“The frost is on the pumpkin.”
Sure, we've all heard that expression (haven't we, class?) It comes from the title of a famous poem (well famous to us American lit. majors) by James Whitcomb Riley, a short bit of doggerel that begins like this:
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock...
I don't know about the fodder being in the shock, but I sure am. I finally took my summer vacation last week, down on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Where the temperature was 20° below normal, the state was recording its earliest ever snowfall, and the frost was definitely on the punkin.
I'd envisioned mild 65°F days, gentle breezes, and lots of sun. And experienced instead a succession of gray/dark gray/darker gray days; and a Nor'easter packing 45mph winds (and kicking up 15' seas).
It was pretty; it was spectacular; in fact, it was pretty spectacular. But warm enough to walk the golden sands? Not without successive layers of wool, fleece, and Gore-Tex.
The cold weather did inspire me to think ahead, though, to my favorite baking holiday: Thanksgiving. Between the soft white dinner rolls, cranberry muffins, stuffing bread, and pie, I get to cover my favorite carb groups all in one glorious day.
At the end of which it's not only the turkey that's been stuffed.
The recent shortage of canned pumpkin, due to a poor harvest, inspired me to check out supermarkets down on the Cape, as well as our local market. And I'm happy to report that pumpkin appears to be in good supply; no need to hoard for the holidays.
But if you've already purchased a few cans “just in case,” and are wondering what to do with them besides make pie – try these muffins. Packed with cinnamon bits and cranberries, they're the perfect accompaniment to a cup of hot coffee.
Preferably enjoyed while watching a glorious Cape Cod sunset.
Do you like cinnamon? I do. And I love the assertive flavor of our cinnamon Flav-R-Bites. I know, wacky name (and yes, they look like pet kibble); but these little nuggets of sugar, flour, and cinnamon pack a healthy hit of cinnamon.
Since they need liquid to soften, they'll be kind of crunchy in something like a scone (unless it's a high-moisture drop scone), or cookies. But they're just perfect in muffins, cake, and quick bread. If you want to use them in scones or cookies (or yeast bread), and don't like the crunchiness, just soak them in water or milk for 30 minutes, drain, and go for it.
Combine the following in a mixing bowl:
1 cup pumpkin purée, about half of a 15 1/2-ounce can
2 large eggs
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, light or dark
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons apple pie spice; pumpkin pie spice; or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves + 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 cup cinnamon Flav-R-Bites or cinnamon chips
Stir till smooth, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl to combine thoroughly.
Next you'll combine the dry ingredients, starting with 1 1/2 cups of flour. We like a combination of all-purpose and white whole wheat flours. Use all AP (for a higher rise), or all white whole wheat (for more fiber and a lower rise), if desired. I've decided on 3/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and 3/4 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour.
Notice the AP flour on the top, whole wheat on the bottom; very little difference in look or texture, eh? That's because white whole wheat is a lighter, milder whole wheat flour than its red-wheat counterpart. I often use it in muffins and cookies, because you really can't tell the difference; try anywhere from 50% to 100% of the total flour.
Add 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 cup dried cranberries.
Add to the wet ingredients.
Stir to combine.
No need to beat; stirring with a spatula is fine.
Cover the bowl, and let the batter rest for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 400°F. You'll notice the leavening has started to work during this resting period; the batter will have lightened and become a bit “spongy.”
Grease 12 wells of a standard muffin pan; or line with papers, and grease the papers.
Note: This recipe makes a generous amount of batter. If the cups in your your muffin pan are on the small side, you may have to bake a couple of extra muffins in a second batch. OR cut back the cranberries and chips to 2/3 cup each. The pan I'm using here has cups that are 2 5/8” across the inside top, 1 3/8” deep.
Next, choose your topping sugar. I love Swedish pearl sugar. It's bright-white, and makes a big visual statement.
Here's pearl sugar on the left, coarse white sparkling sugar, my decorating standby, on the right. The pearl's a tiny bit bigger.
Sprinkle the top of each muffin with about 1/2 teaspoon sugar.
Here's the sparkling sugar going on – right out of the jar. I usually don't bother to measure; just sprinkle till the top of each muffin is completely coated.
Place the muffins in the preheated 400°F oven. Yeah, there's one missing here; I was doing some kind of experiment, the nature of which now escapes me...
Bake the muffins for 20 to 21 minutes, till a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the middle of a center muffin comes out clean.
They'll rise nicely. Notice this muffin is topped with both pearl and sparkling sugars; can't help myself, I'm a confirmed “what if” type of baker.
Tip the muffins in the pan to cool; this prevents their bottoms from steaming and becoming soggy.
Now that's one good-looking muffin, huh?
Here's what happens if you don't give the muffin batter a rest prior to baking. The taller, “rested batter” muffin is on the left; non-rested on the right. The rest both softens the Flav-R-Bites, if you use them; and gives the baking powder and baking soda a chance to get going.
Here's one with a plain coarse sugar topping. I love the glitter of sparkling sugar.
And here they are, in all their sugar-topped incarnations - even some plain Janes without. Trust me, they're all good.
And if our taste-testers here at King Arthur are any indication, they'll disappear fast!
Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Thanksgiving Muffins.