I woke up this morning thinking about Sicily. I miss the first house we lived in with the fig, olive, and lemon trees. The figs should be ripe now. There were two olive trees and my dog would constantly chew up then spit out the olives that fell to the ground. They tasted terrible and I don’t know why he kept trying, but he kept it up.
My landlord taught me how to cure the green olives by cracking them with a hammer and submerging them in salted water for weeks. My cutting board is still stained in one spot from cracking olives that afternoon six years ago. He also taught me to pick the ripe and nearly-ripe olives and cure them by layering olives with salt in a basket and letting them sit for a few weeks until they were shriveled and pungent and delicious. I didn’t speak much Italian, he spoke no English, but we figured it out.
I especially miss the lemon tree. The tree wasn’t technically in our yard, but enough of it reached over the fence that I had access to plenty of fresh lemons whenever I needed them. I needed them often. Someday I’ll have another house with a lemon tree in the yard. I’d like lots of fruit trees, but the lemons will come first.
And then there’s the olive oil. I didn’t know I loved olive oil until I moved to Sicily. We’d buy it direct from one of the local producers – beautiful, fragrant, unfiltered. It was amazing stuff. I’m not sure how much olive oil I consumed during the four years we lived there, but it was a lot. It was so delicious, I couldn’t get enough. I cooked with it, grilled with it, used it as a condiment. I still do, but i have yet to find anything here that compares to the wonderful unfiltered oil we’d buy there.
So as I said, I woke up in the midst of all these memories and longings, swirling thoughts of olive oil and lemons, and I knew I had to make something today that would connect me to that time – something I could smell and taste and share.
I decided to try making muffins with the lemons and olive oil that remind me so much of those years on the island. I had never baked with extra virgin olive oil before, but have heard really great things about citrus and olive oil cakes, so I knew the muffins could be something special. I also decided to use honey, another ingredient that was a favorite in Sicily.
My first experimental batch failed because I overbaked them. I didn’t realize that using honey instead of sugar would cause the muffins to brown so much faster than normal. The first time I checked them, it was already too late. They were brown and dry and crisp. But the flavor was delicious, so I knew I was on the right track.
With the second batch, I fooled around with ingredient amounts, replaced part of the honey with granulated sugar, and reduced the oven temperature by 25 degrees. I also checked on them early and often. This batch was a success.
I decided to mix up a quick glaze to brush over the tops of the muffins to intensify the lemon flavor. It’s a tart, thin glaze that soaks into the warm muffin tops and dries as the muffins cool.
The muffins are sweet and flavorful – the lemon flavor is pronounced, the olive oil and honey just linger in the background. The glaze adds the perfect amount of pucker. These are muffins to be shared.
Honey Lemon Olive Oil Muffins with Lemon Glaze
makes 12 muffins
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup honey (preferably local)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick baking spray or line with paper cups (spray the inside of the cups with baking spray to prevent muffins from sticking to the paper).
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Set aside. In a separate medium bowl, combine honey, sugar, olive oil, buttermilk, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Whisk together until well combined.
Pour liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon just until all of the flour is incorporated. Don’t overmix. Divide batter between muffin cups using a large spoon or mechanical ice cream scoop – the cups should be mostly full.
Bake for 17 – 21 minutes or until the center of a muffin springs back lightly to the touch or a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Check early and watch carefully, they will brown fast.
While muffins are baking, make glaze.
Let muffins cool in pan for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack. Brush the tops of the muffins with glaze while they are still warm. Let cool completely.