October 26, 2010

Pumpkin and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Lately, Juli and I have been thinking a lot about foods associated with this time of year:  cranberries, apple cider, roast turkey and - most relevant to this post - pumpkin.   Juli recently made up excellent batches of pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins, which we have been greatly enjoying.   My office has a pot luck coming up, for which everyone is supposed to bring a normal lunch for him or herself, but also bring some sort of dessert to share.   I signed up to bring some cookies and muffins, and decided I'd also like to try my hand at pumpkin muffins, and at coming up with a recipe that was both different from, and as good as, the pumpkin, cranberry and pecan muffins she made.

I knew that whatever I ended up making, it would be a new experience for me, because while I've eaten a fair number of muffins over the years - some great, some not so good, and a few that were downright terrible - this would be the first time I'd ever cooked muffins.

I looked through cookbooks, cooking blogs and online recipe sites, and while I found some recipes that looked pretty good, I didn't find one that really struck my fancy, so I decided to come up with one of my own.  In doing so, I studied some basic muffin recipes and how-to advice, and gave thought to what had and had not worked well in various muffins I'd had, and what I might do to make more than just another muffin.  That led me to make a few decisions in designing my own recipe.

First off, I had to decide whether or not to add bits of some sort of fruit or nuts to give the muffins more range of texture and flavor.   Though I love cranberries, I didn't want my muffins to be too much like the great ones Juli had already made in the recent past, so that ruled out cranberries.  I also considered raisins, apple chunks and various other options, as well as different sorts of nuts, but finally decided to go with something else:  chocolate chips.   I'd tried a couple other pumpkin muffin recipes that used chocolate chips, not to mention some pumpkin and banana bread recipes that used the chips, and I'd always liked those.  Plus, I figured the dark bits of chocolate along with the orange-brown of the rest of the muffin would look good as a Halloween-time food.

The next decision was a bit more difficult.  Traditionally, muffin recipes have called for oil of some sort in order to make a moist muffin.  Over the past couple decades, though, a lot of people have looked for healthier alternatives to all that oil, and one of the most common alternatives is applesauce.  I will admit to going into this project with a bit of a bias against the applesauce option, mostly because a lot of the time when I've had muffins made with applesauce instead of oil, I've often found them flavorless and unpleasant - albeit with a reasonably moist texture.   In my experience, a lot of people who used applesauce in muffins have often been so concerned about making a healthy muffin that as they also loaded it with whole grains and bran and seeds and so forth, they forgot to make something that actually tasted good and wasn't so dense as to render it nearly inedible. 

Nonetheless, in designing my own recipe, I decided that I would go the applesauce route.  I made this choice not so much for health reasons as to produce the blend of flavors I wanted.  Since I was making pumpkin muffins, I wanted to use other ingredients that conveyed an autumn flavor, and applesauce fit that bill.  Along the same lines, rather than go with a fair bit of water or perhaps milk (both common in muffin recipes), I decided to go with something that would boost both the fruit flavor of the muffins and the spices that tend to go well with pumpkins.  Thus, I added some apple cider to the mix.  I doubt I'm the first person to have come up with this idea, but I didn't see it in any of the recipes I consulted.    It did occur to me that maybe I didn't see apple cider listed in any muffin recipes because it resulted in crappy muffins, but I decided to go with it anyhow.  Even if the result wasn't good, I'd at least learn something.

I needn't have worried.  The apple cider idea worked great, and so did the recipe as a whole.  I didn't use as much sugar as do a lot of muffin recipes, but between the applesauce, the cider and the chocolate chips, they aren't lacking in sweetness.  They're moist and chewy, with a nice blend of flavors:  warm spices, creamy pumpkin with an apple undertone and sweet-bitter, dark chocolate.  About the only thing I might do differently, should I make these again, is to forego the water entirely in favor of more apple cider.

Anyhow, along with a bunch of the cookies I made last weekend, these will round out my offering for the pot luck at work.   I'm hoping others like them as well as we do.  I also hope some readers will give them a shot and let me know what they think.

Pumpkin and Chocolate Chip Muffins

yield = approx. 26 muffins

1 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2    cup applesauce
4       eggs
2       cups canned or freshly pureed pumpkin
1/4    cup apple cider
1/4    cup water
3       cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1       teaspoon baking soda
2       teaspoons cinnamon
1       teaspoon ground nutmeg (preferably freshly-ground)
1/2    teaspoon ground cloves
1/2    teaspoon salt
1       cup semisweet dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray muffin tins with nonstick spray

By hand, mix sugar, applesauce and eggs until smooth.  Add pumpkin, apple cider and water and mix until smooth.  In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.   Add dry mixture and chocolate chips to wet mixture and stir to mix, but do not over-stir. 

Fill each cup of the muffin tin 2/3 full with batter.  Bake approx. 20 minutes.

For chocolate chips, I went with a mix of Ghiardelli Bittersweet Baking Chips and Hershey's Special Dark Chips.

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