Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nectarine & Blueberry Muffins

There are two kinds of muffins for me. 

1) super hardy, full-of-stuff, actually healthy, whole wheat, slightly-dense, mildly sweet muffins and, 2) sweet, soft and tender, white-crumbed cake-like muffins

I like both for different days and different reasons.

Muffin 1 is perfect for breakfast and fills me up while tasting great and packs a bunch of dried fruit, maybe some nuts and a good dose of fiber. 

Muffin 2 is for Sunday brunch or high tea with friends. It is the crowd pleaser. It's more of a treat but less sweet than cake and packed with fresh fruit - perfect with a cuppa. Muffin 2 is also the only kind most people around me will eat. I might be the only one in my family that also likes Muffin 1. Gotta stay regular.

This recipe for Nectarine & Blueberry Muffins makes soft, super moist, fine-crumbed, light and tender muffins with clean flavours and nutmeg for warmth and a comforting aroma. They are studded with blueberries and nectarines, which is one of my favourite fruit combinations.

Blueberries and nectarines don't fit with the season right now - I know. But isn't that the reason why we freeze them? It's to remind us of the beautiful bounty of warm sunny Summer days when we're hidden beneath layers of clothing in the middle of winter and the sun sets at 4:30 pm and we're cold all the time and scraping ice off our cars and having to wear socks to bed.

At the end of August/beginning of September I freeze a bunch of berries and then slice up ripe nectarines and freeze those too. The key to using frozen fruit in your batters is to toss them in flour before folding them in to absorb excess moisture on the surface so that they don't sink to the bottom and gum-up the texture. Don't let them thaw - just toss them in flour and fold them in just when you're ready to bake. Don't let the batter sit long either or the fruit will thaw in the batter and leave gummy wet pockets.

Let's look at the stats:

Cake Flour

Cake flour makes these soft, spongy and very light. That's why these muffins also have a peaked top instead of a flat muffin top - cake flour is bleached and its the chlorine that has an effect on the starch that causes it to take up water more readily and set faster to that the batter doesn't have time to spread. It also means these will be very moist.

A (better) butter blend

It is extremely difficult for me to bake without butter - the flavour is just unparalleled. However, oil will always yield a softer product since its fats are liquid at room temperature. To compromise I use 50/50 blend of both. Be sure to use a clean-tasting oil. My choice is sunflower oil for baking.

Sugar in two places

Some sugar gets blended in with the flour and some gets whisked up with the eggs. Why? The sugar in the eggs will help to froth them up but more importantly it will dissolve. Dissolved sugar means these muffins will stay moist longer. Sugar in the flour helps the flour disperse more readily to make a smooth batter, but also interferes with wheat protein hydration which means that there will be less gluten development in the batter.

The swirl

For some of these muffins I used a cinnamon sugar topping and for some I made a blueberry swirl which is just a handful of blueberries with a bit of sugar and flour blitzed in a food processor until smooth. The flour just helps the blueberries set on top and keep that swirly definition.

Nectarine & Blueberry Muffins
makes 12 muffins

1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (125g) cake flour
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar, divided
2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup (150ml) milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup (56g) unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup (60ml) sunflower oil
½ cup frozen blueberries
½ cup chopped nectarines

For the topping:
2 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon

For the swirl:
½ cup frozen blueberries
2 tbsp sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.

If making the blueberry swirl, do this first. Combine blueberries, sugar and flour in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Let stand for 10 minutes to thicken.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and ½ cup sugar.

In another large bowl, whisk together eggs and remaining ¼ cup sugar until frothy. Whisk in vanilla and milk. Whisk in the melted butter and oil. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Toss the frozen blueberries and chopped nectarines in a teaspoons of flour and immediately fold them through the batter. Divide mixture evenly between paper liners, filling each about ¾ full.

Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle tops with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. If making swirled muffins, spoon a teaspoon of the blueberry mixture over each muffin and swirl it through with a wooden skewer.

Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and bake until the muffins are puffed and lightly golden, about 15 minutes longer. A skewer inserted in the center should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Turn out the muffins onto the rack to cool further. Serve warm.

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