I've been on a muffin baking kick lately. Initially I was motivated by the trivial reason that I wanted to use up a bag of Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain Hot Cereal I'd been gifted, but then having a supply of not-too-cloyingly-sweet, freshly baked indulgences became a reason in itself. I experimented with the recipe on the Bob's Red Mill bag, a multigrain muffin recipe from Blue Sky Bakery via smitten kitchen, and a leftover oatmeal recipe from Orangette. Julia Moskins also had plenty to say about not too sweet muffins in this week's New York Times. Along the way, I've learned to hydrate coarsely cut grains with the wet ingredients or to use cooked grains like hot cereal or millet. I found that diced pears make a lovely complement to hearty grains. And I discovered that my new favorite fermented dairy product, kefir, makes a delicious muffin.
Baking all these muffins reminded me of the first day of the Bread 101 class I co-taught. We asked the students to share an early, formative bread memory. To our surprise, many of them responded with memories of baking muffins. We realized that our first order of business in this course was to define the concept of bread as a food of sustenance, distinct from baked indulgences. Some of the confusion we uncovered among our students that day came from their limited experience with bread, but also I would argue from our culture's imprecise language around baking. For one, the word muffin, a uniquely American concept, is an obfuscation and a euphemism for the word cake. Also the production of these distinct baked goods is conflated in the single English word of bakery. In contrast, in France breads and cakes are separated by the shops at which they are procure, the first at a boulangerie and the second at a patisserie. These terms would be useful for describing changes in the neighborhood. Last May we lost the much beloved Eugene City Bakery and the building has stood abandoned for months, a depressing eye sore. Construction has finally picked up on the replacement establishment, Sweet Life. While they will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood, they are certainly not a replacement for a source of daily bread. I've been feeding my bread starter, to get back into the routine of baking my own bread. In the meantime, below is the recipe for the muffins I've been making, to be eaten as a treat.
Pear Multigrain Muffins
Adapted from these blue sky bran muffins from smitten kitchen
Yield: 12 standard muffins
1 cup (245 ml) buttermilk, kefir, or yogurt thinned with a little milk
1/3 cup (70 ml) oil (such as coconut, vegetable, safflower, canola, or mild olive oil)
1/4 cup (50 grams) lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, a little citrus zest (optional flavorings to add)
1 cup cooked millet (135 grams) or 1 cup 10-grain cereal mix (90 grams)
1/2 cup (60 grams) cornmeal, buckwheat, or whole wheat flour
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons raw turbinado sugar, divided
3/4 to 1 cup chopped pears or other fruit such as apple or frozen berries
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F and coat a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray or oil or use liners.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk buttermilk or kefir or yogurt, eggs, oil, brown sugar, vanilla, and cooked millet or grain cereal mix and cornmeal if using. In a large bowl, mix together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir wet mixture into dry until just combined.
3. Spoon two 2 tablespoons of batter into each prepared muffin cup. Add about 2 teaspoons fruit to each (dividing it evenly) and sprinkling the fruit with one of the teaspoons of raw sugar. Spoon remaining batter (about 1 tablespoon each) over fruit and sprinkle tops of muffins with remaining teaspoon of raw sugar.
4. Bake muffins for a total of 16 to 18 minutes, rotating pan once midway through baking time for even browning, until a toothpick inserted into the center of muffins comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Do not overbake. Let muffins cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from tin.
Do ahead: Muffins keep for 3 days at room temperature, longer in the freezer.