Thursday, March 21, 2013

Saffron Mini-Muffins

Despite yesterday being the first day of spring, it is crazy cold around here.  Like, "high of 34, feels like 17" kind of cold.  And that's not Celsius either.  Freezing.  But on the upside, the sun has been shining, and I'm starting to see signs of spring cropping up.  Robins singing, the sun staying out longer, and the green starts of crocuses popping up in my yard.  It's on it's way.

(So, I could insert a long story here to make a smooth transition, but honestly, it's Thursday, my crazy day, and I'm going to skirt it.  If you'd like to imagine a magical, transcendent, witty, wordy transition, please do so now.)  

You know what spice comes from crocuses?  Saffron!  

I don't know if it's because I'm a spring kind of gal, and I love those little early bloomers, or if it's because it's one of the most expensive spices, and I have expensive tastes, but I have a thing for saffron.  I know very few people who have tried saffron that don't feel strongly about it, one way or the other.  It's kind of a quirky taste, and very unique.  It's used in a variety of cuisines, from the Spanish paella to Indian saffron rice.  I'm not Spanish or Indian, and although I love food from all over the world, saffron brings me back to my Scandinavian roots, where it is used in buns and sweet breads.  

Recently, I was given the opportunity to sample some products from Curry's, a local (as well as on-line) spice merchant, and to try to come up with some new recipes using them.  When I saw a product called Saffron Milk Spice, I was intrigued.  It's a blend of ground nuts and spices that you add to warm milk to make a soothing, flavored drink.  That sounded like something I could work with, and I couldn't wait to give it a try.

Made according to the package directions, the milk spice is a very interesting change of pace, compared to the chai or tea that I usually sip in the mornings.  It becomes the prettiest buttery yellow color, perfect for dreams of spring sunshine.  I like to make it a little sweeter with sugar or honey.  My kids enjoyed trying it sweet as well...go figure.

If you enjoy saffron, there are probably dozens of sweet directions that you could go with this milk spice.  Saffron ice creams, puddings (rice pudding with jasmine rice would be great!), cookies...but I went for one of my family's favorite treats: the muffin.  They are quick and easy, and I can whip them up for breakfast or for an afterschool snack with no problems.  

I went with mini-muffins, partially because I wasn't sure how intense the saffron flavor would turn out, and partially because my kids came home from school ravenous yesterday, and I needed them to bake more quickly.  It's also a nice fluffy inside to sugared crust ratio, in my opinion.  But if you want, you could make these into regular-sized muffins (bake for 20-25 minutes) or a quickbread (bake for 50-55 minutes).

Heat your oven to 400 degrees, and get your muffin (or bread) pans prepared by either greasing them, using cooking spray on them, or putting muffin liners in them.

Heat a cup of milk (either in a small saucepan on the stove, or in your microwave), and add 2 tablespoons of Curry's Milk Spice.  I doubled the usual amount, because I really wanted the saffron flavor to shine through.  Stir it and let it dissolve and cool a bit.

In a large bowl, stir together 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup sugar.  

In another bowl, beat together 1 egg and 1/4 cup of vegetable oil.  Mix in about half of the milk mixture, making sure to do it a little bit at a time so that the egg doesn't cook. 

Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add the egg mixture and the rest of the flavored milk into it.  Mix it just until all the dry ingredients are wet.  Mixing is the most important part of making muffins.  If you overmix it, your muffins will be more like hockey pucks.  You want it just barely fully mixed.

Portion the batter out into the muffin cups (I use a cookie dough scooper, and it makes it simple).  You want them to be about 3/4 full.  

In a small bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom.  Lightly sprinkle this mixture on top of the muffin batter.

Place the pan in the middle rack of the oven, and cook the mini muffins for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

These fragrant little gems are great on their own or with a little pat of butter.  They would be the perfect compliment to a nice afternoon tea.  Or, if you live in my version of reality, they will be scarfed down by your children in a matter of minutes, with a few slight breaks to mention how delicious they are.  Either way, it's a win in my book.

Be sure to check out Curry's and their wonderful spice products!  

Saffron Mini-Muffins

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons Curry's Milk Spice
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Preheat your over to 400 degrees.

Prepare a mini muffin tin by greasing it or filling it with mini muffin liners.

Heat the milk and add the milk spice.  Stir it to dissolve and set it aside to cool.

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and 3/4 cup sugar in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle and set aside.

Beat the egg and the oil.  Slowly beat in about half of the milk mixture, a small bit at a time so that the eggs don't cook.  

Add the milk mixture and the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining sugar and the cardamom.  Sprinkle this mixture over the muffin batter.

Bake at 400 for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

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