Like many out there in the culinary blogosphere, I have an overburdened bookshelf, creaking under the weight of all the cookbooks I fully intend to use, but rarely get around to doing so. One of my reasons for starting this blog was to pull some of these tomes down and take them for a test drive.
The winner this month? The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Muffins (Williams Sonoma Collection), by the wonderful and prolific author, Beth Hensperger. It’s a little book, but the recipes are clear, easy to follow, and obviously thoroughly tested because they work. There’s a picture for every recipe, which makes it even more fun to read the book. I always wonder why publishing houses skimp on food photography, when a little more effort in that direction would help the book fly off the shelves!
The book is divided into six categories: Classics, Fruit Muffins, Vegetable Muffins, Savory Muffins, Coffee Cakes, and Quick Loaf Breads. I made the Spiced Apple Coffee Cake you see at the top of this post, as well as the Blackberry Muffins (for which I substituted blueberries and orange zest, and they turned out fantastically well).
I didn’t have cream cheese on hand for the coffee cake, so I substituted Neufchatel with no problems. When I put the batter together, it appeared to be a mass of apples, and I wondered where the “cake” part would come in. I shouldn’t have worried! Here is the golden goodness:
The cake was intensely flavorful, and so moist that I could eat it frozen (and I did), and it still had a soft texture. It froze very well, retaining all its flavor and a pudding-like texture. Dang, I just made myself hungry again. To freeze, I recommend wrapping in plastic wrap, then foil, then placing in a freezer storage bag. The original recipe includes a vanilla glaze, which I eliminated because the finished product was sweet enough.
I also tried the luscious blackberry muffin recipe, but substituted blueberries, and orange zest for the lemon zest. Master Chow loved these. They didn’t hold up quite as well in the freezer, but I suspect that may because I didn’t wrap them in foil, a mistake that I won’t repeat.
The recipe called for a whopping 2 cups of blueberries, but there was enough batter to hold them together well. The orange was a wonderful complement to the berries, and each muffin was topped with a walnut crumb mixture. Delicious! Tonight, I’m going to try either the Polenta Muffins with Fresh Herbs, or the Tomato and Goat Cheese Muffins. Hhhm. Decisions, decisions!
One final note: if your spices are old, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to some new ones. It will make a world of difference in your baking!
Spiced Apple Coffee Cake
Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Muffins (Williams Sonoma Collection)
Makes one 9-inch cake
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 tart cooking apples, such as Granny Smith, about 1 lb., peeled and cored
2 Tbsp. strained fresh orange, lemon, or apple juice (I used orange)
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
8 oz. Neufchatel cheese, room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Thoroughly grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan, or a 9-inch round spring form pan. This is a very wet batter, and if you slack off on this step, a lot of your cake will end up sticking to the bottom of the pan!
In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In another bowl, toss the apples with the juice. In a third bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon. Add to the apples, toss to coat, and set aside.
In another bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium, cream the butter, Neufchatel cheese, granulated sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the dry ingredients in two or three increments, beating well until just smooth. Don’t over beat the batter. Using a spatula, gently mix in the apples, just until they are incorporated. You want things to be mixed, but not over mixed, or you will have a tough cake.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 60-70 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Cool on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes, then carefully remove the cake from the pan.