Probably the biggest and baddest eating temptation in my routine is mid-afternoon at work. The pace slows down and as the hours plod on, I start thinking about the fat-laden snacks at the FoodWorks no more than fifty paces from my desk. While there is certainly a psychological element to my cravings, I am often genuinely hungry by 4:00 and I need to eat to maintain those last threads of concentration. Thus, I'm often on the lookout for recipes and snacks that I can prepare and pack from home that'll minimise the damage done. Muffins have frequently popped up as a possible solution but they're usually very cakey and sweet, not much better than the chocolate bar I'm most tempted by! Trust the super-natural Heidi from 101 Cookbooks to present me with an alternative, with a recipe taken from Homegrown Pure and Simple by Michel Nischan.
The photograph of Heidi's batch had the austere and no-frills look I sought to emulate, hinting at lots of fibre and little sugar. The inclusion of pureed pumpkin gave me hope that there would still be some smooth sweetness to enjoy. My batch, by contrast, turned out to be sticky and spongy little critters, not at all dry or humourless. They're pretty tasty, but I probably won't reproduce them in their original form because they take a lot of time and a lot of dishes! If you bother to read the recipe properly before beginning (I didn't) you'll realise why: not only do you have to roast the pumpkin, but you have to reduce a litre of apple juice to a syrup of only a quarter of a cup. That took me about an hour and a half. It's actually quite a revelation to taste and play with this syrup and if you're curious, don't let me dissuade you from attempting it! But for a weekday muffin an equal quantity of honey, golden syrup or maple syrup will surely do the job. The other nuisance step is the separation of eggs, and the gentle folding in of the fluffy whites. To be honest, this afternoon grazer couldn't really detect the peppercorns, cinnamon or coriander seeds in the final product. My future adaption of this recipe would probably use maple syrup, some ground cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg.
Pumpkin and spelt muffins
(Heidi made 12 muffins, I got 19 small cupcakes out of this quantity)
10 black peppercorns (Heidi said 8, but 10 popped into my hand and I wasn't going to send the last two back)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 cups apple juice
~500g pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed and chopped into cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raw sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup apple puree
1/4 cup sunflower oil
4 egg whites
2 cups spelt flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Put the peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and coriander seeds in a saucepan over medium to high heat for a few minutes, tossing until fragrant. Take them off the heat for half a minute, then pour in the apple juice. Return it to the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced to a 1/4 cup of syrup. (This took me about 1 1/2 hours.)
While the juice is simmering, spread the pumpkin cubes in a baking tray and sprinkle with the first teaspoon of salt. Bake until tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
When the juice is reduced, push it through a fine seive and discard the spices. Puree the cooked pumpkin and the reduced juice in a food processor.
In a separate large bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks together for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Stir in the apple puree, oil and pumpkin puree until just combined.
Make sure your beaters are clean and dry, then beat the egg whites in yet another bowl until foamy but not quite at the soft peak stage.
Got any bowls left? You need one more, in which to combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda and second teaspoon of salt. Gradually add it to the cake batter stir, again until only just mixed. Gently fold in the egg whites.
Lightly grease a muffin tray or line it with patty cases. Spoon the batter into the cups until 3/4 full. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.