Spiced pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting

Spiced pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting 1
GUYS GUYS GUYS. IT’S ONE WEEK TIL CHRISTMAS. One week until we can stuff our faces with turkey and bacon and mince pies (though it would be totally legitimate to have started this already…), rip open beautifully wrapped presents, throw back ill-advised quantities of champagne and sherry and then cry at the last ever episode of Downton. *Sob* (WARNING: to those who know me personally, I won’t be watching this until Boxing Day so approach me with spoilers on pain of horrific death). Below, in the “One year ago” section, are some appropriately festive recipes, but for now let’s celebrate a wonderful product of the season: the pumpkin. Pumpkins are for life, not just Halloween, so make the most of their time in the shops and do some alternative Christmas baking. I’ve posted a few pumpkin recipes in the past (spiced pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie with maple cream), so there are plenty to chose from if you really get into the pumpkin-y swing of things. The recipe for these delicately spiced and deliciously moist muffins is based onthis recipe from BBC Good Food, with just a few tweaks to quantities, spices and method. It’s very similar to a carrot cake batter, and in fact if you’re really averse to the pumpkin idea then you could do a substitution, though I encourage you to give this recipe a try as is.

While we’re on the subject, let’s clear something up: yes, “Halloween pumpkins” sold in the supermarkets are edible! Although grown specifically for carving, resulting in quite tough skin and possibly a more watery flesh and milder flavour, they are perfectly suitable for human consumption. I’ve used “Halloween pumpkins” in this recipe before and it worked like a dream, but you can get lots of different varieties of smaller pumpkins so if you see them in your local shop then give one a go (I used an Onion squash, also known as a Red Kuri squash, for this batch). You could also use butternut squash if pumpkins aren’t available.

One year ago:
Mincemeat puff pastry swirls
Sea salt and brandy truffles
Ingredients for spiced pumpkin cupcakes
Ingredients (makes 12 muffins)
250g coarsely grated pumpkin flesh (approx. 1 small pumpkin)
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
175ml sunflower oil
175g soft light brown sugar
80g sultanas
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground ginger
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

180g full fat cream cheese
85g unsalted butter
100g icing sugar
Zest of 1 orange

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/ Gas Mark 4. Halve your pumpkin and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon.
Small pumpkin for spiced pumpkin cupcakes
Peel and chop the pumpkin into large chunks – use a sharp knife for this and watch your fingers!
Peeling and chopping the pumpkin
2. Coarsely grate the pumpkin until you have about 250g.
Grated pumpkin
3. Beat together the 3 eggs, vanilla extract and oil and vigorously stir the sugar into the mix.
Eggs and vanilla extract
Brown sugar, eggs and vanilla
Mixing the brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract
4. Add the pumpkin, sultanas and the zest of the first orange and stir well.
Mixing the pumpkin and sultanas into the wet ingredients
5. Sift in the spices, flour and bicarbonate of soda and fold through the cake mixture until well combined.
Adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients
Pumpkin muffin batter
6. Line a muffin tray with 12 cases and spoon the mixture in leaving a few centimetres at the top.
Filling the muffin cases with the cake mixture
7. Bake for 25 minutes and then check that the muffins are ready by inserting a skewer into the middle which should come out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack – the muffins need to be completely cool before icing.
8. To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the icing sugar and whisk until light and well combined. You can either add the zest of the other orange at this point or wait till the end to sprinkle it on top. Pop the icing in the fridge to firm up a little.
Cream cheese frosting on the spiced pumpkin muffins
9. Once the muffins are cooled, ice them with the cream cheese frosting and sprinkle over the orange zest if you kept some aside in the previous step.
Spiced pumpkin muffin with cream cheese and orange frosting 3
The muffins will keep well in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, though they are most delicious eaten the day of baking.
Spiced pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting 2

Double blueberry muffins

Homemade blueberry muffins 2
I love reading cookbooks. It may seem strange (or, in fact, perfectly normal to any foodies out there), but there is something exciting about starting at the beginning of a new cookbook, reading the introduction, leafing through all the recipes, learning about the author and marking the pages of particularly tasty-sounding recipes with cute little post-it notes. To be honest, lots of these dishes end up never being cooked, but it’s fun to plan and it’s good to get new inspiration for recipes. Christmas is the best time of year to receive gifts of cookbooks, as Christmas Day and Boxing Day were just made for lounging in your pajamas while reading books, right? This year I got Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes (one of my current favourite chefs), Mimi Thorisson’s A Kitchen in France (which is one of the most delightful cookbooks to read, ever) and The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. There may well be some recipes to come on this blog from the first two of these books, but today we’re all about muffins and so obviously we turn to the Magnolia Bakery’s book.

This recipe is almost exactly the same as the recipe in the Magnolia Bakery’s book – we’re using the same ratios of flour to eggs to sugar to butter, and throwing in some deliciously sour buttermilk, as they do, for good measure. I swapped castor sugar for brown sugar, for a hint of caramel , and, inspired by this article by Felicity Cook I went for a double blueberry hit. The trick is to use both fresh and frozen blueberries; the fresh ones mashed and folded through the batter in order to give an even blueberry flavour, and the frozen ones stirred in whole to give those essential blueberry explosions.
Homemade buttermilk made from live natural yogurt and milk
A note on buttermilk: this is actually now readily available from loads of shops and supermarkets, but if you can’t find any then simply mix up natural yogurt with a little bit of milk for the same effect.
Ingredients for homemade blueberry muffins
Ingredients (makes 9 muffins)
250g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
110g brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg
240ml buttermilk ( or 60ml milk and 180ml natural yogurt)
60g butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
75g fresh blueberries
75g frozen blueberries

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.
Sifting flour for homemade blueberry muffins
2. Stir through the sugar and salt until well combined – try to break up any lumps that there might be in the brown sugar.
Mixing the dry ingredients for homemade blueberry muffins
3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the egg, buttermilk, butter and vanilla. Stir to combine, but don’t over-mix.
Wet ingredients for homemade blueberry muffins
Adding the wet ingredients to muffin batter
4. Mash the fresh blueberries with a fork and gently fold through the muffin batter.
Adding mashed blueberries to muffin batter
5. Stir the frozen blueberries into the mixture, reserving a few for the tops of the muffins. Top tip!…you can toss the blueberries in a teaspoon of flour if you like, which stops them all dropping to the bottom of the muffins.
Stirring in whole blueberries to muffin mixture
6. Fill 9 muffin cases nearly to the top and stud with the remaining frozen blueberries.
Homemade blueberry muffin mixture ready to be spooned into cases
Blueberry muffins ready to be baked
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the muffins are golden brown.
Baked homemade blueberry muffins
Leave the muffins to cool on a wire rack, though I imagine they would be divine while still warm, especially if you’re having them for breakfast or brunch.
Homemade blueberry muffins on a cooling rack
The perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea, when you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Homemade blueberry muffins 3

Strawberry and Vanilla Muffins

Homemade strawberry and vanilla muffins
It’s been a busy few weeks. Trips to the countryside, graduations, birthdays, painting, football, tennis, family celebrations, BBQs. Just like summer should be. Unfortunately it has meant that there has been very little time to photograph and write up new blog posts, although we have still been doing a lot of cooking (including an incredible beef brisket recipe which I can’t wait to share with you, if I could just manage to photograph it before it all gets gobbled up!).

But today I’m back with a simple, yet satisfying recipe: strawberry muffins. I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe for blueberry muffins, substituting the fruit and adding some vanilla extract for good measure. He recommends leaving the mixture to rest overnight, but after reading this article by Felicity Cloake (whose “How to make the perfect” series I absolutely love) I decided to skip this step in the name of speed and ease. I have to admit that blueberry muffins are still my all-time favourite flavour, but right now seems like the perfect time to go with a seasonal, summery fruit. If you have some slightly over-ripe strawberries then these light and fluffy muffins are the ideal way to use them up.
Ingredients for homemade strawberry and vanilla muffins
Ingredients (makes 9 muffins)
100g butter, softened
65g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
110g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
125g ripe strawberries

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6 and line a muffin tray with 9 paper cases. If you don’t have paper cases then don’t worry – cut small squares of baking parchment and press them into the moulds, folding slightly in a few places. Pleasingly rustic.
Homemade muffin case
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Butter and sugar for creaming: strawberry muffins
Creamed butter and sugar: strawberry muffins
3. Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla, mixing for a few minutes. Fold through the flour and baking powder and stir well to combine.
Plain muffin mix ready for flavourings
4. Chop the strawberries into small pieces and fold through the muffin mixture.
Chopped ripe strawberries
Adding chopped strawberries to the vanilla muffin mix
Strawberry and vanilla muffin mixture
5. Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling to roughly half way. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.
Filling the muffin cases
Cooling the strawberry and vanilla muffins
Cool on a wire rack.
Close up of homemade vanilla and strawberry muffins
Strawberry and vanilla muffins
These are delicious eaten still warm from the oven, but will also keep well for a couple of days in an airtight container. If they survive hungry siblings and last that long…