Apple Cinnamon Muffins

In my opinion, real estate agents looking to woo potential home buyers shouldn’t put chocolate chip cookies in the oven in order to fill the rooms with a tempting, inviting aroma–but instead, an apple pie, cinnamon scones or, yes, apple cinnamon muffins. That’s because nothing smells better or fills a house with warmth faster than baking cinnamon. I’m on a breakfast-biscuit kick at the moment and wanted to cozy up the kitchen, with its icy linoleum floors and poorly insulated walls, so apple cinnamon muffins were the perfect answer. I’m also going to pretend that these are healthier than they are– they have fruit in them! You could substitute whole wheat flour if you really want to feel better about eating them. They are delicious, though. The water that’s naturally in apples makes the inside of the muffins extra moist and silky-crumbly-fall-apart-in-your-mouth-soft. The batter is the tastiest thing this side of raw cookie dough. I couldn’t stop sampling it. Oops. I didn’t peel the apples, because apple skin is high in fiber and tastes just fine, and also because I’m lazy, but if you abhor the idea of apple skin in your breakfast pastries, go ahead and peel away.2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar plus extra for dusting muffin tops
1 egg, beaten
1 cup yogurt
2 apples, cored and roughly choppedMakes: 15-18 large muffins.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Cream the butter with the sugars, then add egg. Next add the yogurt–do not over mix. Stir in dry ingredients. Stir in the apples. Transfer to greased muffin tins or muffin cups, filling to the top of the cup. Dust with brown sugar. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F, then turn down the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 5 minutes. Test a muffin with a toothpick to make sure they’re done–the toothpick should be clean with some crumbs clinging to it.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Because I have an addiction to all things pumpkin (pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pie with pecan topping), it’s a tiny logical jump to sweet potato, pumpkin’s similarly colored and equally hearty cousin. I came across this recipe while looking for things to do with the giant 20 oz cans of sweet potatoes currently sitting ominously on the counter. I used already cut, peeled and canned potatoes–because I didn’t have fresh ones on hand, and needed to get rid of the canned ones I did have. So making puree was simple: just scoop some of the already mushy potatoes out and mash them up. I prefer not to use kitchen equipment if it’s not absolutely necessary– no mixers, food processors, blenders, etc. With some exceptions, many things can be made completely by hand.

The corn syrup (I know, ick, but what can you do) that my canned potatoes were drowning in made the biscuits sweeter than they would have been, so beware if you use a can; you may want to reduce the sugar. If you have actual sweet potatoes, bake them, peel them, and mash or use of a food processor to puree until silky smooth. If you don’t have buttermilk, substitute one cup milk plus one tablespoon lemon juice (let stand for five minutes before using).Adapted from Martha Stewart.

1 3/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced, plus 2 tablespoons melted
3/4 cup sweet potato puree
1/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk sweet potato puree and buttermilk together and stir into dry ingredients. Knead dough a few times and turn onto lightly floured surface, press into about a 1 inch thickness, adding more flour if the dough is too sticky. Use a biscuit cutter or an upside down drinking class to cut biscuits out of the dough. Dip the top of each biscuit into the melted butter and place on the cookie sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Maple Oat Scones

In need of a delicious, homemade and portable breakfast, I decided that I needed to make a batch of scones. Since maple is one of my favorite flavors (and aromas), I settled on adapting a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, combining the sweetness of maple syrup with the texture of rolled oats. It’s a straightforward recipe. If you don’t think you’ll be able to finish one batch before they go stale, you can also freeze them and they’ll keep for weeks.

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cups butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut butter into pieces and use a pastry blender to to work the butter into the flour until it resembles pea-sized crumbs. Add milk and maple syrup to the flour and use your hands to make the dough. You can add additional milk if it feels too dry. Roll the dough into a ball and flatten it into a circle, and then use a knife to cut it into wedges. Lay the scones on a greased baking pan, brush with milk (or egg) and sprinkle with sugar.

Plum Tart

When I think of summer, I think of plums. Sour red skin and sweet, juicy, orange insides: there’s nothing quite like biting into a ripe plum. It’s January now, so of course I’m dreaming about hot-weather treats, the strawberries, water ice, and milkshakes of beach days and barbeques. This cake is easy to make, and if you have plums on hand, you probably already have the rest of the ingredients in your pantry. I’ve made it several times and it’s been a huge hit every time. The recipe originally came from Ina Garten, and be warned, this tart comes dangerously close to adhering to Ina’s standard start-every-recipe-with-a-pound-of-butter mantra. But a pound of butter never stopped me from making or enjoying a dessert, and if it really scares you, margarine will do. This is a sunny, delectable tart that celebrates the plums instead of trying to mask them with heavy flavors or textures. Serve it with vanilla ice cream and pretend that it’s almost summer again.

Plum Tart, adapted from Ina Garten.

2 cups flour

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 cups butter, chilled and diced

1 egg yolk

2 pounds plums, pitted (either prune plums or the bigger, rounder, red variety)

If you’re using bigger plums, you might need to cut them eighthwise; for prune plums, quartered will work. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Stir together flour, walnuts, and brown sugar, and add butter and egg. Mix until the mixture is crumbly. You can use a mixer, but doing it with your hands works just fine. Press 1 1/2 cups of the crumbs into the bottom of a 9 1/2 inch springform pan. Arrange the plum slices in a spiral, working from the outside in, with the plum’s skin facing downward. Sprinkle the rest of the crumbs on top. Bake for 50 minutes, until the top is light brown and juices are bubbly.