Thursday, April 24, 2008

Whole Lemon Muffins

Like most foodies I know, particularly blogging foodies like me -- I have a list of recipes I want to make. Actually, truth be told, I have several lists. I have a rather extensive one on my fridge, a couple of different lists of varying sizes in my grocery list notebook, a collection of recipes in my google documents file that could be considered a list of sorts, and of course the list in my head. Despite all these lists though, I rarely seem to make anything from one of them -- maybe once every couple of weeks do I think to consult one of the various lists for a recipe, most of the time I just kind of make whatever occurs to me...

But every now and again, the recipe that just sort of occurs to me, happens to be on one of my lists -- this particular recipe has been on the list in my head -- (a very informal affair where the recipes come and go depending on my mood and what I can remember at any given time) -- for a very long time now. Pretty much since I bought my Pastry Queen book in fact, which means well over a year now.

I have thought about making these muffins any number of times, but one thing or another always ended up interfering. Tonight I asked Chris what he wanted and his first response was to veto chocolate -- well crap, there went most of the recipes I was considering for the night. He wanted something fruity... except the only fruit I really had was bananas and I didn't want anything with bananas, and bananas just didn't seem "fruity" enough... then, this recipe just popped in my head. Perfect, because in addition to bananas I happened to have two lemons that seriously needed to be used up this week.

The problem of course, turned out to be anticipation. I have looked forward to this recipe for so long now that I had built up an incredible result in my head. A perfect balance of tart lemon and sweet, tender, moist muffin... which isn't quite what I got. Despite having a whole lemon in it (similar to the Orange Kiss Me Cake I made a while back) the muffins themselves have a shockingly mild lemon flavor. Considering the entire lemon in the batter, I expected zinging, bright, fresh, perfect lemon flavor... instead... not much lemon flavor at all... it left me very confused actually.

In fact, between the chewy texture of the lemon pulp and rind, and the slightly thick and not-quite-crunchy texture of the ground walnuts -- the texture of the muffin seemed to be made of some sort of whole-wheat (i.e. healthy) flour. And frankly, if I'm going to feel like I'm eating something healthy, I want the thing I'm eating to have some actual health-cred to it, which these muffins definitely lack.

The other problem these muffins had was that they suffered in comparison to the Essence of Orange Muffins which also came from my Pastry Queen book. Granted, when I made those muffins I used a popover pan by mistake (the store labeled it a Texas size muffin pan -- sure it looked awfully big -- but they claim that everything is bigger in Texas, so I went with it...) The orange muffins were perfect... the lemon ones... not so much.

When I made the lemon muffins I had an actual Texas-sized muffin pan, which was great except that I accidentally bumped the heat up on my oven and they turned out a wee bit dark on top. I cooked the last of the batter in my mini-bundt pan, which is the one I took the pictures of since those looked pretty cool. If I make them again (or if anyone who reads this decides to make them) I would seriously consider using a lemon glaze (lemon juice cooked with sugar) to baste the muffins in -- just to up the lemon flavor. And I would do that in addition to the powdered sugar glaze that goes on top of the muffins. The powdered sugar glaze has a lot of the bright lemon flavor I was looking for, but it only addresses the top of the muffins, leaving the middles almost bland in comparison.

1 medium lemon
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 2/3 cups plain whole milk yogurt

Glaze -- NOTE: the muffin recipe is from the Pastry Queen, but I adapted the glaze recipe since I have come to the conclusion that all powdered sugar glazes require melted butter to kill the harsh edge of the powdered sugar flavor.
2 tbsps melted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to get the flavor and consistency you want

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease 8 Texas-size (3 1/2 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep) muffin cups with butter or cooking spray.

Wash and dry the lemon, cut it into quarters, and remove the seeds. Process the quartered lemon (skin, pith, and all) in a food processor fitted with a metal blade for 1 minute or more, until it is completely ground up. Scrape the lemon into a medium bowl. Without washing the food processor, add the walnuts and pulse 10 to 12 times (the nuts will clean the processor bowl.) Add the walnuts to the processed lemon and stir to combine. Set the lemon-nut mixture aside to be used later.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter in a large bowl on medium-high speed about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar and mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs all at once and beat on medium speed about 1 minute. Add the vanilla and beat for about 30 seconds, until well incorporated. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add one third of the flour mixture to the batter and beat on medium low speed just until it is incorporated. Add half of the yogurt and beat on medium speed until it is just incorporated. Continue to add the flour mixture and the yogurt alternately, beating just long enough to incorporate.

Gently stir in the lemon-nut mixture. Spoon the batter into the muffin pans, filling each cup just to the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until they are slightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in their pans about 5 minutes, then gently remove them to a cooling rack.

To make the glaze, combine the ingredients in a bowl and stir -- add more lemon juice or powdered sugar slowly to get the flavor and consistency you want.

Glaze the muffins while they are still warm. The glaze will set (depending on consistency) after about 15 minutes.


burkie said...

i remember those great big orange muffins--they were fabulous!

Jennifer said...

You don't know me but I'm a friend of Mira's...she pointed me to your blog because I like baking too and now I'm coming here every day!

I really love lemon baked goods...I think my favorite is Ina Garten's Lemon Cake. It requires a ridiculous number of lemons (I think I used 7) because there's both zest and juice in the cake and then a lemon syrup and then a lemon glaze, but in the end it was really the perfect amount of lemony goodness for me.

Madam Chow said...

Like Jennifer, the previous poster, I find myself coming here every day!

I am a big fan of citrus, more so than chocolate, and I love lemon desserts. I agree that Ina Garten's lemon cake is fabulous, as is Dorie Greenspan's Extraordinary French Lemon Creme Tart (which contains almost an entire pound of butter, so it's not guilt-free). I will have to try those orange muffins!

burkie said...

i was hoping not to agree with you about these, but i do--they are underwhelming. i like the idea of ground nuts in a muffin batter 'cause i like the interesting texture, but it doesn't work out here. it seems to dilute the lemon even more. don't get me wrong, i ate it--it's good, just...underwhelming. perhaps using poppy seeds rather than ground nuts would let the lemon come out more?

Christy said...

I stumbled upon your blog while trying to find the Essence of Orange recipe since I can't find my cookbook! I have to disagree about these muffins - I LOVE them. I live in Florida and have only ever made them with Mayer lemons, so maybe that's a difference? I have simplified the recipe a bit so it's not so do this then that then this then that, but the result is the same! Delicious! I love them so much I tried with lime and macadamia nuts. Terrible. But lemon and pecans. Mmmmmmmmm.