amazing muffins and crazy ice cream part I

The raisins-in-baked goods question seems to divide folks and I’ve always found myself on the side of the not so muches. A handful as-is makes me very happy, but keep them out of my cookies, quick breads, scones, etc. thank you very much. (Don’t even get me started on sour cream raisin pie.)

But I baked with a friend recently and when she suggested we make Super Muffins, I couldn’t say no. (Super Muffins? How often do you get the chance to make Super Muffins?) I overlooked the fact that there were raisins involved as well as that the recipe looked much like that for the ever-popular Morning Glory muffins. (Never a fan–too chock-full-of-goodness for me.)

But I was baking with a friend and willing to try something new. And things didn’t look all bad–outside of raisins, the other ingredients were winners: oats, bran, whole wheat flour, shredded carrots, applesauce, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger. I was willing to look past the raisin thing and give these a try.

And it’s a good thing I did or I would not have been able to tell you that these were the Best Muffins Ever: full of flavor, dense but not in a doorstop way, just sweet enough. The raisins? They melted into the muffin’s structure, only making themselves known so far as their hit of tangy sweet.

yum?

yum?

out of the oven

out of the oven

Super Muffins cooling

Super Muffins cooling

These muffins are prize winners on so many levels. My baking friend and I enjoyed one for lunch, though they’re also no-brainers for breakfasts and snacks. And I imagined they’d also make a fine dessert warmed, then drizzled with caramel sauce and served alongside vanilla ice cream.

definitely yum

definitely yum

Thinking ahead, we talked about mixing pumpkin or sunflower seeds into the batter. Or chia seeds. Or flax seeds. Or subbing pumpkin puree in for part (or all) of the applesauce. Adding freshly grated nutmeg and upping the ground ginger seemed smart. But I wouldn’t touch the carrot amount–it was perfect. And despite what I thought going in, I’d keep the raisins. (Though perhaps they could be plumped in bourbon rather than boiling water?  😉 )

The muffin recipe follows, but note that I took my suggestion of serving these muffins drizzled with caramel sauce and alongside ice cream very seriously. (or as seriously as you can take something as fun as Super Muffins, caramel sauce, and ice cream 🙂 ) There’s more to say about that ice cream, but seeing as how this is getting long, I’ll leave you with a picture and ask you to come back later in the week for the second half of this divine dessert pairing. (There will also be beer chocolate sauce, so well worth the wait.)

super muffins, DIY ice cream, and salted caramel sauce--it doesn't get any better than this

super muffins, DIY ice cream, and sea salt caramel sauce–it doesn’t get any better than this

Now for those muffins…

Super Muffins

Credit for these absolutely above-average muffins goes to my friend Stephanie’s grandma–thanks for sharing!

1 to 2 cups raisins
3 cups all-bran cereal
1  (23-ounce) jar unsweetened applesauce
2 1/2 cups milk
3 large carrots, grated (about 2 cups) or more if desired
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil (we used coconut oil)
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon salt

2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease muffins cups.

In small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add raisins; let stand 5 minutes. (DO NOT DRAIN.)

In large bowl, combine cereal, applesauce, milk, carrots, brown sugar, eggs, and oil; mix well. Stir in raisin mixture. In separate large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients except for walnuts. Gently stir wet ingredients into dry; mix just until combined. Stir in walnuts if using.

Ladle batter evenly into muffin cups, filling each completely. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate to store. Can also be frozen, which is good as this recipe Makes 40 Muffins!

almost-there chocolate lava cake

My mother-in-law clipped a recipe from her local paper that grabbed my attention in a big way: Spiced Chocolate Whiskey Lava Cake. The spices in question were freshly cracked black pepper, ground ginger, and cayenne. A recent purchase of large blocks of chocolate as part of a wine tasting “kit” meant I had the 8-ounce block of 60% dark chocolate. Outside of the mandarin orange zest, all ingredients were on hand.

Expectations were high as I started melting the butter and chocolate. But here’s the thing: I was balancing the project with other Sunday evening tasks–laundry, picking up around the house, getting kids to bed–so ended up with a good but not great final product.

My first mistake was thinking I would sub lime zest for the orange zest. I had lime zest stored in the freezer, which would save me the step of zesting enough (regular as I didn’t have mandarin) oranges for the 2 tablespoons I’d need. As I emptied the small ziploc of what I thought was lime zest, it just didn’t look right. A little taste told me that I was putting frozen pesto (!) into the chocolate cake batter. Not about to give up on all the expensive ingredients I’d already stirred together, I removed the few clumps of pesto that had made it in to the chocolatey batter, rationalizing that this was how new recipes and flavor combinations are discovered. Maybe a hint of basil would make this cake even better? I forged ahead, deciding to use fresh orange zest instead of hunting down the frozen lime zest. Two oranges were freshly zested into the batter and I moved on.

Filling the four 6-ounce ramekins and one mini cheesecake pan, I baked the cakes for the 13 minutes given in the recipe. A quick peek in the oven showed butter bubbling up furiously and pudding-like cakes that looked decidedly undone. At each oven peek, the butter was still bubbling, so I’d leave it alone and come back a few minutes later. After 25 minutes, the cakes looked done (bad sign–only the sides should have looked done), so I removed them from the oven, bubbly butter and all. Out of the heat, the butter subsided and the cakes looked lovely as could be. I knew they had to be overbaked after all that time in the oven (no lava!), but turned one onto a plate and cut into it just the same. While the cake had a nice crumb, it released no river of chocolate.

this lava cake has no lava

this lava cake has no lava

Still delish, the chocolate cake was rich without being overly so. And the orange zest was bright and fresh–lime zest would be fun to try, but orange seems the better choice. There was not even a hint of whiskey, so I’d switch to a stronger tasting booze (bourbon!) when I give the recipe another try. I also wondered why I wasn’t being hit by the spices–where was the ginger, cayenne, black pepper? While the ginger and cayenne were (very) faint background notes, I realized I tasted no black pepper because I DIDN’T ADD ANY. That ingredient somehow slipped by me–shoot.

out of the oven

out of the oven

So I now have a game plan for the next round: Use orange zest–though a hint of basil wasn’t a horrible thing–or sub in lime zest if I must. But absolutely no pesto under any circumstances. Add 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper per recipe instructions and bump up the cayenne and ginger by a pinch or so each. Cut back on the butter just slightly–there’s too much butter if it’s still bubbling up 20+ minutes into baking. Don’t wait for said butter to stop bubbling to take the cakes from the oven. And sub in bourbon (maybe 4 tablespoons instead of 3 since I’m cutting the butter a bit) for the whiskey.

Even with all of the mistakes made, these cakes were still divine. But they could be and should be so much more. (Though the fact that they were not is due to my multitasking more so than any recipe faults.) An optimist by nature, I’m giving myself another chance with this dessert with the amazing name. Expect a report when I do!

spiced chocolate whiskey lava cakes

spiced chocolate whiskey lava cakes