Apple Streusel Muffins

When I was a kid, apple picking was one of my favourite school field trips. I remember jumping off the yellow school bus, wearing an ill-fitting, bright-coloured pinny so everyone knew which group we were with, and running into the orchard, trees laden with bright red apples. You were allowed to fill up your bag and eat as many apples as you liked while you were there. McIntosh were my favourite, until I overdid it one year. Nothing tastes better than a sweet, crisp, just-picked apple — until you eat 6 or 7 in a row. It was not a pleasant bus ride back.

I got a crash course in apples a few years back, when I was working as a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corportaion (CBC). It was a slow news day and my producer, Nathalie, sent me to a nearby apple orchard to do live reports for Homerun, the CBC Radio afternoon show in Montreal (88.5FM — a shameless plug for my CBC friends, who are awesome!) While there, I learned that McIntosh apples are not the best apples to bake with because they tend to break down pretty quickly when cooked — which makes them perfect for applesauce. Cortland apples, on the other hand, are a great apple to bake with because they do not brown when they’re cut and hold their shape really well. The Lobo variety is also great for cooking and baking. I almost always use Cortland and Lobo apples when I bake because they are a little tart and really hold up well in recipes.

This apple muffin is moist and flavoured with all the traditional autumn spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. But, the best part of this muffin is the streusel topping. Don’t skip it — it’s crunchy and delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 6 apples, peeled and grated  (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves

For the topping:

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cups oats
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a muffin tin with paper baking cups.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter, sour cream, vanilla and brown sugar. Stir in the grated apples. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.
  5. Spoon the batter into the paper-lined muffin tin.
  6. For the topping: In a small bowl, stir together all the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the topping over the muffins.
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

*Yield: 12 large muffins

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Nonna Maria’s Apple Cake

People often ask me who my biggest baking influences are. Of course, Julia Child and Martha Stewart figure pretty prominently on the list. But I think the person who inspired my love of baking the most was my nonna Maria. I grew up hearing stories from my mother, aunts and cousins about what a fabulous cook and baker my grandmother was.  How she would make pizza every Sunday and homemade cavatelli or gnocchi. I never really got to taste any of my nonna’s food; my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was relatively young, so by the time I came along she was too sick to cook. I wish I could have asked her the secret to her perfect pizza dough, or to share her many simple Italian recipes with me.  I think it is her absence that has inspired me to write down my recipes so that they may be shared.

This apple cake is my nonna Maria’s recipe. She would often make it as a dessert following Sunday lunch. My mom tells me that during apple picking season, my grandmother would buy big crates of apples and store them in the cantina. The apples were cheap and would last for months in the cold room. One day, she decided to toss some leftover apples into a simple cake recipe she had on hand. Like many women of that generation, my nonna never wrote down her recipes.  But, thankfully, my grandmother’s sister, Zia Lucia, did write this one down. The handwritten, yellowed recipe card she gave me consisted of a list of ingredients, few measurements and no method. Armed with that, and the memories I have of my mother making this cake for us growing up, I have recreated a cake that, I hope, comes close to the one my nonna Maria would make on Sunday afternoons.

Ingredients:

  • 1 apple, sliced
  • 5 large apples, chopped
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • juice and rind from one lemon
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and grease a nine inch tube pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Sprinkle the brown sugar on the bottom of the prepared pan and arrange the apple slices on top of the sugar.
  3. In a bowl, combine the chopped apples with the lemon juice and cinnamon.  Stir until the apples are completely coated. Set aside.
  4. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the eggs, sugar and oil until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the vanilla and grated lemon rind.
  6. Reduce mixer speed to low and add in the flour, baking powder and salt.
  7. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the chopped apple mixture. Stir until combined.
  8. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
  9. Cool completely before removing from pan. Dust cooled cake with powdered sugar, if desired.
IMG_0602

Nonna Maria making cavatelli on Sunday morning, c.1970.


Apple Bacon Crumble aka “The Valentina Special”

So, my best friend, Valentina, calls me up one Friday night.  She’s all excited because she’d just come up with a genius idea for my blog.  It involved bacon.  She had my attention.  Val’s idea was for an apple pie that had a candied bacon lattice top.  It sounded crazy (mostly because Valentina is a little nuts — that’s part of her charm); but she was definitely onto something.  After some experimenting, I came up with this recipe.  It’s sweet with a subtle saltiness…and it’s named after Val because she told me that if I used her idea I had to mention her name in the blog post.

Ingredients:


Morning Glory Muffins

It’s January.

Dreary, bitterly cold, downright depressing January.  I’m not a huge fan of winter–can you tell?  But, since it’s here and we have to live with it, might as well have something to look forward to every morning!  These muffins are a healthy, go-to recipe in my house.  My kids love to eat them for breakfast and they’re packed with zucchini, carrots, apple and a whole lotta other delicious, good for you stuff.  If you’re using flax seeds in this recipe, remember to grind them down in a food processor or blender.  It’s easier for our bodies to absorb all their healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and lignans that way.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seeds
  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • 2 medium zucchini, grated
  • 2 apples, grated
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

 

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Grease a muffin tin or line with 12 muffin cups.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, coconut, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder and flax seeds.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla.
  4. Add the grated carrots, zucchini and apples to the egg mixture.  Stir to combine.
  5.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.  Add the walnuts and stir gently.  The batter will be very thick.
  6. Spoon the batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups.  Bake for 10 minutes.
  7. Lower oven temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

*Yield: 12 large muffins