For the people who know me, they understand the art of making and eating muffins is no light affair. I'm not sure when the obsession started, my dad could give you more information, as he is the one who introduced me to "good" muffins and how to make them.
I was blessed with a homemade breakfast almost every day of my childhood. At the time, I don't remember thinking much of it, I even remember complaining, or acting extremely unenthusiastic. Little did I know that while I was eating steaming whole-wheat pancakes with home-made honey rhubarb sauce or buttery popovers that I broke open and filled with raspberry jam or blueberry cornmeal muffins fresh out of the oven, most other children were happily crunching away on the same old cereal.
When I moved away from home for the first time to go to school in Montreal, I realized how blessed I had been to receive such gourmet treatment every day and quickly fell into deep despair over the pasty oatmeal, the soggy, sharp tasting salads and over-cooked gooey pasta served at the cafeteria. There were no muffins. I did make some by myself in the 4x4 foot kitchen in residence, but they rarely turned out and were made impatiently, with the wrong flour, coming out of the oven like little pucks, filled with holes.
Now I have acquired more patience and demand less from the world, or so I like to think, and have mastered the art of muffin making. The latest inspiration came from a bakery in Victoria called Cascadia Bakery, a small bright café, bustling with people getting morning coffee and breakfast sandwiches, or retired folk eating grilled panninis and soup with their grandchildren. It's affiliated with the infamous Rebar restaurant whose establishment was a revolutionary turning point for vegetarian cuisine on Vancouver Island. (Their book: Rebar Modern Food Cookbook can be purchased in many bookstores in North America and of course on-line.)
This past December I went to Cascadia Bakery twice with my sister Katherine. I had previously gone with my dear friend Rosanne, but since she does not hold muffins in the same esteem that I do, I knew I needed to take Kath, an (almost) equally enthusiastic muffin connoisseur. Both times it was rainning, and swinging our feet back and forth from the stools, at the window looking out on Government street, we sipped our lattés and spread raspberry jam onto the best muffins I've found in Victoria. They are perfect: with crunchy tops, a fine crumb, moist and not too sweet or buttery. My favourite is the apricot oat and more recently, pumpkin millet.
This brings me to the point of these celebratory ramblings: how to make pumpkin millet muffins. I've adapted the recipe slightly and therefore will give you my version.
First, some guidelines.
Most people don't bake. It scares them; recipes intimidate or they have no desire to follow one. But rule number one is: follow the recipe. However, in order to follow the recipe, you must have some knowledge of things to look out for: flours are different (I recommend a high quality organic flour that is locally milled so you know it hasn't been sitting on the shelf for months and months on end); do not over mix (because this will leave your muffins with gaping tunnels and the stirring activates the gluten in the flour, making them tough); and ovens vary in temperature (so you might have to play with the temperature, or know your oven well). This is why, if one is a beginner muffin maker, you must be patient. Try making them a couple of times. Even though I tell you to follow the recipe, as you try to learn what works for you, you can play with the quantities as long as you know the basics.
Pumpkin Millet Muffins
(makes 12 normal sized muffins)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 C melted butter
1 C buttermilk
3/4 C honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C pumpkin purée
2 C spelt flour*
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 C millet + extra for tops
1/4 C pumpkin seeds + extra for tops
*(You can use 1 C white + 1 C whole wheat, or substitute 1/4 C oats for 1/4 C flour. I used spelt because it is finer and gives a nicer crumb.)
1 - Preheat oven to 350 F
2 - Toast pumpkin seeds and millet in a skillet (watch them carefully, stirring occasionally because they can burn fast)
3 - Grease your muffin tins
4 - Combine eggs, butter, buttermilk, honey, vanilla and pumpkin in a bowl.
5 - Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add pumpkin and millet. Add dry to wet. With a few very fast strokes, mix together the wet and dry. The batter should be thick, but still soupy. However, as I mentioned above, this will take a while to recognize. If the batter sticks on the spoon when you hold it upside down, it's too dry; if it slides off, it's too thin. Somewhere in between is where you want to be.
6 - Fill tins and sprinkle the tops with extra pumpkin seeds and millet.
7 - Bake for around 25 minutes. Check after 20 and insert a tooth-pick. If it comes out clean then they're done. Browned tops are also a good indication that they're ready to take out.
Okay! Now, let them rest for a bit in the tins,then gently pop them out with a knife, and go for it. Highly recommended with some good jam and scrambled eggs. Coffee! or tea of course, if that's your chosen beverage.
Until next time,