Kurt Gutenbrunner's Potato and Cucumber Salad
Nigella Lawson's Maple Pecan Muffins

Martha Rose Shulman's Maple Pecan Muffins


Or, How To Screw Up a Muffin While Being a Scatterbrain and Still Have It Taste Good.

Last Thanksgiving, I apparently had a death wish and made three pies for our Thanksgiving gathering. It was enough to make my head explode, what with all the delicate pastry and oven usage orchestration and innacurate cooking times and so on. When two out of three of the pies turned out to be absolute revelations, I counted my lucky stars. The third pie, however, was a soapy, insipid disaster. I promptly threw out the recipe and never looked back. What I had forgotten was that I still had other pecan recipes waiting for me from the same article Martha Rose Shulman wrote while on a stint in Paris.

When I stumbled across her pecan muffin recipe, I scowled a bit and thought about throwing it out, untested. But something about the list of ingredients made me stop and think. I liked the addition of whole wheat flour, a dollop of yogurt, and using nothing but maple syrup to sweeten the muffins. Yesterday morning, making my way back into the city from Williamsburg (Ben's new home), I stopped for the first time at Trader Joe's to gather up my ingredients. (So, now that I get to gripe along with everyone else, I don't think TJ's will ever replace Whole Foods - the selection is so much smaller and not as aggressively priced as I would have thought. But still, I got some cheap butter and a bag of pecans for a dollar less, and though they have nothing to do with anything, a tub of freeze-dried strawberries that might be the best thing since sliced bread).

And then, Monday happened. I absent-mindedly ate my lone yogurt for a snack, forgetting it was supposed to enrich my muffins later that day. I forgot that among my stash for 10 different flours, I actually didn't have a whole wheat pastry flour sack (only whole wheat or pastry, gah). Best of all, while stirring together the ingredients for the muffins (using a little extra milk to make up for the lacking yogurt), I totally and utterly forgot to add the quarter cup of oil called for. Blissfully ignorant of my mistake, I sat down on the couch while the most wonderful smell filled the air. It smelled like breakfast baking in the oven. Like a medley of French toast and pancakes and waffles all combined into one glorious dish.

When the muffins were browned and firm, I took them out and popped them onto a cooling rack. After they'd cooled off somewhat, I broke one open. It had that barely rubbery feeling of a low-fat baked good, but smelled so irresistibly fantastic that it couldn't be all that bad. And in fact, it wasn't. It was delicious. Maple and pecans really do go together very well, and the barely sweet muffin with the nutty chunks was soothing and wholesome and tasted like I was eating a pancake drizzled with maple syrup. I can't imagine how much better they'd be if made correctly (maybe someone will tell me), but even my screwed-up version is a definite keeper.

Maple Pecan Muffins
Makes 12 muffins (so Shulman says - I only got 9)

1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (you can also leave this out and add another half cup of AP flour)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup low-fat or regular milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 1 (12-cup) or 2 (6-cup) muffin tins.

2. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. In another bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, vanillla, yogurt, milk and maple syrup. Quickly combine the dry and wet ingredients, and fold in the pecans. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them 2/3 way full.

4. Bake the muffins until brown and firm, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove them from the oven and allow the muffins to cool in the tins for 5 or 10 minutes before removing them and cooling them on a rack.