Fall has surely arrived when the cans of pumpkin puree come out of the pantry. I’m not really one for using lots of processed foods and shortcuts when baking, but pumpkin puree is one of those prepared foods that I cannot live without. It is easy, reliable, and consistent. And so much easier than making pumpkin puree from actual pumpkins. Although, having said that, I must admit that I’ve never made puree from pumpkins. So I’m not a reliable witness. But really, say nothing about the time involved in roasting and pureeing, just the thought of trying to crack open a pumpkin makes me cringe–do I use some sort of hatchet? an axe? a butcher knife and mallet? These are not things I possess, and given my clumsy tendencies and my desire to keep all of my fingers intact, it’s for the best. So I say: give me that can opener.
I got the idea for these muffins from a recent post on the King Arthur Flour blog, and boy am I ever glad I did. These muffins are pretty divine. And realizing that divine means godly, I assure you that I am not overstating my case. Pumpkin muffins are often topped with cream cheese frosting, and while I love–as in, obsessively, freakishly, absolutely adore–cream cheese frosting, sometimes it ruins a muffin. Not intentionally, of course. But a frosted muffin can be unnecessarily messy to eat, and really messy to store as the frosting gets everywhere. And really, frosting can tend to thrust a muffin–and the muffin eater–into an identity crisis. Is it a cupcake or a muffin? Where is the line? How can we know? In a world where muffins are frosted, how can we know anything with certainty?
You see what I mean? Existential crisis.
To avoid said crisis, I put the cream cheese inside the muffin. Bingo, bango, problem solved. But this is not one of those times when you pipe frosting into a cooked baked good. Oh, no. This cream cheese filling is baked inside the muffin. It changes the whole game, and trust me when I tell you that it is change for the better. The filling is not overly sweet, nor is the muffin, and so it does not thrust everything headlong into dessert land. Instead of being frosting-esque, the filling becomes cheesecake-like when it bakes. Seriously, ridiculously good. Divine. As in, hallelujah, I love this muffin.
Here it goes:
MAPLE PUMPKIN MUFFINS WITH CINNAMON CREAM CHEESE FILLING
(note: this recipe makes 12 muffins)
1 c. pumpkin puree
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. milk
1 1/2 c. All Purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
8 oz. packet cream cheese, at room temperature (or microwaved for 40 seconds)
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
First, I put on some cooking tunes: Vieux Farka Toure’s most recent album, Mon Pays. It’s West African popular music, and it’s great.
Next: I preheated the oven to 400-degrees and greased a 12-cup muffin tin. I didn’t have any muffin liners, but it didn’t matter. If you have ’em, go ahead and use ’em. If you don’t, cooking spray is your best friend here.
First, gather up all of the wet ingredients: pumpkin, eggs, oil, maple syrup, milk, brown sugar. Yes, the sugar is a wet ingredient. It has to do with the way the sugar behaves in baking.
And I’m sure you’re using real maple syrup. Right? You wouldn’t even think about using pancake syrup, that viscous junk that masquerades as maple syrup. Right? If you don’t have maple syrup, you could use dark corn syrup. In that case, I would put maple syrup on your grocery list and vow never to be without it again.
Whisk the wet stuff together. Set it aside.
This is important in baking any sort of quick bread–and a muffin is a quick bread. You don’t want to introduce the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients until you’re ready to bake.
In another bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger. Set them aside.
Note: if you have pumpkin pie spice, you can use that in place of the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. It’s basically the same thing.
In yet another bowl–yes, I know, there is a lot of washing up to be done here, but the recipe is pretty quick and painless in every other respect–stir together the room temperature cream cheese, sugar, and cinnamon.
Gather up your three bowls. Make sure the oven is preheated and the muffin tin prepared. Once the wet hits the dry, you’re racing the leavening clock (that means the baking powder and soda will spring into action, and you need that action in the oven, so be reasonably quick about things henceforth).
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix just until combined. A few lumps are okay here. Overworked batter is not.
Scoop two tablespoons of batter into the bottom of the muffin tins. Spread gently so that the bottom surface is covered. This is best done with a little bitty cookie scoop if you have one. If not, a tablespoon measure works fine.
Repeat until all of the muffin tins are thus filled.
Scoop one heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each muffin. This is roughly half of the amount of the bottom layer.
Cover the filling with another two tablespoons of batter. If you use a 12-cup muffin tin, this should use up just about exactly the amount of batter in one recipe. Don’t you love when that happens? It’s so rare. You won’t have to decide whether or not to: (a) throw out leftover batter, (b) overfill the muffins to use up said batter, (c) ruin a muffin tin by baking just a couple of muffins in it, or (d) leave an empty spot in the first muffin tin when the batter runs out, and then try to decide whether or not you’re supposed to put water in the empty tin to save it from scorching.
Nope. This recipe is perfect.
Bake the muffins in a 400-degree oven for 18-20 minutes. Let them cool in the pan for five minutes.
Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.
The finished muffins are really yummy, and in no way suffer from a cupcake identity crisis. They are all muffin, all the time. And they make the house smell like autumn. Everyone wins.