Bread of the Month: Falling for a savory muffin

It has occurred to me lately that what has given pumpkin the flavors usually associated with all manner of pumpkin treats are its companion spices — ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg. These lend our fall favorites the air of pumpkinpiedom, but tend to relegate pumpkin to the sweet end of the spectrum. What are pumpkin’s options beyond this delicious but limiting status? Plenty, it turns out, and it became so relevant to me recently with a savory pumpkin muffin.
My dear friend and baker extraordinaire, Elaine, recently gifted me a wonderful cookbook with the inspiring title of Baked Explorations
(2010) written by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, owners of “Baked” establishments in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Charleston, S.C. The beautiful creations within turn many traditional baked recipes on their ear with new twists, unimaginable to those of us who usually follow the tried-and-true traditions of status quo baking. How about Carrot Coconut Scones with Citrus Glaze, Almond Joy Tart, Salt-n-Pepper Sandwich Cookies and Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake? Whoo… I’m looking forward to a whole lot of baking explorations via this book, and if my first little outing is any indication of what lies ahead, all I can say is destination: delicious.

At first glance, the recipe for Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins, had my tastebuds intrigued, but confused. Like any cook contemplating a possible outcome, I tend to try and imagine the taste of the finished product. Without ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, my mind and salivary glands went a bit blank. What would a muffin with pumpkin, sour cream, pepper, cayenne pepper, cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds on top taste like? Needing a sensory jumpstart to fuel my imagination, I set about to baking some!

b4muffinAs any muffin should, these come together as easily as anything you can imagine (especially if you buy pre-grated cheese…shhhh, don’t tell anyone!). I expected, with the pumpkin and sour cream in the mix, to have a very moist muffin. Some sweet is brought to the recipe with the addition of rich brown sugar. In my first go at this recipe, I decided to hold back just slightly with the black and cayenne peppers and decide after tasting this batch whether to go full force with those spices from that point onward. All the muffin ingredients are brought together, then the cheese is folded in. It is a very thick batter. An additional sprinkling of cheese and some pumpkin seeds top them off.

pknSeedsI’ve been eating a lot of pumpkin seeds lately. I’ve discovered spots where you can get them raw or roasted and salted and sans shell, they make a delightful, crunchy snack loaded with health benefits including sinc and Omega 3. They also have tryptophan (of roast turkey fame), which aids in sleeping. Try munching on a handful before bedtime (or perhaps one of these muffins) and see if this sends you blissfully into Schluffyland.

aftrMuffin01The muffins bring a new light to pumpkin for me, giving it prominence in texture and flavor without the distraction of the pie spices. The muffins — a delightful bright orange — are rich, very moist, just slightly sweet, with a wondrous tang from the cheddar cheese and a crunch from those pumpkin seeds. The pepper is subtle — I’ll add more next time. These would make a lovely autumn breakfast or a delightful dinner bread accompaniment with any holiday meal. And the pumpkin can be just as great, whether savory or sweet.

Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins
Recipe from “Baked Explorations” (2010)
by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin purée

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 large eggs

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 cups all-purpose flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1.5 teaspoons salt

1.5 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 1/4 cups (about 4 ounces) grated sharp cheddar

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly spray each cup of a standard 12-cup muffin pan with a little bit of vegetable spray and use a paper towel to spread the oil evenly along the bottom and up the sides of each cup.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and sour cream. Add the eggs and butter and whisk until combined.

In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and brown sugar. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well, and fold until just combined. Fold in three-quarters of the cheese.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar and the pumpkin seeds on top of the muffins. Bake them for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the muffin pan cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out the muffins. Serve them warm.

Muffins taste best when eaten fresh, but they can be made ahead of time and reheated in a 200-degree oven.

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