Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Of Muffins and Hurricanes . . . Morning-Glory Muffins (with Carrots, Raisins, & Sunflower Seeds)

I made these muffins yesterday morning while listening to NPR's coverage of Hurricane Sandy's damage. Every time I hear about that kind of storm, or of an earthquake or a massive flood, I thank my lucky stars that we live in Michigan. Here, natural disasters of that magnitude are virtually unheard of. We have the odd tornado now and then, and occasionally a big wild fire in the woodsy Upper Peninsula makes the news. Somehow, though, the Great Lakes have a way of shielding us, and that's comforting to know.

But, that reality doesn't stop us from worrying about family or friends who live elsewhere when these catastrophes occur. My only sister, for example, lives just a couple of miles from Long Island Sound in southern Connecticut. Despite her calm reassurance when we spoke by phone on Monday morning, as she was preparing to shelter-in-place, I was feeling pretty fretful. She's a tough cookie, and has always been the brave one. I don't think I could have been as calm in her shoes.

When I talked to her after the storm had passed and heard that she's just fine, I was relieved and grateful. Most of her small town, except for some houses on the beach, escaped the worst effects of the storm. She said everything there is eerily quiet now, and that people are still being asked to just stay inside. And, amazingly, the power is not out in the part of town where she lives.

Yes, I eventually ceased fretting. But as we know, when the going gets fretful the fretful get baking and it was my fretfulness that prompted the impromptu creation of these satisfying and tasty muffins. Maybe, now, I should call them Grateful Muffins.

About this recipe . . .

This is one heck of a muffin. Featuring dark-brown sugar and sour cream, it also contains a modest portion of shredded carrots, raisins, and roasted sunflower seeds, along with a little vanilla and cinnamon. It's sort of a morning-glory muffin, but without the entire kitchen-sink profusion of ingredients. Hearty without being hefty. This is an original Jane's Sweets recipe, unadapted from any other source.

Oh, before I forget . . . what do you think of those white "tulip" muffin papers? I used them for the first time and I really like them. Made of a relatively heavy grease-proof paper, they form a perfect square when unfolded. I like the way the tulip-shaped cup contains the muffin, as if it's in it's own little bag. These muffins all browned remarkably evenly, even on their bottoms--no burning. I've heard that you can bake in these papers without using a muffin pan, that they are that sturdy. I was hesitant to try that, but maybe next time I'll give it a whirl. I ordered some in brown and red as well, all from a company called Bakers Stock. Decent prices via this source, and the shipped items were securely packaged. I'd order from them again. (I keep wondering, though, if I could make wrappers like these myself at home, but I really think the paper they're made out of is not typical. It doesn't exactly feel to me like plain parchment or even silicone-coated parchment. I will have to do more investigating on that front.)

Brown Sugar & Sour Cream Morning-Glory Muffins, Simplified

Yield: About 16 standard size muffins, or about 10-12 larger muffins

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

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I whisked the flour a bit in its container before measuring.)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt (I used fine sea salt.)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed (I think dark brown makes a noticeable flavor difference, but use light brown if that's all you have around.)
3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (I used paste.)
1/2 cup well-shredded carrots (lightly packed into the measuring cup)
1/3 cup dark raisins
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds (salted or unsalted, as you prefer)
2 tablespoons of coarse sugar (turbinado or sanding) to sprinkle atop unbaked muffins

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line your muffin pan(s) with paper liners or spray liberally with baking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, stir together the dark brown sugar, canola oil, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla until very well combined. Stir in the carrots, raisins, and sunflower seeds.

Make a well in the bowl of dry ingredients. Pour all of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no large streaks of flour remain; a few small streaks are okay.  (Avoid over-mixing in order to avoid producing tough muffins.) Portion the batter evenly into the muffin papers/cups. Sprinkle a pinch of coarse sugar atop each unbaked muffin to add sparkle and crunch. (I used turbinado sugar--coarse, natural brown sugar--but you could use white sanding sugar or regular granulated sugar if you like.)

If you're making larger muffins, bake them for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 and keep baking until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, perhaps 10 minutes longer. If you're baking smaller muffins, turn the oven temperature down after no more than ten minutes. If your muffins appear to be browning too quickly on top, lightly cover them with a sheet of foil. Let the baked muffins cool for just a minute in their pan on a rack, then remove them from the pan to cool longer on the rack. (Or eat them warm, with butter!)

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