Wednesday, February 23, 2011
And also, life is hard.
Thus, I feel it is time for some baked goodness on this site.
We had that little blip of warmer weather, which was so lovely, and although I knew it wouldn't last, I felt sadder than expected when the bitter cold smacked me in the face this past Sunday afternoon, to be followed shortly by snow, and lots of it. But it is still February, after all. Those short days were just a gentle whisper reminding me that spring will come--remember? this is what it feels like--and all shall be well. And I enjoyed it while it lasted, wearing flats outdoors and going for a long run on Saturday morning outside! on dry sidewalks! in sunshine that gloriously tempered the returning cold. That made Sunday, when the storm came in full force, and the early weekday mornings that followed, when I struggled to dislodge my car from its curbside mound of snow and wondered what I would do if I couldn't get out, more bearable. (Note: bearable. Not awesome, but bearable.)
And regarding these cold temperatures, I am, for the record, attempting to keep things in perspective. In the wee hours one morning in early February, as I ran on the treadmill at the Y, the weather channel informed me that the temperature was hovering at two degrees below zero. Yeah. Cold. I was feeling all sorry for myself as I burrowed my hands in my mittens and my wet hair froze in the thirty-second walk from the doors of the gym to my car. But then, I learned that the morning had dawned in my sister and brother-in-law's current home of Renville, Minnesota with temperatures seventeen degrees below zero.
I realized that (1) I am a wimp and (2) I need to calm down and stop complaining.
So I'm working on that. But in the meantime, since I am still a wimp, I have found that baking does wonders for my soul during these cold months, and the oven warming my apartment doesn't hurt, either. Plus, the only things I've really wanted to eat this winter are soup and baked goods. I've been appeasing my body, making and eating a good deal of both.
I made these muffins whilst snowed in under sixteen inches of white during that crazy storm at the beginning of February. The night before the storm, my office decided it wouldn't open that next day, and I thought, Is that really necessary? I'm sure it won't be that bad. But when I awoke to impassable roads and a world buried deep in snow, I realized that yes, yes it was necessary. And then I made these muffins.
If you also find yourself cold, snowed in and/or generally in need of some sunshine, these muffins will make your life a bit brighter. Like those occasional days of sunshine and rising temperatures, they will remind you that spring is coming and all shall be well. They won't solve all of your problems--my cheering up that snowy day required a walk out in the actual sunshine, a bit of human interaction with the many neighbors I encountered unearthing cars and clearing sidewalks and that wonderful man in my life who traipsed through the snow to visit me--but they are certainly an excellent start.
I made a few changes to the original recipe, replacing the sugar with honey, half of the all-purpose flour with spelt, the currents with raisins and the lemon extract with a slightly greater amount of lemon juice. With the honey and spelt, I aimed for a bit more healthfulness; the raisins and lemon juice were what I happened to have on hand. (It was a blizzard, people.) The spelt added a lovely nuttiness, but I imagine the muffins would be a bit airier and delicate without. I've noted some of the changes below; you can do as you wish. Follow your heart.
I liked these little bursts of sunshine very much, particularly, in fact, once they had cooled completely, and I actually think they may have been even better the day after. They froze well also, to be defrosted for delightful midweek breakfasts.
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From my home to yours
1/2 cup sugar or honey
Zest from 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour or 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 cup spelt flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup orange juice (reduce amount slightly if you used honey rather than sugar)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon pure lemon extract (if you make a substitution here, check the web for advice from folks who know more about such things than I)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
3/4 cup dried currants or raisins
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the twelve molds of a muffin pan of regular size. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet (to be honest, I'm not yet convinced that this makes a significant difference, but since it's a little tiny step that creates no additional mess, I've been doing it anyway lately).
In a large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the orange zest fragrant (if you use honey and/or purchased rather than fresh zest, make do with vigorous mixing. Also, if you use honey, include it with the wet ingredients rather than the dry). Whisk in the flour(s), baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In another bowl, whisk together the orange and lemon juices, lemon extract, melted butter and eggs.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix gently but quickly until blended. Lumps are fine and preferable to overmixing. Fold in the currants or raisins. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
Bake for about 20 minutes (watch closely if you used honey rather than sugar; baked goods with honey tend to brown more quickly), or until the tops of the muffins are golden and a knife inserted in the center of one comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the molds.
Eat warm or at room temperature, top with jam or butter, pair with coffee, think of sunshine.
Yield: 12 muffins