I carved a pumpkin at my Dad’s house on Halloween night. Yes, trick-or-treaters were arriving as we were slicing away. Better late than never. And pumpkin. I heard some ladies talking at the gym this week that they were “all pumpkin-ed out” (this was after the debate concerning the appropriate time to start applying to get your daughter into summer equestrian camp. Apparently it’s quite competitive. These women are losing sleep over this). I’ve actually started to turn down my ipod at the gym; the conversations I overhear are serious fodder for future writing projects. You couldn’t make this stuff up. But back to pumpkin. I, for one, am not all “pumpkin-ed out.” In fact, this is the first time I’ve broken out the pumpkin this fall, and I’m sensing a trend here. I missed the boat on the sour cherries in late summer and never got around to canning tomatoes. And man the peaches were good this year in California–should’ve made jam. But enough with the “should haves.” I’m not letting pumpkin slip through my grip. And I’m sharing these lightly spiced, super moist fall muffins with you today. Better late than never.
This recipe is from my bakery crush, Flour Bakery in Boston. I wrote about their oatmeal cookies last week on The Kitchn and last year when I visited Boston, I snapped a few photos. Flour is the ultimate feel-good bakery. We’d often go when it was freezing out and we needed a distraction from medieval literature and lectures on literary theory. Joanne’s banana bread and double chocolate cookies are the best distraction a girl could ask for. A funny thing I’ve been noticing lately is that I’ve started developing major bakery crushes on bakeries I haven’t even been to. I could make a long list of little bakeshops I’ve fallen in love with after visiting once (or 27 times), but this is different. These are spots I’ve been introduced to online or have heard about through friends. And like any good, fierce crush I can’t stop thinking about them.
- I’m actually quite obsessed with a little baksehop I stumbled across online called Violet. The shop is in East London, and is run by Claire Ptak who used to do pastry at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Their website is lovely and really gives a true sense of this place and the aesthetic. It seems as though Claire’s successfully created a sweet little neighborhood spot that would feel much like stopping into your best friend’s kitchen for a slice of cake in the late afternoon.
- Then there’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. These two gals bake pie. And savory treats and breakfast pastries. They have a big communal table and serve locally brewed beer in the evening. And people come from late morning into the night to eat, sit, chat.
- Floriole. I think I first learned of this Chicago bakery from Lottie + Doof (he is a Chicago boy, after all). I’ve since stalked their daily specials online and fallen in love. Their menu is simple but virtually perfect and the space inside is sweet as can be.
- Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneos: I’m ashamed that this little spot in the Dogpatch is in my neck of the woods and I’ve never been. I’ve heard only amazing things about the couple who built out the space from scratch. While technically not really a bakery I suppose, they do make virtually everything from scratch and in addition to their ice creams, they apparently do a fabulous fudgesicle and people trek to the little-bit-out-of-the-way neighborhood for their homemade cones.
Do you have any bakery crushes? I’m visiting NYC in a few weeks, actually, so if you have any spots you love there, I’d love to hear about them!
…And now onto muffins!
The addition of pastry flour here makes this muffin a smidge lighter and fluffier than the one at Flour. If you don’t have pastry flour at home, go ahead and use all all-purpose flour. I also amped up the spice profile after making them once and wishing there was a little more oomph of fall in each muffin. Feel free to top them with pecans instead of pumpkin seeds if you prefer.
Adapted from: Flour by Joanne Chang
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line with muffin papers.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture is nice and light. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
On low speed, add the eggs on at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the orange juice and pumpkin on low speed until combined–don’t worry if the batter looks a little curdled. It’ll firm right up. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves until well mixed. Dump the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and fold carefully with a spatula or spoon until the dry and wet ingredients are well combined. Don’t overmix here: you’re just joining the wet and dry ingredients. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, dividing it evenly and filling the cups to the rim. Sprinkle the tops with pumpkin seeds or pecans.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown on top and spring back when pressed in the middle. Let cool and then place on a wire rack for an additional 20 minutes.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.