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Apple Nut Spice Muffin recipe


Ahhh, fall. Here in Washington state, where even the intra-college football rivalry pays homage to fall fruit with the Apple Cup, autumn means apples. As the berries fade to memory, apples step into the void, offering one last chance to capture that ineffable summerness of local fresh fruit before the edge in the air get seriously cold.

One of my favorite fall appleThings is muffins. Quick and simple to make, they are multi-purpose, fitting for everything from breakfast pastry to late-night snack for munching during the Daily Show. Sprinkle a little extra cinnamon sugar on them and it's almost dessert; add a bit of ice cream or a drizzle of liqueur--or both--and it truly is.

This recipe is adapted from one in Treasured Recipes of Country Inns, a slim volume from the early 1970s, back before regional collections of "inn food" and "best places" were ubiquitous. It's a book that's had a spot on my cookbook shelves since I had my very first kitchen, also way back in the '70s.

Apple Nut Spice Muffins (version 2.07.05.WedEvening, a work in progress)
Combine in mixing bowl:
     1/2 cup melted butter
     1 cup milk
     2 eggs, lightly beaten
Combine in another bowl:
     2 cups AP flour
     1 cup sugar
     1 tbsp baking powder
     1 tsp salt (table-sized grains, not huge kosher/sea salt flakes)
     1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
     1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
     1/4 tsp allspice

Measure and set aside:
     3/4-1 cup ground nuts (this is a substitute for some of the flour so it needs to be ground, not chopped) I used almonds this time because it was what was on hand, but I've used walnuts, pecans, and mixtures with success.

Peel and grate or dice:
     2-3 medium tart cooking apples (I used 4, which was just too much. You can use any baking apple you like, whatever is local and tasty; I had Granny Smiths so used them.)

Mixing is easy, my method goes like this:

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Melt butter in microwave in medium pyrex mixing bowl (it's large enough for everything to fit)
  3. Add milk and whisk lightly, then add eggs and whisk until combined. (Yes, there is a reason to do this as two steps--it helps the butter cool enough to mix the egg in without cooking it)
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet. I usually sift it through the hand-held strainer I use for all my sifting needs. It gets rid of the lumps, distributes the ingredients into the flour and aerates everything so that it mixes in quickly--which is important to minimize gluten development and keep the muffins tender.
  5. Give it a few gentle strokes with an oversized fork until mostly combined, then add apples and nuts and finish mixing with just a few more strokes of a spatula.
  6. Put in buttered muffin tins or small pans and bake about 25-35 minutes (depending on the size of pan and whether it's preheated like the cast iron) until top springs back when  gently pressed.
  7. Let cool 5-10 minutes and turn out of pans onto racks to finish cooling.
  8. Once cool, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

This is a double recipe, and I increased the amount of apples, added some ground nuts and spices, baked some of it as mini-coffeecakes (big enough for 2-4 servings) in my favorite oval cast iron pans--the ones I use for corn bread--and some as muffins. The cast iron pans were preheated and I put it a teaspoon or so of butter in each of them just before I added the batter to the hot pans. I love this as a method of baking quick breads--it's somewhat like having a wrap-around pizza stone and helps with that critical first few minutes of oven spring (even if non-yeasted breads don't really have oven spring) and also gives baked goods this great, slightly crispier than usual crust.

Next time, I am using less apples, along with more nuts and spices. I am also thinking about reworking the sugar--maybe reducing it a bit, swapping some white for brown and/or honey--but this also depends on the type of apple used. In this case, I had Granny Smiths handy and they were pretty tart so I used the full amount of sugar but you should adjust based on your apples.

As you can see, this is a fairly adaptable recipe. It works with fruit like pears with no major adjustments and even wetter fruit like berries and plums just needs a little more flour or baking time. It's been forgiving of my experiments over the years; at this point I can tell how it's coming together based on the feel of the batter. I am hoping to see Shauna create a gluten-free version--maybe with rice flour (it doesn't have gluten, does it?) and lots more nuts.

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