I’m back, and this time I really mean it!
I won’t bother apologizing for another extended absence. If you’ve been following my adventures at all, you know that I recently located back to the United States after four years in Sicily. If that’s not a reason to take a month off, I don’t know what is!
So, first things first. Happy new year to all of you! I spent the holidays with my family in central California and decided not to bother coming back down to San Diego until our furniture arrived from overseas. Aside from hanging out with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, I did quite a bit of baking while I was there. Lots of muffins (some of which you’ll read about today), a couple pies, and several batches of sourdough bread were baked. Although I did sporadically scribble recipes down and even snapped a few photos here and there, I never managed to pull it all together for a blog post while I was there. And I have to admit that the break has been nice.
Well, the furniture finally arrived, along with my car! So I dragged myself back down here to beautiful, sunny San Diego and we’ve been unpacking, arranging and rearranging furniture ever since. Oh, and eating out a lot, too! You know the drill. But thanks to some extra help from my husband over the holiday weekend, I finally have a kitchen I can work with. And as much as I’ve enjoyed eating my way through our neighborhood restaurants, I’m definitely ready to start cooking and baking in my own kitchen again.
Now about those muffins…
I’ve made different versions of these muffins several different times over the last month or so. My aunt and uncle have an orange tree in their front yard and I took full advantage of it while I was staying there. Besides the occasional glass of fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast, we had orange muffins, green salad with orange vinaigrette, orange salad with fresh garlic and crushed red pepper, and even some caramelized brussels sprouts with bacon and an orange glaze. It’s so much fun to create dishes around things that can be picked in your own front yard!
As I was leaving Madera to head back down south, the last thing I did was pick a large bag of oranges to take with me and I’ve been enjoying them ever since. This morning I was down to my last two oranges and decided to bake one more batch of muffins to make sure I had the recipe exactly right before sharing it with you. This was definitely the best batch yet!
The thing that’s so great about these muffins is that besides tasting great, they are actually pretty healthy too. They are made with 100% whole wheat flour and have the added nutritional benefit of ground flax seeds and walnuts. Each muffin provides you with 5 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein so they will keep you feeling satisfied much longer than a traditional store-bought muffin. I think they are perfect for breakfast on the go or as a mid-afternoon snack (sometimes, both).
The key to a great batch of muffins is preparation and organization. Once you get started, the process needs to move quickly so it’s best to have your tools and ingredients laid out and ready. But first, you must read carefully through the recipe and make sure that you have all the tools and ingredients required. This is an important rule for any recipe, not just muffins!
For this recipe you’ll need these tools: two separate mixing bowls, a few small bowls for holding ingredients, measuring cups, measuring spoons, a wire whisk, a wooden spoon (or any long handled spoon for stirring), a standard 12 cup muffin tin (or two six cup muffin tins), a citrus zester, some type of citrus juicer (or very strong hands for squeezing), and a wire cooling rack. None of these things are too expensive and they are all fairly useful in the kitchen so if you are missing a piece, it might be a good idea to head to the store or even a yard sale or thrift store.
Once you’ve located all of your baking tools, you need to read through the recipe and pull out all of your ingredients to make sure you aren’t missing anything. It’s much better to run to the store before you start baking! This recipe calls for flax seed meal and although it’s easy to find at most grocery stores now, it might not be sitting in your pantry yet! I also suggest using King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat flour. It’s really worth seeking out if you plan on doing much whole wheat baking.
Once you’ve located all of your ingredients, it’s time to prepare them! Some ingredients might need special treatment or preparation and it’s best to take care of this in the beginning. In this recipe you will first be zesting the oranges and then juicing them. Also, the recipe calls for chopped nuts so if you don’t buy them pre-chopped, you’ll want to chop and measure the nuts at the beginning. Once you’ve done any special preparations, go ahead and measure out your ingredients. For this recipe, all the dry ingredients can be measured into one bowl and the wet ingredients into another. For other recipes you may want to measure ingredients out into separate small bowls. Once your ingredients are measured, read through the recipe again and place your tools and ingredients in order.
Now you’re ready to bake!
It took me a really long time to get organized in the kitchen. Actually, I’m still not very organized and I always make a huge mess, but I’m much better than I used to be! It might seem time consuming to measure out everything ahead of time but believe me, it has made me a better baker.
Ready for some step-by-step photos?
Here I have measured out all of my dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. You can see that I have my chopped nuts ready to go and my muffin tin and scoop are ready and waiting. The wire whisk is used to ‘sift’ the dry ingredients rather than a sieve because the whole wheat flour and flax seed meal are not fine enough to be sifted in the traditional way. I also use the whisk for the wet ingredients to make sure everything is well incorporated. You don’t want to overmix the muffin batter so it is important to mix the wet and dry ingredients separately before combining them for a quick final mix.
The wet ingredients get poured into the dry ingredients at the end because the leavening agents (baking powder and soda) become activated by the liquid. Once they are combined, you want to move quickly so that the muffins get into the oven before the initial reaction subsides. You will notice the batter getting puffy as you scoop it into the tins. Once they are in the oven, a second reaction occurs with the heat and the muffins continue to rise further (not a very technical explanation but I’m not a scientist!).
You want to stir the ingredients together quickly but you don’t want to overmix them or beat the batter too hard.
As you can see, this batter is coming together. There are still some bits of flour visible so I will mix it just a bit more until the flour is completely incorporated.
This batter has been mixed enough. I am now checking the bottom of the bowl to make sure that there are no flour pockets hiding out down there. It is important to scrape up the flour from the bottom of the bowl as you are mixing because pockets of flour often get stuck down there.
After the batter is thoroughly mixed, the nuts can be added and stirred in. They don’t get added with the flour because the nuts end up holding on to bits of the flour mixture, making it difficult to thoroughly combine the ingredients.
I prefer to use an ice cream scoop for my muffins because it hold the right amount of batter and the lever makes it easy to scoop the batter into the muffin cups.
You want the cups to be filled almost to the top. The batter doesn’t have to be smoothed over.
The muffin cups should be divided as evenly as possible. Any extra batter can be added to cups that don’t look as full as others.
Once the muffins are done baking, they should be cooled in the pan on a wire rack for five minutes. Then remove them and let the muffins cool completely on a wire rack.
And here’s the recipe!
Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup flax seed meal (ground flax seeds)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange zest
1/3 cup neutral flavored oil such as canola, vegetable or grapeseed
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper baking cups. Zest and juice 2 or 3 medium oranges, measure out juice and zest; set aside. Chop and measure walnuts; set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, flax seed meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Using a wire whisk, blend ingredients together very well. This is your dry mixture. Set it aside.
3. In a separate bowl, combine beaten eggs, buttermilk, orange juice and zest, oil, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk together well. This is your wet mixture.
4. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon just until all the flour has been incorporated. Make sure to scrape up all the flour from the bottom of the bowl as you are mixing. Once you no longer see any pockets of flour remaining, gently fold in the walnuts.
5. Using a large spoon or an ice cream scoop, fill each muffin cup almost to the top. Divide any remaining batter between the cups so that they are somewhat equal. Put the muffins in a preheated 375 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes. Check to see if they are done by inserting a toothpick into the center of a muffin. If the toothpick comes out clean, they are done. If not, let the muffins bake an additional 2 minutes and check again. When muffins are done, let cool on a wire rack for five minutes then remove muffins from pan and let cool completely on the wire rack.
recipe notes: I suggest using King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour if you can find it. For best zesting results, use a microplane grater. I used two oranges to get the correct amount of juice and zest but you may use more or less depending on the type of oranges. If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice on hand, you can make your own: 1 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. ground ginger, 1/4 t. ground nutmeg and 1/4 t. ground cloves. Mix it together then scoop out one heaping teaspoon to use in the recipe. Mandarins, tangerines, or other sweet citrus may be used in place of standard oranges. Melted butter may be used in place of oil if desired.
Approximate nutritional value for one muffin: 286 calories; 8g protein; 5g fiber; 14g total fat; 1g saturated fat; 36mg cholesterol; 308mg sodium; 36g total carb; 15g sugars