1/11/2012

The "Sweeter" Side Of Life

Some would say cooking is my life. They might be right. One way or the other, for some time I have talked and dreamed about doing a post about food! I have done posts on things we have made - most recently all the pies we created for Nick & Sara's June 2011 wedding. But an idea has been rattling around in my brain to share a recipe - along with photos and the techniques which combine to make it great. Furthermore, as needed, I find it fascinating to learn and share why certain techniques work and why others do not.

For my grand opening, I will share a new recipe. This recipe is one I developed from another recipe. Living at Elk Lake, if I do not have the proper ingredients, I have to improvise. I have learned to stock my pantry shelves to bulging, bending, burdened excess. Nonetheless, sometimes I have to get creative. Thankfully I now have a decent idea of what will work and what will not work!

Today's Recipe: Apple - Cranberry Muffins. I am well aware that if you Google "Apple Cranberry Muffins" you will get over two pages of recipes. This is the MAJOR problem (in my opinion) with our electronic age. How do I know which recipe to use? How do I know which is the best?

While I will not claim to have the ‘best' recipe, I do not think this recipe will not let you down. So, without further ado:

Apple-Cranberry Muffins

Makes 12 to 16 Muffins

3 2/3 cups pastry flour, sifted
1 1/3 TB baking powder
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
8 TB butter, chilled, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 1/3 cups Baker's Sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
15 oz applesauce (I prefer the homemade chunky kind)
1 cup Craisins

Position an oven rack in the center and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. (If using regular muffin pans, brush the cup insides and top of with butter. If using silicone pans, skip this step *more on this to follow*.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Beat the butter in the bowl of a free-standing mixer with the paddle attachment on high speed until creamy (about 1 minute). Gradually beat in the sugar. Continue to beat, scraping the bowl often, until the mixture is very light in color and texture (about 5 minutes).

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the applesauce. The mixture make take on a curdled look. In thirds, beat in the flour mixture, scraping the bowl sides often. Mix until smooth. Add the Craisins. Increase the speed to high and beat about 15 seconds until the batter has a slight sheen.

Using an ice-cream scoop (about 2½ inches in diameter), divide the batter between 12 to 16 buttered muffin tins. Bake for 10 minutes. Do not open oven. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and cook until tops are browning and skewer inserted into center comes out clean (about 15 minutes).

Cool in cups for 10 minutes. Remove to wire racks. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

*I can not help but plug my new favorite cookware. Silicone! Before a friend introduced me to this amazing kitchen tool, I assumed those flimsy ‘molds' were plastic (and we all know to avoid cooking in plastic!) However, silicone bakeware is made from silica - the same ingredient in glass bakeware. And while removing baked goods from glass or metal baking dishes can some times be a nightmare, removing the same items from silicone baking dishes is pure delight! Furthermore, silicone can change the entire ‘look' of your baked goods as you can see above.

PLEASE NOTE: Some of the photos on this page do not belong to me. Thus I ask you to NOT copy any of them.

Now, back to the recipe. Like I said, the ‘why' is half the fun. So, I want to highlight a few things which make this recipe unique and why the recipe benefits from these specific ingredients and processes.

These muffins call for creaming butter and sugar. While this is not common to muffin recipes, homemade cakes often require this process. My response: ‘Why?'

Creaming butter and sugar incorporates the maximum amount of air bubbles into the fat. The trapped air expands in the baking process to result in a light textured end product. When a recipe calls for creaming, do not skip this step.

As you can see in the butter image above, you want your fat cold! If the butter is warm, the milk solids will separate and will not hold the air bubbles. Instead of starting with the room temperature butter often called for in many recipes which use the creaming process, this recipe softens and warms the cold butter slightly by beating the butter before adding the sugar.

If the butter is warm, the milk solids will separate rendering them incapable of holding the air bubbles. Even cold butter can warm too much during the beating process. The regular bowl scraping required by this recipe keeps portions of the fat from getting too warm.

When your butter and sugar are properly creamed, it will look like this. As you can see the mixer's paddle will leave distinct marks, the color will lighten noticeably, and the consistency will be very smooth.

This recipe calls for Baker's Sugar. Also known as superfine sugar, Baker's Sugar has a finer crystal which distributes more evenly throughout the batter and results in a smoother textured finished product.

If you do not have superfine sugar, you can make your own. Whirl regular sugar in your food processor until it breaks down into smaller particles (this does not take long).

After beating in the eggs, it is time to add the flour. Again this recipe calls for a ‘special' flour - Pastry Flour. If you have done much baking, you probably have Cake Flour on your shelf. However, Pastry Flour is a somewhat uncommon ingredient. So, what is it? Is it necessary? What if I don't have it on my shelf?

Pastry flour is a higher starch, lower protein flour most similar to Cake Flour. It is used when a very tender product is desired. If you have Cake Flour but do not have Pastry Flour, do not assume Cake Flour will provide the same result. While Cake Flour is a better substitute than All-Purpose Flour, you can make your own Pastry Flour by combining half Cake Flour and half All-Purpose Flour.

Now it's time to bake and eat. But, the fresh baked muffins in their silicone molds look too good to eat - almost.

Actually the final product looks simply delightful - and, it is pretty good, even if I say so myself. However, I want to point out how nice they look. This is another thing I really like about my new silicone bakeware. Look how evenly browned. Look at the perfect sides - no holes from batter stuck to the pan. No tacky paper cup to ruin the overall picture. Just pretty muffins which look as good as they taste.

Thanks for visiting my kitchen. If you enjoyed the post and wish to see more, drop me a note. If you try the recipe and find it to your liking (or not), send me a message. If silicone baking pans interest you and you'd like more information, let me know.

Lady of the Lake

3 comments:

The Cyclist's Wife said...

Yum! These look good. Tasty Kitchen is a good recipe resource. Recipes from regular people and they are rated as well. :) Wish I could come over and try one!

D&B said...

Hi Lerrina! Yes, I want more on your baking adventures; what fun! Those muffins look mouth-watering good and I will just have to make them for my guys. I haven't used my silicone bunt pan yet but Liesel has; it's fun to play with because it wobbles and sticks to the floor. =) Thank you for sharing...the pan as well as the recipe. Love, Bonnie

Lady of the Lake said...

Sarah - Thanks for the recipe source. It's always fun to try new ones - especially if they are good :-)
Bonnie - Glad to hear Liesel is enjoying the pan :-) I'd love to hear what you think of it after you try it. I'm finding some brands are better than others. Oh what fun it is to learn!