Spices, acquiring them, keeping them, creates semblance of a kind of permanence doesn’t it?
I remember buying spices carefully when I moved into my very first apartment in Paris, thinking, I will never use all of this. And I didn’t. I lined them up ontop of my microwave because I had almost no storage space in my little chambre de bonne and took them down whenever I made the meager meals of a financially-depraved, wide-eyed young professional abroad. I sprinkled paprika on color-drained beans in the dead of a winter naked of life. And at the end of the year I spent there, I considered giving the still mostly full bottles to the girl that had moved in next door, because she had just arrived and a place with spices has a sort of staying power that feels like home.
The quicker this cozy centeredness is made tangible, I say, the better… even if at the end there’s just so much of them left when we leave. Because, after all, paprika brightens barren, foreign walls.
I started with the paprika, and cumin and chili powder and had some oregano and pepper, but forgot, after climbing all of the seven winding staircases to my tiny wisp of a walk-up, the salt. How can one forget the salt?
There were other things I forgot over the course of my year climbing (and descending) spindly staircases: laundry detergent, slips of paper with important reminders scrawled on them, bottles of wine, the bread… that scarf. And after I’m done climbing and crawling back down the stairs with you, I’ll tell you a secret, the kind I hope you forget:
I’ve never been big on muffins.
There I said it. Please don’t make me say it again.
Saying this among bakers is almost as bad as telling French friends that you don’t like foie gras. Anyway, it’s just that with muffins, (sometimes) the bad ones are almost spongy with oil and there tops get soggy or peel away when you try to preserve them with plastic.
So what does the mostly-miffed-by-muffins girl do? She bakes muffins. Until she finds a way.
I might be halfway there.
I’ve added a bit more baking powder for higher altitude and dialed up the nutmeg a touch. I also cut back a bit on the sugar for a milder sweetness.
I’ve even browned the – canyoubelieveit – only two tablespoons of butter, in these babies to give its flavor full steam. The end result is a moist muffin with a deliciously golden top.
As a postscript, they’ve got that offset tangy sweetness that we love. They’re spicy, too: laced with cloves, warm cinnamon and deep caramel-ly brown sugar.
Adapted from Food & Wine (November 2008)
Makes about 10 muffins.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for muffin topping, to taste
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (go ahead, brown it!*)
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- granulated sugar for muffin topping, to taste
*To brown butter: stir butter gently in saucepan until melted and then over medium heat for an additional 4-5 minutes, until fragrant and nutty; deep gold-brown in color.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease muffins tins or fill cups with liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg. Create a well in the center of the dry mixture.
In a medium bowl, using a fork, mix together eggs, yogurt, butter, applesauce and vanilla. Pour yogurt mixture into the well you already created in your large dry mixture bowl. Gently fold the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients until just moistened. Don’t overmix!
Using an ice cream or melon scoop, fill prepared muffin cups, until each is about 3/4 filled with batter. Sprinkle the granulated sugar and nutmeg to taste over the muffin batter tops. Allow muffins to sit a few minutes, so that baking powder can properly set.
Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the muffins comes out dry. Let cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then remove from tins to cool directly on a wire rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature.