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Pumpkin pie has always been my least favorite Thanksgiving dessert. Why eat something all vegetable-y and mushy when you could have pecan pie, apple pie, chocolate pie, chocolate pecan pie… mmmmm. Slobber.

In the last couple years I’ve developed a taste for winter squash in various forms, so I thought maybe I’d have outgrown my distaste for pumpkin pie as well. However, this Thanksgiving I still preferred the treacle tart, butterscotch pie, and brownies (all much purer forms of sugar, unadulterated by vegetables of any kind).

Nevertheless, as part of my recent experimental baking efforts, and in response to enthusiastic encouragement from potential baking beneficiaries, I bought some cans of pureed pumpkin a couple weeks ago. The resulting creations weren’t perfect, but I didn’t hear any complaints.

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My first attempt was pumpkin muffins. I woke up on a Saturday morning with an urgent need for something sweet and bready. The recipe ended up making over 2 dozen muffins, so I had enough sweet bready things to last me well into the next week. On Sunday I brought them on a little hike with some friends, and we ate them (along with an enormous amount of cheese) on a rock in the middle of a little stream. The pumpkin muffins were the perfect accompaniment to the orange trees and piles of crunchy leaves.

My second attempt was pumpkin cookies with cream cheese frosting. I was less satisfied with these, so I won’t post the recipe yet. The flavor was amazing, but the texture was much too cakey. The cookies were gobbled down in less than an hour at school, but grad students have very low standards when it comes to free food, so I don’t take it as much of a compliment.

Pumpkin Muffins with Cream Cheese Swirl

Adapted from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

For muffins:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (or more all-purpose)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
2 eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup canned pureed pumpkin (make sure it’s not the pre-spiced kind)

For cream cheese swirl:

2 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin.

2. For the muffins: Combine all the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs with the melted butter and milk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients and the pumpkin puree. Use a spoon to stir and fold the ingredients together. Stop as soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened; the batter should be lumpy.

3. For the swirl: Use a fork or electric mixture to cream the butter with the cream cheese and sugar. Beat in the egg. Stir in the flour, lemon juice, and vanilla.

4. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Spoon a bit of the cream cheese mixture over each muffin, and use a knife to quickly swirl it in to the batter. Try to handle the batter as little as possible

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5. Bake 20-30 minutes, until the muffins are browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let rest for 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the tin.

Makes about 30 muffins.

[Note: I experimented with swirling and not swirling. In the pictures below, the muffins on the left were not swirled; the cream cheese just spread out over the top. I thought those were less pretty.]

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