Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pumpkin Muffins with Spiced Streusel Topping

Autumn is almost over. Is that even possible? It seems like the seasons always end too soon, and on our last drive up the canyon most of the leaves had already fallen. I'm trying not to be too disappointed about it, trying to savor what is left of this glorious season. And this morning, I was trying to use up the open can of pumpkin that's been staring at me every time I open the fridge for a week (do any recipes ever use a whole can?).

I've made pumpkin pancakes several times already this month, but I wanted something equally quick and easy this morning. I immediately thought to make muffins.

My mom is a muffin maker. She'll whip them up for breakfast (chocolate chip, blueberry, banana walnut), or to go alongside soup on a cold night (apple cinnamon, carrot, oatmeal raisin). They are wonderful: lightly sweet, soft, warm, and especially good smothered in butter or homemade jam.

Mom taught me one important thing about making muffins: don't overmix. If you mix too much, they will be tough and they won't dome up on top. The batter should be lumpy, and there may even be some small patches of dry flour. Another trick from mom: fill the empty cups in your muffin tin with water before baking. Just do it.

So with my heart set on pumpkin muffins, I opened up my good-old Betty Crocker cookbook and found a basic pumpkin muffin recipe. Betty calls for raisins in hers, while other recipes I looked at online include chocolate chips or pecans. I decided to skip the raisins and instead top mine with streusel (we're big streusel fans at our house). I also subbed pumpkin pie spice in a few places to give it that extra autumn flavor.

Betty is notorious for dump recipes, meaning you just dump in all the ingredients and mix it up. This is great for easy, one-bowl baking, but can sometimes lead to problems. This method, in combination with attempts not to overmix, can yield muffins with pockets of flavor like an extra salty bite, or in the pumpkin muffin recipe, some unmixed lumps of pumpkin puree. To avoid these problems, I like to mix all my dry ingredients together, and all my wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Then add the wet to the dry, and mix until just combined and still lumpy. Problem solved, and only one extra bowl to wash.

Now to the point, here's the recipe.

Pumpkin Muffins with Spiced Streusel Topping

Makes 12 muffins

For topping:

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons butter, chilled

Mix all ingredients until well combined and crumbly. You can use a pastry blender, two knives, your fingers, or a food processor. I used my mini prep processor, which I love.

For the muffins:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (you can use all white flour too)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare muffin pan by spraying with cooking spray. Mix all dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry, until just combined. I like to use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Do not overmix (see commentary above). Batter should be lumpy.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full (I like to use a scoop). Sprinkle generously with streusel topping (you should have enough topping to make 2 or 3 batches of muffins). Bake 18 to 20 minutes. Immediately remove from pan. These muffins are best served warm, but can be kept for a few days in an airtight container or plastic bag (be sure they are completely cool before storing).

Don't skimp on the streusel.

Eat them while they're hot, you won't regret it.

Topping adapted from Betty Crocker's Favorite Coffee Cake. Muffins adapted from Betty Crocker's Pumpkin Muffins.

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