Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cherry-Oat-Cardamom Muffins

It has been almost two months since my last blog post. Since that post, I have finished my reading list and successfully completed my oral comprehensive exam. I can honestly say that I don't think I've worked harder for something in my life. It is almost overwhelming to think of the hours of reading, the pages and pages of notes, the brainstorming and mock exams and cups upon cups upon cups of coffee. I should write a sincere note of thanks to Seattle's Best, really. I couldn't have done it without you. In that time, especially the last 1 1/2 months, I have barely cooked or baked a thing. Thank goodness for husbands who can shop, cook, and pour a great glass of wine, but who also know when a margarita is the must-have for the seriously stressful moment. I've made a few standbys--my Spiced Pumpkin Bread, for example, traveled to a birthday celebration, and I polished off a few pans of brownies during football games. But as far as my favorite morning baked goods, nothing. I work best in the morning and did not want to disturb my schedule by breaking for muffins. (Sounds like a great bumper sticker.) But when I woke up this morning not to the sound of a 6 am alarm but instead to the sound of Dan making coffee (then fell back asleep and woke up again an hour later), I knew the time for muffins had returned. I felt a bit creative, and here are the results: lusciously spicy, ever-so-slightly sweet Cherry-Oat Muffins with Cardamom. The smell that fills the house as they bake is almost as pleasing as the muffins themselves. Cardamom, to me, always has that perfect balance of exotic and sophisticated; its strong yet delicate flavor is always a surprise.

I found inspiration for these muffins in my Small-Batch Baking book, but as I didn't have any of the ingredients for the Cranberry Walnut muffins, and figured I'd use the same batter and revise the fillings and spices. I thawed a handful of frozen sweet cherries, then chopped them for better distribution. I added cinnamon to the cardamom-sugar topping for depth of flavor, and to keep the cardamom from overpowering the cherries. And I added quick-cooking oats, rather than walnuts or pecans, because the thin batter (thanks to the cherry juice) looked like it needed more structure, and because I'm not the biggest fan of nuts in baked goods, especially muffins. They always seem texturally out-of-place. I wanted a creamy, sweet, spicy muffin, with crunch from the sugar-topping only--and that is exactly what I got. They were brilliant.

If you like cardamom, give these a try. These are not your typical overly sweet coffee shop muffins, and the melt-in-your-mouth texture and aroma will transport you, for a moment, from your familiar kitchen to a small European cafe, where you sit contentedly sipping your coffee and watching the city go by. Life's simple pleasures, in muffin-form. Enjoy.

Cherry-Oat Cardamom Muffins
(adapted from Small-Batch Baking)

Muffin liners or cooking spray
1/2 cup AP flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (you can use cinnamon but it changes the flavor completely)
yolk of one egg
3 T sugar
2 T milk (1% is fine)
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh or frozen cherries, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup quick-cooking oats

3/4 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. each cardamom and cinnamon

Pan: Standard Muffin Pan

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line four muffin cups with liners (or spray four cups, including the top edges surrounding the cups; do not spray more cups, as this will cause them to scorch--only spray what you will use).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom.
3. In a small bowl, whisk sugar, egg yolk, milk, oil, vanilla. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold gently with a spatula until dry ingredients are just moistened. Add cherries and oats, fold until just combined.
4. Dollop batter into cups until 3/4 full. Fill unused cups 1/3 full with water to prevent scorching. Place in oven; bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. PLace on wire rack. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then carefully remove muffins (this is easier if you use muffin cups). Let muffins cool 10 minutes more on rack. Serve warm, or cool completely and freeze. Heat individual muffins wrapped in a napkin for 20 seconds in the microwave.

Nutrition Information: Approximately 200 calories and 8 grams of fat. (I got used to recording calories while I studied since I had less time for the gym, just so I wouldn't overeat and become sluggish. There are some excellent recipe calorie calculators out there. Sparkpeople has my favorite, and it helps me keep track of what I'm eating.)