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 always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
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.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.