Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chocolate meets pumpkin in muffins

I've been stirring up these muffins and breads for several years, tweaking the recipe over time to make it tastier and healthier.

Subbing white whole-wheat flour for all-purpose was an easy start. This product, relatively new to the market, is made from flour that is naturally light in color. It looks a lot like white flour, and it bakes a lot like white flour, but it's a whole grain. I use it when making quick breads and hearty cookies but not in tender cakes.

Heart-healthy canola oil replaces the butter you'll find in many recipes. A light colored, light-tasting olive oil would work too. Each muffin contains only 2 teaspoons of oil. If you'd like to cut that amount in half, substitute 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce for 1/4 cup of the oil. The muffins or bread will be a little less tender but still delicious.

I like to bake with organic granulated sugar, sometimes called evaporated cane juice. A whisper of molasses is left, turning the sugar a light tan color and adding a nice, light flavor. You can substitute regular granulated sugar if you wish.

I love the way this tastes when I stir dark chocolate chips into the batter. That's what inspired my latest alteration. I replaced 2 tablespoons of the flour with unsweetened cocoa powder. That tiny amount darkens the batter and intensifies the spices. You can't taste the cocoa, but you can taste the difference.

Yield: 12 regular muffins or 48 mini muffins or a 9-by-5-inch loaf or 3 mini loaves

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 7/8 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1 cup granulated sugar (preferably organic)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup raisins or chopped walnuts or a combination

Place an oven rack so it sits just below the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin cups or loaf pan(s) with nonstick cooking spray.

Place cocoa powder in a 1-cup dry measuring cup. Stir or whisk flour in the canister, then spoon into the measuring cup, mounding the flour. Using the straight edge of a knife, sweep off the excess. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Measure and add the other 1 cup flour. Add baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt. Whisk until well combined.

In another large bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Whisk until well blended. Add to the dry ingredients. Use a rubber or silicone spatula to mix gently but well, scraping the bottom of the bowl. (The less you stir, the more tender the outcome.) Use the spatula to quickly fold in the chocolate chips and raisins and/or walnuts.

To portion batter evenly for muffins, use an ice-cream scoop coated with cooking spray. A cookie scoop works well for mini muffins. To make a loaf or loaves, scrape batter into pan(s).

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with just a few clinging crumbs, about 25 minutes for regular muffins, 15 to 20 minutes for mini muffins, 50 minutes for a regular loaf or 35 minutes for mini loaves. Let cool slightly, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

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