Monday, October 11, 2010

Apple Cider Muffins

I had a bunch of apples left over from going apple picking with my boys, and I have been busy putting them to good use! Since we all eat muffins at my house, I finally had an excuse to try out a recipe from one of my baking cookbooks, The Craft of Baking. I love buying a big gallon of fresh apple cider each fall and drinking it warm on occasion, but I find myself with a lot of it that doesn't always get a chance to be used. So, these Apple Cider Muffins seem like a great solution! It utilizes those apples and the apple cider at the same time.

Okay, so the pictures of my boys don't necessarily have anything to do with this recipe, but I think I was overdue to show them off here on the blog! I haven't posted pictures of them in months, and I know there are people who have been wanting me to. So, here they are, eating their mid-afternoon snack, which I believe consisted of Halloween-shaped marshmallows, dried fruit strips, and these muffins. Eclectic!

Now, I wanted to share a little trick with you for making baked goods just a bit healthier. I purchased a bag of ground flax seeds a while back, thinking I'd just look it up later and find creative ways of slipping the flax into things I would make. I knew they were rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and high in dietary fiber, and that they can even lower your cholesterol. It seemed like a great ingredient to use in place of other, less healthy ones.

As it turns out, you can actually use ground flax seed in place of oil or butter in a baked good recipe! I was floored when I read this on the back of the bag. It's a 3:1 ratio, meaning if a recipe called for 1/2 cup butter, you would use 1 1/2 cups of ground flax seed in its place. I was pretty skeptical about the substitution, because it seemed like it wouldn't work. You're basically replacing a "wet" ingredient with a "dry" ingredient, which seemed doomed to fail. But I practiced this trick on some other muffins I made the week before, by replacing half the fat with flax seeds, and guess what? It really did work!

The flax seeds give the muffin an extra texture and heartiness, as well as some darker flecks that are visible when you bite into it. The muffin was, amazingly, still moist and not heavy like a brick, as I feared it would be. It does taste a bit healthier, if that makes sense, and less indulgent. But I suppose that is the point here, anyway, so it was a welcome flavor!

These muffins are delicious and disappeared very quickly. They were a hit at my house and a hit at Andy's work, too. I'm so glad I've found such an awesome way to incorporate ground flax seed into our diet; we hardly eat any fish at my house, or any other foods that are well-known for their Omega-3s. Now I know we can still sneak it in, and it won't affect the taste! Just one note: the recipe below is written as I made it, not the way the book did. The changes I made are listed, and then the book's original ingredient is listed in parentheses after.

Apple Cider Muffins
adapted from The Craft of Baking
makes 12 muffins, plus 5-6 mini muffins

Unsalted butter or nonstick cooking spray, for greasing muffin tins
3/4 cup granulated sugar (the book used 1 cup)
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (the book used 1 cup)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup applesauce (the book used 3/4 cup grapeseed oil; I used applesauce and flax seed)
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup ground flax seed
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 crisp baking apples, such as Granny Smith or Mutsu, peeled, cored, coarsely grated (I used my food processor with the shredding attachment), and drained, juices reserved and used as part of the cider measurement
1 Tbsp. turbinado sugar (the book used Demerara sugar)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter or spray a standard 12-cup muffin tin (plus a mini muffin tin, if using), or line with paper liners (I used paper liners, but the muffins like to stick to those).

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and applesauce. Add the eggs and whisk to combine. In another bowl, sift together the flour, flax seed, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a third bowl, whisk together the apple cider, sour cream, and vanilla.

3. Add one third of the flour mixture and one third of the apple cider mixture to the sugar mixture, folding with a spatula just to combine. Add the rest of the flour and cider mixture in two additions. Fold in the grated apple, and then divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup three quarters of the way. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with the turbinado sugar.

4. Bake, rotating the muffin tin halfway through, until the muffins spring back to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes (mine took about 3-5 minutes longer). Transfer the pan(s) to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Then turn out the muffins from the pan(s) and let them cool completely on the wire rack. These muffins are best the second day, and will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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