Thursday, October 3, 2013

Autumn in Taipei: Hipster-iffic pumpkin spice muffins


Today's the first day of fall that it's been chilly enough for me to briefly wear a long-sleeved shirt, and we've had a few other cool, gray days recently. So I figured, time to make something delicious and autumnal and rehabilitate the mainstream backlash against pumpkin spice.

For a few hours this week, my apartment has smelled like Hipster Autumn, and I just don't care. I'm not a fan of "pumpkin spice" coffee drinks, because there doesn't seem to be much actual pumpkin flavor in there, and because what flavor there is seems to be mostly artificially manufactured. But pumpkin flavored products with actual pumpkin in them? Sign me up! I love pumpkin! (For real - my favorite pasta is homemade pesto with chunks of sauteed pumpkin).

I couldn't find any canned pumpkin puree - what most people use for their pumpkin baked goods - so I took it up a notch and made my own (it's not that hard - use peeled sliced sliced pumpkin, or even butternut squash, but I prefer real pumpkin, it's got a creaminess, nuttiness and starchiness that butternut squash lacks and purees into a thick, creamy goo whereas butternut squash purees into the texture of applesauce. Cut it into chunks and sautee in nonstick pan with either butter and vegetable oil or butter and water, cover and cook until it's falling apart - with water this will be more like a steaming and with oil it'll be more like a frying - then whizz it in the food processor perhaps with a little water).

I topped it off with maple cream cheese frosting - even better if you add a bit of butter! - dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg and decorated with walnuts, raisins and cinnamon candy. I also baked walnuts and raisins into these delicious things.

And boom! Autumn in Taipei may be somewhat disappointing - you often get good weather but this year we haven't been that lucky, it's never cool/nippy (by the time it gets cool out, it's winter and always overcast), and I'm still in t-shirts - but this recipe will add a little fall to your expat life.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins (OK, cupcakes, shut up)

2 cups pumpkin puree (see above)
1 stick of softened butter (and a little more never hurt...almost anyone)
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla (REAL vanilla, NO FAKESIES)
A shot of your favorite thing that goes with pumpkin (I used whiskey for my first batch, nothing for my second as a pregnant friend will likely eat one of these) - brandy would also be very nice but stay away from anything too fruity or citrusy as you don't want to overpower the pumpkin
A pinch of almond extract or walnut oil would also be fine, but is optional

3 1/2 cups flour (substitute some for ground flaxseed if you wish)
2 cups packed brown sugar - really packed, you want that sweetness
Hefty amounts of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice and ginger (ginger can be fresh grated or powdered, I used powdered as it was easier to distribute in the batter) - and err on the side of too much, not too little (all of these can be purchased at City Super, Jason's or Trinity Indian Store near Taipei City Hall) - a tablespoon of each would not be overdoing it
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
Salt - should be one teaspoon but I find one spoonful from the tiny red spoon in my salt cellar was enough

Chopped walnuts to taste (I find half a cup works) - these tend to be cheaper at traditional shops and shops that sell traditional goods plus Chinese medicine
Raisins to taste (black ones are better than gold)
Butter or oil for greasing
An oven (sorry, I know these can be hard to come by but a cheapo electric one works)
A muffin tin
Ground cinnamon, nutmeg and other decorations (walnuts, raisins, cinnamon candy, whatever)
A rubber spatula scraper thing

1 packet cream cheese, softened
Half a stick of unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (real)
Icing tube and tips (optional - you could just spread it)

Preheat oven to 190C, grease muffin tin (I smear a little butter in each one and use a paper towel to smudge it around for an even coating)

1.) Sift all of the solids together. Use a colander if you don't have a sifter.
2.) Mix solids together completely - use an egg whisk, it retains the fluffiness of the various powders. Trust me.
3.) Mix all of the liquids together, you can do this by hand or give it a whizz with a hand mixer (that's what I did)
4.) Add the liquids to the solids and beat briefly until just about mixed
5.) Add raisins and walnuts if desired
6.) Beat, whisk or hand-mixer it one more time until just mixed but not a second longer (keeps the batter fluffy)
7.) Pour into muffin tin, make sure each depression is full to the top so you'll get a nice "muffin top"
8.) Bake for 20 minutes or until they look done (golden on the sides)
9.) While baking, beat softened cream cheese until fluffy, add butter and beat until fluffy again, add confectioner's sugar and keep beating it, add maple syrup one tablespoon at a time and keep beating. Then add vanilla and beat that too. I find a fork works best. Transfer to icing kit if using one. Do not refrigerate.
10.) Take out muffins, allow to cool. Use rubber spatula to get under the muffin brim and separate the muffin from the tin, this will make it come out more easily (you can usually just gently twist them out)
11.) Since we're not in America and our ovens are not big enough for multiple tins, clean muffin tin, re-grease, re-fill and bake more. Makes about 14 muffins, or 2 full tins + two more.
12.) Allow to cool completely, ice, dust with spices by sifting them through a tiny mesh colander, decorate with whatever you want, and then eat.

If you don't go all glutton and eat them all, you can then refrigerate them.

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