When did pumpkin become a thing? When I was younger, we had pumpkin once a year. On Thanksgiving. In a pie. That was it. It was served after the largest, richest meal of the year, one that tested the limits of our stomach walls. I was so full on stuffing and mashed potatoes that eating a soggy pumpkin pie seemed a bit, shall we say, anticlimactic.
Nowadays, this whole season is all about the pumpkin. Unless you’re a hermit, or perhaps have been spending the past several weeks travelling in the tropics or North Korea, you know it’s pumpkin time. They’re everywhere. If you happen to shop, it’s unavoidable. There are the traditional items: the seeds, pies and canned pumpkin, of course. Add to that cookies, cereals, ravioli, ales, waffles, you name it. It’s pumpkinpalooza! I questioned my judgment when I thought to write about pumpkin muffins—surely people will have had enough. They might be sick to death of all things orange, round and squash, and wishing for some green or red items (they’ll be here soon enough, don’t worry).
Even if you’re not a pumpkin fan, I don’t know if it’s possible to make it through the season without having some interaction with the big orange gourd. Getting through the grocery store is like a real-life Pac-Man adventure, only instead of avoiding a big disembodied yellow head with a gaping mouth, it’s a big disembodied orange head with a gaping mouth. Sometimes it’s even accompanied by a witch or spiders, just to make the peril more substantial.
I didn’t develop a taste for pumpkin until I was inundated with it every autumn. I don’t know about you, but I buy into the hype. When I nibble on a pumpkin muffin, warm and crumbly, it soothes me. There really is something about those pumpkin pie spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, that tastes just right on a dismal autumn day, with either a cup of coffee or tea (or should I say a pumpkin latte or a pumpkin chai?).
I made several versions of these muffins, trying to find that just-right combination of pumpkin, spices, and add-ins. Some were too pumpkin-y for my taste—despite the sugar, they tasted like squash muffins. Not the best flavor, to be honest. If I’m going to eat what amounts to a piece of cake, it had better be worth its caloric weight in deliciousness. Some flavors didn’t mesh, despite my daughter’s opinion that chocolate improves any dish. I usually agree, but not this time.
I decided on a make-your-own-pumpkin-muffin. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes in a muffin—some prefer chocolate, some raisins, and some no bits at all (or maybe that’s just my family…). I found a good basic batter, and it can be varied to your taste. You can even split it up if you prefer, and make some with spices, raisins and nuts for your neighbor, while making some with chocolate chips and no spices for yourself.
If you plan to use nuts, and you have the time, it’s nice to roast them before you use them in cooking—the roasting brings out their flavor and improves their texture, so they can withstand the cooking process without becoming mushy. I toast mine in the toaster oven for about five minutes. Remove them right away, and transfer them to a plate so they don’t burn.
As far as pumpkin pie spice goes, I prefer to make my own. I use half cinnamon, and the other half a combination of mostly ginger and cloves with some freshly grated nutmeg. I enjoy the interplay of the spices, but nutmeg can be overpowering, so I tend to not use too much of it. I’m also a fan of Alton Brown so I buy whole nutmeg seeds and grate them as I need them—I love the flavor.
So get baking, before the elves and trees evict the pumpkins, and those warm, spicy pumpkin muffins become another autumn memory.
Pumpkin Muffins Your Way
Pumpkin Muffin Batter
1 Cup white sugar
1 Cup brown sugar
1 Can pumpkin puree (or two cups fresh cooked)
¾ Cup vegetable oil
3 Cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
Add the following only if you are not planning to use chocolate chips
2 tsp. cinnamon and/or pumpkin pie spice
Add-Ins (for a total of 2 cups)
Tart apple, peeled, cored and chopped small
Chocolate chips (for best results, do not use with pumpkin pie spice)
Topping/Filling (not for the chocolate version)
6 Tbsp. wheat germ
4 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. butter
¼ tsp. cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice)
¼ tsp. combination of ginger, cloves and nutmeg (or pumpkin pie spice)
Preheat oven to 400˚. Prepare muffin tins—either grease or use muffin cups.
Mix eggs and sugars until smooth. Add pumpkin and oil. Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt (and spices, if you’re not using chocolate). Add dry ingredients to wet. Fold in add-ins, if using.
Can use the topping as a filling also—fill muffin cups just to cover bottom of cup. Add teaspoon of topping. Top with more batter.
Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Pat a spoonful of topping on top. Bake for 20 minutes, or until top springs back when pressed.
Makes 24 muffins.
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Filed under: Dessert