unsalted raw sunflower seeds to be sprinkled on top of the muffins just before baking. Clearly, this would make them all earthy-crunchy-granola. These are listed in the "Breakfast Sweets" section of Dorie Greenspan's Baking, and while breakfast + sweets = oxymoron, there's no point trying to healthify things now. Face it, Greenspan: a few sunflower seeds will not neutralize an entire stick of butter for breakfast.
Muffins are best eaten the day they are made. This disclaimer appears next to each muffin recipe in Baking, and in the directions of many other muffin recipes I've encountered. It's true, of course, but here's my alternate interpretation: Find something moist and delicious to spread on the muffins on Days 2 and 3. Butter is not an option, since cold butter spread on room temperature muffins creates Crumbs. Something spreadable would be perfect. Like cream cheese.
Starbucks has these pumpkin-cream cheese muffins with the glob of cream cheese built into the center of the muffin before baking. Mine were already baked, but I thought a little cream cheese icing would be perfect. Maybe with a little lemon juice to create a tart-sweet effect. I beat together some cream cheese, a few tablespoons of butter, a little powdered sugar, and some lemon juice and got the perfect spread. But my spreading attempts were not pretty.
I remembered I had some piping tools in a drawer that I never use, so I gave the vintage one of my mother's a try. I wasn't sure about putting anything with acid in a metal container, but since the Icing Debacle lasted only a few minutes, I did it anyway. So far, I haven't died. And my icing is not Metal Flavored.
My decorating skills, however, leave a lot to be desired. This is probably why the tools have stayed untouched in that drawer for ages. Yeah, I know-- chicken or egg. Anyway. The fancy star attachment did not magically create starry designs on my muffins. I thought it might be because my muffins have pointy tops, so I tried cutting off a muffin top and putting the icing on the now-flat surface. But, as everyone who watches Seinfeld knows, the muffin tops are the best part. So I put it back on. Somehow, I don't think that's what Elaine meant.
Many thanks to Kahori of Chuzai Living for telling me about Picasa and its nifty collage feature. Plus, I went to see the Picasso exhibit at the de Young museum last weekend. That guy had some issues. But he also had that whole collage thing down pat.
Pumpkin Spice Muffins
adapted from Baking: From my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan
makes 12 muffins
2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg (I used just a pinch)
a pinch of ground allspice (I used 1/4 tsp)
1 stick (8 TBSP) butter, at room temperature
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 C packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 C canned unsweetened pumpkin
1/4 C buttermilk (I used 2% milk with about a teaspoon of lemon juice mixed in; let stand for 10 mins)
1/2 C raisins
1/2 C chopped pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts (try them toasted first!)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray. If you use paper cups, spray the insides so they release the muffins instead of tearing off half your muffin.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.
3. Beat the butter at medium speed until soft. Add sugars and beat until light and smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla. Mix in the pumpkin and buttermilk at low speed.
3. Mix in the dry ingredients at low speed only until incorporated. 'Tis better to use a rubber spatula to mix in the last bits than to over-mix! Stir in the nuts and raisins with said rubber spatula.
4. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
5. Cool muffins in the tin on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and cool completely on rack.
* For the icing, I used Greenspan's recipe for cream cheese icing for a carrot cake. It calls for a stick of butter, 8 oz of cream cheese, a pound of powdered sugar, and a tablespoon of lemon juice. I made a much smaller quantity, of course, but tried to keep the proportions in the same ballpark, except for the lemon juice, which I used lots of. Because that's how I like it.