Gingerbread Maple Muffins

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I looked at my calendar this morning and realized the Christmas countdown has officially begun. Two weeks from today! Are you ready? I have good years and bad years in terms of Christmas preparedness – some years I have my shopping done well before Black Friday; other years, not so much.  Last year I had 200 Christmas cards stamped, addressed, and ready to go out on December 1st, yet somehow I found myself at the mall on Christmas Eve with quite a few people left on my list. This year, I’m not even sending cards, but my shopping is complete and everything is wrapped and under the tree. Some presents even have personalized wrapping paper (because I couldn’t pass up the Minted sale entirely). All that’s left to do is bake a few hostess gifts – and come up with an idea for the cookie exchange I’m going to on Monday. And while I probably should be working on those two projects, I saw these muffins on Instagram the other day and decided I should probably make them instead.

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I just started to write the sentence “I’m not really a gingerbread fan, except for…” and then listed quite a few things – so perhaps I’m a bigger gingerbread fan than I once thought.  Gingerbread lattes are one of my favorite things about the holiday season, although I’m only allowed to get one per week (have you seen the calories?) – so a one-pump-gingerbread Americano is my almost-as-delightful alternative. I also really love gingerbread biscotti. Outside of Starbucks, though, I don’t normally get too excited about gingerbread. My mom usually makes it for dessert on Christmas night, and it’s delicious and festive, but I always thought once a year was enough for me. However, when these muffins popped up on my Instagram feed last week, I wondered if there might be a place for gingerbread beyond Starbucks syrup.

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The answer is yes. These muffins are light and airy, not too sweet, and not too spicy – the perfect treat for a cold and rainy December day. They also couldn’t be easier to make – I had them in the oven less than ten minutes after I confirmed I had all the ingredients on hand, and out of the oven twenty minutes later. Which means that in half an hour you can bake a delicious homemade treat and make your house smell amazing and Christmas-y. Incidentally, they would also be perfect for hostess gifts – as muffins or as adorable mini loaves (and they’re a lot easier than the homemade marshmallows I’ve been eyeing). So no matter how on top of your Christmas prep you may or may not be, these muffins are a great way to get you in the spirit – and possibly a way to cross something off your to-do list at the same time.  Happy Baking!

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Muffins, previously: blueberry, pumpkin, pear hazelnut, carrot zucchini

Gingerbread Maple Muffins, from How Sweet It Is

Yield: 12-16 muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup milk
turbinado sugar for topping

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with liners (or spray with PAM for baking). In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, baking pwoder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and egg. Once combined, whisk in the molasses, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Stir in the melted butter until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined – do not overmix! Before the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, stir in the milk until you have a smooth batter.

Scoop the batter into the muffin tins, filling them up about 3/4 of the way full. Top each with a generous sprinkle of turbinado sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the muffin tops are golden brown and fully set.

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Carrot Zucchini Muffins

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I splurged on a carrot zucchini muffin at a coffee shop a couple weeks ago and have been fighting the urge to get another one every day since. That’s the problem with treating yourself, I find – once you start, it’s so hard to stop. This particular carrot zucchini muffin appeared wholesome, but it tasted enough like carrot cake that I knew it couldn’t become a regular indulgence.  In my defense, it didn’t have frosting….but it was the size of a large grapefruit, so truly there was no way to rationalize it.

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Since I was still craving them despite my internal pep talk every morning (“no, you don’t want that giant, sugary muffin – just order your coffee, get out of here, and go home and make a green smoothie”), I decided to try a healthier (and smaller) version at home. I did a quick google search, found a few recipes that looked good, and got to work. And by “work,” I mean, I used raw cane sugar rather than granulated, coconut oil rather than butter, and a lot more carrot and zucchini than the recipe called for. So work might be a strong word, but I did tweak the recipe a bit.

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The recipe calls for just a cup of carrot and a cup of zucchini – I found that one small zucchini yielded well over a cup, but what was I going to do with extra grated zucchini? so I threw it all in. Same with the carrots – one wasn’t enough, but two was too much – I saved some of my carrot gratings to snack on but all in all I think I put in over three cups of veggies when the recipe called for a total of two. As I think you can see from the photos, it definitely looks like way too much – when you add the carrot and zucchini to the wet ingredients you’ll think you messed something up – but somehow once you add the dry ingredients it turns into batter (albeit, a very veggie-heavy batter).

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You can top these muffins with anything you want, or nothing at all. My coffee shop muffin of course had a delicious crumble on top – I made these for the first time with just chopped pecans on top, but then when I made them a second time I got a little fancier and tossed the pecans with a little cane sugar, cinnamon, and coconut oil. Next time I might add a few oats just for fun. But they’d be fine plain too.  I would really recommend doubling this recipe, as one batch won’t get you very far.  It’s so much easier to rationalize eating them when they’re tiny and healthy – even easier in mini-muffin form (and when you eat a mini it really doesn’t count).

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Carrot Zucchini Muffins (adapted from Gimme Some Oven)

Yield: 12 regular or 24 mini muffins

Ingredients:

1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar or turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) coconut oil, melted
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated zucchini (approx. one small-medium)
1 cup grated carrot (approx. one very large or two small-medium)
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, optional
1/2 cup all-purpose flour*
1/2 cup whole wheat flour* (I used whole wheat pastry flour, but regular should be fine)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

*or any combination of flours you want to total one cup. The original recipe called for one cup of white whole wheat flour, which I didn’t have on hand so I just used half white and half whole wheat.  I think a little almond flour and/or oat flour would be really good here too.

Directions: 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Line your muffin pan with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray (I would recommend “PAM for baking” as the muffins tended to stick to the liners – the PAM made your muffin pan look a lot less pretty but the muffins popped right out).

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, egg, and salt.  Add in veggies and nuts (if using) and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine.  Fill muffin tins about 2/3 full.  Top with extra nuts if you’d like.

Bake 20-25 minutes for regular muffins, 10-15 minutes for mini.  Muffins are done when the tops are nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into a muffin in the center of the pan comes out clean. Let them cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

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Friday Faves

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{homemade muffins + pretty bouquet}

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s been gray and rainy here all week, and I’ve had a nasty cold, so I’m extra ready for the weekend. What are your plans? I made two delicious recipes this week for the blog but didn’t manage to post either of them, so I might work on that.  My cousin delivered a baby girl in Edinburgh an hour ago, so I get to go pick out a little something tiny and pink to send over to Scotland. Movie date to finally go see The Wolf of Wall Street tomorrow night (should we even bother?)….. and of course, games three and four of the Portland/Houston series tonight and Sunday. I’m predicting the Blazers sweep!

Some fun links and photos to help you make it to 5 pm:

  • How to wear bronzer (I have a tendency to overdo it so this is helpful!)
  • This article reminded me of my grandpa
  • I might need to try these asap (as I’ve recently rediscovered my love for Nutella)
  • Happy (belated) birthday, Suri
  • Love this new Tumblr!  (My friend Jessie just bought that LK Bennett dress and she spilled a cup of tea on it and it’s ruined, how sad is that?)

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{all new products for my over-processed hair}

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{I told you I wanted these!}

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{mid-cookie-baking snack}

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{weekly baby nephew purchases – t minus three months!! Sleeper, teether, rattle, blanket}

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{the back is the cutest part!}

Whole Grain Pear Hazelnut Muffins

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This cookbook has been all over my favorite food blogs of late, so I ordered it despite the fact that my breakfast typically consists of a green smoothie (or a Starbucks bagel on the too-common occasion that I’m out of a green smoothie ingredient). So far I’ve made the whole grain pancake mix, the blueberry breakfast bars, and these muffins. I’ve given the pancake mix as birthday and hostess gifts, and it’s been a hit. I made the blueberry bars when I spent the night with my friend Kyle and her picky toddler year old last week – Ellie gobbled them up, but Kyle and I decided that, while delicious, they seemed more like dessert than breakfast.  Next on my list of recipes to try: Bacon and Kale Polenta Squares (hold the bacon), Strawberry Oat Breakfast Crisp (although I suspect it, like the blueberry bars, might also be better suited as dessert), and Zucchini Farro Cakes – YUM.  And of course variations of this granola.  These muffins, though, are a definite win – you can do them ahead of time, and they really do feel healthy – the perfect breakfast treat.

My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago, at the age of 94. He spent the last few days of his life in the hospital, which was not the way he would have wanted to go, but he received such wonderful care from the doctors and nurses that we were all glad he was there. I wanted to do something nice for the nursing staff as a thank you and had planned to bake these cookies, but my cousin Christina (a nurse herself) suggested bringing in something healthier, as nurses get a lot of cookies.  I had seen these muffins on a couple blogs, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to try them.

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I love the idea of cooking with whole grains – especially oats – and the pears make the muffins incredibly moist and dense without being too heavy. Sara from Sprouted Kitchen suggests a way to make them gluten free; Deb from Smitten Kitchen suggests you add chocolate, which they definitely don’t need, but I would imagine would be delicious.   Point being, you can swap out ingredients or doctor them up any way you like. I loved the pears but you could definitely use apples too.

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It looks like a lot of bowls (and it is), but it’s really only the dry ingredients and the wet, combined with my tendency to make a mess in the kitchen and dirty more bowls than necessary. Deb includes suggestions to “streamline the recipe” (use fewer bowls) for anyone that doesn’t have the luxury of a dishwasher.

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You could chop the nuts in a food processor, but I was worried they would get ground up too finely so I used a ziplock bag and my go-to crushing utensil, a bottle of wine. I also ate a lot of hazelnuts in the process, yum.

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Pear-Hazelnut Oat Muffins, from Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon (she’s a Seattle gal so I’m extra happy to support her!)

Makes 12 standard muffins (and maybe a few more)

3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 firm medium pears, such as Bartlett (you want them firm so they don’t get too mushy when you grate them)
2/3 cup natural cane sugar, such as turbinado
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan (I’m going to try coconut oil next time)
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin, or line with papers.

In a bowl, combine the oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

Peel and core the pears, then grate them into a bowl using the large holes of a box grater (or the grater attachment of your food processor). You should end up with about 1 cup of shredded pear [Note: I doubled the recipe so grated four pears, and ended up with about four cups of grated pear, unpacked – I dumped them all into my batter and the muffins turned out fine. Just in case you were worried about ending up with too much grated pear].

Put the sugar in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the butter to the sugar and stir until well combined. Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and pear until you have what resembles a loose batter. Add the flour mixture and fold it in gently. Reserve 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts to sprinkle on top of the muffins; stir the other 1/2 cup into the batter. Be careful not to overmix.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top with batter, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup hazelnuts. Put the muffins in the oven and immediately decrease the heat to 375 F. Bake until the tops are golden brown and feel firm to the touch, even in the center, 25-27 minutes (they might look done before they really are – the tops will brown before the fruit-filled centers are cooked through).

Let the muffins cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Muffins will keep in an airtight container for up to two days; they also freeze well.

All wrapped up for Grandpa's nurses, along with boxes of See's chocolates, his favorite

All wrapped up for Grandpa’s nurses, along with boxes of See’s chocolates – his favorite

My Favorite Pumpkin Muffins

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Today I’m excited to share one of my all-time favorite recipes, not just in the pumpkin category, but overall. I think these muffins technically originated from my mom’s friend Colleen, who is an amazing cook, but she passed them on to my aunt Nancy, and she to my aunt Char, who makes them a lot – so I’m going to credit all three of them. I have a weak spot for any of the Williams-Somoma “novelty” cake and cupcake/muffin pans – flower cupcakes, a giant cupcake-shaped cake, ice cream cone shaped cupcakes, a bundt cake pan shaped like a football stadium (for Apple Cup, obviously), etc. So of course I have both a giant pumpkin cake pan and a pumpkin muffin tin. Because food should look like what it tastes like, right?

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If you’ve ever used the Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread/muffin mix, you know that it’s really good. As in, “why would I ever make these from scratch?” good. These are better though, and worth the slight increase in effort. The recipe is delicious as is, but I usually try to make at least a couple “healthy-ish” substitutions – half whole wheat flour along with half white, and half brown sugar with half white (such a sacrifice, I know).  You can also cut the sugar down to 1-1.5 cups (see comment from my friend Yoona, who knows her stuff).  I usually use coconut oil in lieu of butter, although of course today I was out.  Funny story, the first time I made these I misread the recipe to read “two cans” of pumpkin rather than “two cups,” and then apparently never bothered to read the recipe again, so for years I made them with double the pumpkin – and guess what, they were really good (although the tops never quite got crusty like they were supposed to). But point being, you can’t really mess these up.

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If you want to use all white sugar, I won’t tell – but a little brown seems almost healthy, doesn’t it?

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Just whisk your eggs and add pumpkin and butter (or oil).

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Add dry ingredients…..

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…..and fill your muffin tins. Voilá. Took me all of five minutes, and they made my apartment smell so good! Now I just need to get them out of my house. Note: I just made this batch plain, but they’re delicious with walnuts, and really yummy with chocolate chips as well (albeit harder to pass off as healthy). See, I wasn’t kidding when I said I was really excited for pumpkin season!

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Pumpkin Muffins
makes 18-20 muffins

Cooking spray (ideally PAM for baking)
4 large eggs
1 cup butter, melted (or try coconut oil)
2 cups pumpkin purée (approx. one 15.5 ounce can)
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (or gluten free, or half whole wheat)
2 cups sugar, all white or half white and half brown
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted (make sure to sift or the little clumps will taste yucky)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts or chocolate chips, optional

Whisk eggs well, add melted butter and pumpkin, and stir until well combined. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Add walnuts or chocolate chips, if using. Pour into greased muffin tins (extra greased if using a pumpkin shaped tin like mine or else it’s hard to get them out of the tin cleanly). Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until tops are browned and a toothpick inserted in a middle-of-the-tin muffin comes out clean.