- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Muffins are a uniquely North American breakfast food. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the discovery of the chemical leavening agents baking powder and baking soda and the development of the modern oven made it possible for home bakers to produce early versions of what later became known as muffins.

Often made from whole wheat flour and bran, the miniature breads were considered “health food” long before the term was coined. The notion of muffins as a healthy breakfast choice stuck, even though a close look at many commercially produced muffins reveals them to be little more than glorified cupcakes, largely devoid of fiber and other nutrients.

In other words, they are not a healthy choice at all, but, rather, a fantasy that allows us to feel good about eating an oversize and sweet breakfast.

Here’s the good news: We can have it both ways. It’s been my enjoyable challenge to create a selection of nutritionally respectable muffins that answer our yearning for something cakelike and sweet for breakfast. I’ve had a lot of fun coming up with the carrot-currant muffin recipe that follows. It’s just sweet enough to satisfy muffin expectations but not so sweet that it is cake.

These muffins can become a mainstay in your household not only for breakfast, but for lunch treats and afternoon snacks, as well.

Convenience note: We can easily have freshly baked muffins for breakfast if we get the ingredients ready the night before. In the evening, prepare both the wet and dry mixtures and set them aside in separate covered bowls or containers. (Refrigerate the wet mixture.) In the morning, simply preheat the oven, put the muffin batter together, spoon it into the pan and bake.

Remember that even though fresh-baked and warm muffins are exciting, they also taste wonderful on subsequent days, sliced into halves or thirds and toasted. So consider baking a variety on a Sunday afternoon, say, once a month, and after they’ve cooled store them in sealed plastic bags in the freezer. You can defrost and toast them individually. This can be a tremendous convenience and quality-of-life enhancement for busy mornings.

Carrot-currant muffins

Make these pretty orange-and-black speckled muffins on a special morning or to transform an ordinary morning into something special. They are like eating carrot cake for breakfast, only tidier and healthier because the flavor and fiber are there but not a huge amount of fat.

A food processor fitted with the fine grating attachment will make short work of preparing the carrots. You can do this up to several hours ahead of time if you store the grated carrot in an airtight container in the refrigerator until just before using. You can also try substituting zucchini for the carrot for a pretty green variation, and use canola oil for some or all of the butter.

Nonstick cooking spray for the pan

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

teaspoon salt

1 teaspoons baking powder

teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar, optional

1 cup (packed) finely grated carrot

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

cup (packed) dried currants

cup milk (plain soy milk will also work)

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 tablespoons ( stick) unsalted butter, melted

Lightly spray 8 standard-size (2 -inch-diameter) muffin cups with nonstick spray.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and allspice in a medium-sized bowl. Crumble in the brown sugar, rubbing it with your fingers until the mixture is thoroughly blended. Stir in the granulated sugar, if you like your muffins on the sweet side.

Place grated carrot in a second bowl. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and currants and mix with a fork. Use the fork to beat in the milk, egg and vanilla. Slowly pour this mixture, along with the melted butter, into the dry ingredients. Using a spoon or a rubber spatula, stir from the bottom of the bowl until dry ingredients are all moistened. Don’t overmix; a few lumps are OK.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. For smaller muffins, fill cups about 4/5 of the way. For larger muffins, fill them even with the top of the pan. If you have extra batter, spray one or two additional muffin cups with nonstick spray and put in as much batter as you have.

Bake in the middle of the preheated 400-degree oven for to 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove pan from oven, then remove muffins from pan and place on a rack to cool. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving. Makes 8 to 10 medium-size muffins.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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