Yum! A sweet tradition is born

What's Cooking

November 3, 2009 

Muffins are delightful in the morning or in the afternoon with a cup of coffee or tea. Whipping up a batch usually takes little effort, and the flavors are limited only by the baker’s imagination. (Bob Demay/Akron Beacon Journal)

Muffins are delightful in the morning or in the afternoon with a cup of coffee or tea. Whipping up a batch usually takes little effort, and the flavors are limited only by the baker’s imagination. (Bob Demay/Akron Beacon Journal)

  • Tips For Cooks

    Even seasoned cooks get stumped once in a while in the kitchen. Sur La Table's Rick Rodgers has written a compact reference filled with practical knowledge that recipes may not include. Here's what he has to say about muffins in "Tips Cooks Love: Over 500 Tips, Techniques and Shortcuts That Will Make You a Better Cook!" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $15):

    • If you run short on batter, half fill empty muffin cups with water and then bake the muffins. This will promote even baking.
    • Have all the ingredients at room temperatures before baking.
    • Many muffin and scone batters that call for baking powder can be refrigerated overnight before baking. They won't rise quite as high, but the results will be acceptable. Don't refrigerate batters made with baking soda, which is activated as soon it is moistened and will be spent almost immediately.

Ginger-pumpkin muffins will forever be linked in my mind with the Toys R Us catalog.

You know, the one that comes out ages before you think about Christmas shopping. Uh, before Santa thinks about Christmas shopping. Or toy-making. Or whatever.

The catalog was tucked inside the paper Sunday morning, the same morning I made the muffins. My kids tore through the pages, circling toys to put on their lists for Santa.

Somewhere during this process my 5-year-old convinced herself that Santa will, of course, bring her everything she asks for. This includes the Baby Alive Woopsie Doo doll (it leaves surprises in its diaper) and a Power Wheels Lightening McQueen Super 6 (otherwise known as a toy car) that costs more than my monthly car payment.

While they had the catalog spread out on the floor, I went about making the muffins.

I chose this recipe because it screamed fall. Ginger, pumpkin and brandy ... what could be better?

The muffins were good — very good — but a tad complicated. Mince the ginger. Soak the raisins. Sift the flower. Wisk the pumpkin.

I wonder if the sifting and whisking was really necessary, because everything gets blended together at the end.

Another thing about this recipe: It uses a lot of bowls and utensils. There's quite a bit of dish-washing to be done while the muffins are in the oven.

But, oh, the smell of the muffins while they are in the oven. It overtook the house. It was like Thanksgiving, only better. A little sweet, a little spicy. Yum.

That's what I think about the muffins, too. Incredibly moist, they had a strong but pleasant ginger flavor.

The raisins (I used golden raisins because I had some left after last month's rice pudding recipe) sank to the bottom, probably because the batter was so thin.

Still, I'd make them again. Maybe next year, when the kids are occupied with another edition of the Christmas catalog.

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at kmccray@modbee.com or 578-2358.

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What The Testers Had To Say

I added chopped pecans because we prefer a nutty crunch in our muffins. The muffins were very moist and fluffy, and were even better the second day. They reminded me of gingerbread.

— Jan Gibson, Modesto

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For this many ingredients, steps and the cleanup, I hope the muffins are outstanding. I did have two substitutions. Instead of light molasses, I used ¼ cup dark molasses and ¼ cup light corn syrup. Also, for the pumpkin pie spice I used ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon plus ¼ teaspoon ground ginger plus ‹ teaspoon each ground cloves and ground nutmeg. That is from the substitutions guide from McCormick Spices. My mix made 20 muffins and they did stick a bit to the paper liners. I thought they turned out well, but my husband pronounced them great.

— Sandy Loya, Modesto

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You had to use so many bowls to mix the ingredients. The muffins were heavy, not light. My family really didn't care for the taste.

— Donna Boots, Modesto

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Finally, a use for that crystallized ginger I purchased for a long- since-lost scone recipe. My family and I liked the taste and texture of the crystallized ginger in the batter, where it's been slightly rehydrated by the brandy and other moist ingredients. On top of the muffins, however, it was a bit too strong. In the future, I'll use less ginger in the topping, and add some walnuts and a pinch of cinnamon to the brown sugar and make it more streusel-like. I want to try them with dried cranberries instead of raisins, too. I found that I used my ‹-cup (2 tablespoons) measure more in this recipe than ever before — it seemed like everything was "plus 2 tablespoons."

— Carrie Munroe, Modesto

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Crystallized ginger was an ingredient I had never used and mincing it took some time; it kept sticking to the knife.

We liked the spiciness of this recipe, particularly the crystallized ginger in the muffins as well as the topping. This is a great muffin for a Thanksgiving breakfast.

— Shirley Cantele, Modesto

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I was excited to make these muffins as I thought they were very appropriate for the season. My mood changed as I was adding the molasses. In addition to them being fairly labor intensive, the dominant flavor was molasses and ginger and not ginger and pumpkin. I brought in a double batch for my colleagues to enjoy and the leftovers lingered for a few days.

— Ann Griffith, Modesto

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Plan to spend many minutes just mincing crystallized ginger; the ginger clings to the knife blade. The rest of the recipe is relatively easy, especially if you gather together in bowls all the ingredients to be added (I used seven different bowls). The resulting muffins are delicious — moist, soft and piquant, with a bit of crispness in the topping. I used golden raisins in this batch (which, incidentally, filled 18 muffin cups), but I've resolved to use dried sweetened cranberries in the next batch. There will be a next batch nearer to Thanksgiving; the grandchildren will love them.

— Ralph Moore, Modesto

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These muffins are a delicious alternative to pumpkin bread. The raisins add flavor and moistness and the ginger really gives them a kick. I made half without minced ginger and raisins, but those muffins didn't have near the character as the ones with the raisins and ginger. And I confess I used dark rum instead of brandy because I didn't want to buy a bottle just for 2 tablespoons (and I'm betting it didn't make a difference). These might be overpowering if you're not a fan of ginger, but I think they are great with a cup of coffee!

— Karin Reenstierna, Modesto

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