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Pumpkin Muffins

Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Pumpkin Muffins

ELAINE: Oh yeah. It's the best part. It's crunchy, it's explosive, it's where the muffin breaks free of the pan and sort of does its own thing. I'll tell you. That's a million dollar idea right there. Just sell the tops.
(J. Louis-Dreyfus, The Muffin Tops, Seinfeld, Episode n. 155, 1997)

My first time. With muffins.
I can't believe it myself, but I had to wait over a decade before letting myself being persuaded. The thing is that, although I've fallen for muffins (blueberry, ed) at the tender age of 13, more than a century ago, when my American guest made me try them and all of a sudden I thought I had arrived in heaven, for all that goodness chock-full of huge and deep-blue blueberries was not part of the world known to me until then (and I didn't know that she had made them out of a muffin-mix carton and using fruits with testosterone to the maximum strenght, but these are just details...), I was saying, although for years I kept thinking of muffins as the perfect yet unattainable companion for a lazy and lascivious Sunday, once I moved to this land more or less stably, I cheated on them right away, I mean, really right away, for these things here (and these, and most of all these... mmmm, btw, 600 Guerrero Street @18th... when are we going?).
And the poor muffin has hopelessly fallen to a subordinate role, a breakfast gigolo to wear out in a bowl of latte, too big, too bloated, too ubiquitous, too available (but it's a matter of taste, mind you; scones have the same flaws, it's just that - if done with all the right fixings - I like them better, that's all. But anyway, muffins don't exist at Tartine, just sayin'...)
To complicate matters further there's also the fact that the muffin is almost always a split personality and rarely wins you over in its entirety: either you love it for the top, more rough and erratic, or it seduces you with its soft and tender body. And although time flows inexorably away, I haven't made up my mind yet.

My first time. With muffins.
All the hot details can be found below.

Pumpkin Muffins
for approximately 15 muffins

pastry flour 3 2/3 cup
butter 1 stick
sugar 1 cup
(I've reduced it a little from original recipe)
eggs 4
pumpkin purée 1 15-ounce can
ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon
ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon
freshly grated nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon
salt 1/4 teaspoon
baking powder 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon
raisins 1 cup
unsalted sunflower seeds 1/4 cup
softened butter to grease the pan

I've taken the recipe ...uhm... from this thing I scored at Christmas, which quietly and discreetly landed on my shelf with yet another excuse called special offer, coupon, loyalty card promotion, buy 2 get 3, voucher, seasonal sale, I don't remember. The truth is, now I want to go back to New York just to visit this new place of worship, which up to 20 days ago I had never even heard of. And to be honest, I can't even blame the special Christmas offer. I simply had to read that this Sarabeth owes its rise to the Olympus of America's most popular bakeries entirely to its legendary orange and apricot marmalade, and here I am, happily opening the wallet, dropping the card and casually putting the tome in my purse.
But this is now water under the bridge, and I think it's also a story already lived, can't tell you why. Better to stick to the subject matter: muffins. Before leaving you with the recipe, I'd like to point out two things, or maybe three:

1) Contrary to everything we've always known about muffins, this particular recipe (as well as others from the same book) calls for a good long initial beating of the butter, cold, followed by an equally good beating of the same with sugar. According to the author this procedure, very similar to that of a normal cake, will make the muffins' texture lighter and more delicate. The butter should be cold, so that the dough doesn't get too soft, otherwise the top will collapse and will consequently flatten (and sadden) your muffins;

2) Don't turn up your nose at canned pumpkin. After year, I too had to drop my barriers on this point. I just had to read these few lines, taken from Tartine, by E. M. Prueitt and C. Robertson, when talking about their famous pumpkin pie recipe:

Customers often ask if we process our own pumpkin for our holiday pies. We tried one year, and it was a fiasco of round-the-clock roasting and blending, and the results were never completely satisfying. Preparing the purée from scratch doesn't work that well at home either, as it is difficult to achieve as smooth a purée as you would like.

And if they did come out, how can I possibly fear a simple can?

3) How is it possible that at the first trial I got this high dome, almost like what you see around in the stores' windows, I don't know. I don't know if I should believe the cold butter trick. I actually have developed a simple little theory of my own: could it be the universally famous rule of beginner's luck?

Sift together flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and baking powder, and set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter, cut into cubes, until creamy, then gradually add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture becomes fluffy and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, decreasing the speed, then add the pumpkin and stir well. At the end, gradually pour in the flour mix, stir and then add all the raisins. Continue mixing for a few seconds just until the dough comes together.
If you're not using paper cups, grease the molds as well as the outer edges of the pan with some softened butter. Otherwise, place a baking cup inside each mold, and just grease the edges of the pan to prevent the tops of the muffins from sticking to it. Using two spoons (or an ice-cream scoop), fill each baking cups with the mixture, almost to the edge. Generously sprinkle the surface with sunflower seeds, and bake at 400 for ten minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown and a wire tester inserted into the center of the muffin comes out completely clean.

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