Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fresh Apricot Cinnamon-Chip Muffins . . . Tart & Sweet!

Here we are, moving into the tail end of June, and the onslaught of bright, fresh, summer produce is finally upon us. Among other things, this means that we now have access to a multitude of reasonably priced, and adorably cute, apricots.

A sensitive and delicate fruit, so they say, the apricot is a bit of a homebody that, apparently, doesn't cope well with traveling. It's easily bruised and it doesn't care for the jostling, tight quarters, and  occasional indignities inherent in a long-distance journey. Perhaps you feel the same way?

Because of this, only about one quarter of the apricots grown in the U.S. actually make their way to retail markets, so the experts say. These are picked just at the beginning of ripeness, when still firm. But what of the remaining 75 percent? Those lucky fellows are allowed to linger on the trees and, as a result, grow remarkably sweeter than their less fortunate counterparts; they end up canned, frozen, dried, and so on. This means that the fresh apricots you lovingly select one by one in your local grocery store may indeed be cute, but it's a roll of the dice as to whether or not you'll find yourself smiling or puckering after you bite into one.

This all just seems to make sense, though, doesn't it? One could make the case that it's analagous to life. Aren't we sweeter when we aren't rushed? Aren't we more appealing when we've had a good supply of uninterrupted leisure in which to sleep, dream, and reflect? Of course we are.

It's not always a baker's tragedy, though, if the apricots to be used in a recipe lean toward the tarter end of the spectrum. Perhaps two thirds of the apricots that I used in these muffins were kind of astringent, while the rest were only mildly sweet. I think, though, that in certain cases a flavorful but tart chunk of fruit balances remarkably well with its more sugary surroundings. These muffins present a perfect example. The cinnamon chips provide a burst of sweetness here and there that equalizes and nicely offsets the surprising tang of any less-than-fully-ripe fruit pieces.

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from a blueberry muffin recipe in Flo Braker's wonderful book, Baking for All Occasions, I made a number of changes in order to produce these. In addition to substituting apricot chunks for blueberries,  I swapped out a bit of the white flour in favor of a small portion of whole wheat flour and oats. Instead of using buttermilk, which I love but didn't have on hand, I used half sour cream and half milk, along with a smidgen of lemon juice. I omitted the lemon zest.

And, instead of  dipping the warm muffin tops in butter and then plopping them enthusiastically in cinnamon sugar, as Flo indicates should be done, I lightly brushed the tops with melted butter and sprinkled them with just a very small amount of cinnamon sugar. It seemed to me they would have been practically inedible if I'd followed Flo's recommendation to dip them in her "doughnut topping," because melted butter sops up a huge amount of sugar (ever noticed this?).

I was pretty pleased with how these came out. The texture was right on target--really tender with no tough or rubbery aspect whatsoever--and the muffins had fine flavor. The cinnamon chips that I used came from King Arthur Flour, so of course they weren't cheap. But less costly brands of cinnamon chips are pretty common in grocery stores now, too. If you'd prefer to skip the cinnamon chips altogether, certainly do so; you might want to just add in some cinnamon with the dry ingredients--maybe a teaspoon or less--before they're mixed with the liquids. The muffins won't be as sweet without the chips, but they'll still be good, I'm sure of it.

Apricot Cinnamon-Chip Muffins

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and prepare a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners, or spray liberally with baking spray.

For the batter:
1 and 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
3 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
1/4 cup regular or quick-cooking (not instant) oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (I used a generous 1/2 tsp.)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk (I used 2 percent)
3 oz. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled (aka 3/4 of one stick, or 6 Tbsp.)
2 eggs, large
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup of unpeeled fresh apricot pieces, chopped small
2/3 cup mini cinnamon chips 

For the topping:
1/4 granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 oz. unsalted butter, melted (1/2 of one stick, or 4 Tbsp.)

In a large mixing bowl, using a whisk, combine the white flour, whole wheat flour, oats, sugar, salt, and baking soda.

In a medium size bowl, using a spoon, blend together the sour cream, milk, melted butter, eggs, lemon juice, and vanilla extract.

Add the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and stir together until just combined; use care not to overmix. With a spatula, gently fold in the apricot pieces and the cinnamon chips.

Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake on the middle rack of your oven for approximately 20 minutes, until light golden brown and the centers spring back when lightly pressed with a finger.

Cool the muffins in the pan for about 10 minutes. Remove them from the pan to a cooling rack. Using a pastry brush, coat the tops with melted butter and a small sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.

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