Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cream Cheese-Filled Carrot Muffins

Do you bake?

Can you bake?

Do you like to bake?

A lot of people say "I can't bake".

I don't buy it.

That's nonsense. Everyone can bake. Sure there are more rules and there's not much room for "winging it" or "eyeballing", but that shouldn't be enough to scare you away.

But rules suck! I know. There's a child in all of us - one that wants to rebel and hates following instructions. Like...

"Put your toys away!"
"Wash your hands"
"Put your slippers on!"
"Turn off the lights when you leave the room"
"Don't fight with your sister"
"Finish dinner or you're eating spaghetti for snack tonight"

I get it. I really do. It also involves reading. You really do have to read a recipe all the way through and get an idea of the sequence of things before you get started. It's a lot to ask, but isn't it worth it?

It's totally worth it.

We all know how to read and we can all follow instructions. Right? Yes. Of course. It's 100% possible.

Let's take these Cream Cheese-Filled Carrot Muffins for example. Cream cheese-filled?? Come on. They're so off the wall - they're practically on the ceiling.

They're dense and moist, just as carrot cake should be. Use the finest side of a cheese grater to achieve delicate shreds of carrot that will cook into the batter so you're not left with stringy cuticle-like strands hanging between your teeth. That's not classy.

I enjoy making Carrot Cake with butter...because it makes it richer. I typically always prefer butter. But, oil is liquid at room temperature, so it has the ability to keep baked goods super moist despite its lack of flavour.

These fantastic muffins are the perfect candidate for vegetable oil because they already pack a ton of flavour. Oh, and they only use 1/3 cup of it. Yes. Only 1/3 cup. That's about 5 1/2 tbsp, 75 mL or 2.6 ounces.

Good luck finding a moist Carrot Cake recipe with less than even 1 cup of oil. It's not easy.
So, if your New Year's resolution is to lose weight...well then you're also in luck! Just don't go browsing my Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies. Those are a surefire diet-killer. Diets are stupid anyway.

I'm pretty confident that you can follow these simple instructions:

First you whisk together a bunch of dry ingredients like flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

Then you mix together the carrots and sugar to help break them down a bit before blending in some wet ingredients such as structure-building eggs, luscious and tangy sour cream and canola oil.

I've also sneaked in a few extra touches like coconut and walnuts.

Spoon some batter into the muffin cups, leaving some room for the delicious filling.

Place a dollop of cream cheesiness into the center and cover with remaining batter.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes. Watch them grow through your oven window for the whole of that 20 minutes. You might drool. It's Ok. Let them cool for as long as you can stand it and then dig in.

Eat them for breakfast with coffee.
Eat them for lunch with an avocado turkey sandwich...but not at the same time.
Warm them slightly and eat them for dessert with a drizzle of honey.
Or eat them standing up over the sink right before bed.

I fall into the latter category. Don't judge.

Cream Cheese-Filled Carrot Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp each ground allspice and ground coriander
¼ tsp each ground nutmeg and ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
8 oz finely grated carrots (about 2 cups or 2 large carrots)
¼ cup sweetened shredded coconut
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup full fat sour cream
1/3 cup pure canola oil
2 oz coarsely chopped walnuts (about ½ cup)

For the filling:
4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tbsp sugar

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Whisk ingredients together to blend evenly and set aside.

Make the filling now so that it is ready once your cake batter is done. In a small bowl, beat cream cheese using an electric hand mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar and beat until very smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together grated carrots, coconut and both sugars. Let stand no more than 3 minutes to allow the sugar to break down the carrots and release some liquid. This helps to soften the carrots slightly so that you don’t end up chewing on stringy, cuticle-like bits in your cupcakes. Using an electric hand mixer on medium speed, beat eggs into carrot mixture, one at a time, until well blended. Beat in sour cream and oil until well incorporated. Stir in walnuts. Add flour mixture to carrot mixture all at once and fold gently using a wide spatula with few strokes until mostly incorporated, but do not over mix.

Scoop of spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them half-way. Using the back of a small spoon, create an indent in the center of each portion of batter and place one teaspoon of filling into the indent. Divide remaining batter among muffin cups, being sure to spread it out and cover the top and all sides of the filling to prevent it from leaking out during baking. If you don’t need to use all of the batter, that’s ok. I’d rather you not overfill them. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the edges (someplace where there is no filling) comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool completely.
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