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Cardamom-Ginger Sweet Potato Muffins with Toasted Pecans

Cardamom-Ginger Sweet Potato Muffins with Toasted Pecans

This post was written by amber on February 14, 2010
Posted Under: baking, breakfast, brunch, easy, nuts, treats, vegetarian, whole grains, winter

Cardamom-Ginger Sweet Potato Muffins with Toasted Pecans.

I had the first snow day of my adult life last week, and I got just as excited about it as I used to when I was a kid. When my alarm went off, I rolled over to check my email, discovered a note from the boss saying we could work from home, and am not ashamed to admit to giving an excited fist pump and a half-asleep “YES! Snow day!” before turning back over for one more hour of sleep. This is the third work-from-home day I’ve had in as many weeks (first two thanks to office painting) and here’s what I’ve realized: I get more done when working from home.  I’m happier and more well-rested because no commute–and no deciding what to wear–means an hour of extra sleep, I’m more focused on my business-work when I’m doing it, and during the breaks I take, instead of clicking around the web or aimlessly wandering the office in search of chit-chat, I get practical stuff done. Things like laundry and errands and a workout, and, most importantly for this site, baking. I wonder if my boss would let me work from home more often if I promised to bring in baked goods.

I’d had a muffin craving since reading this Bittman article, and I’d been trying to eat only whole grains for the month as part of a fitness challenge I was participating in, so I decided to use his piece as an inspiration to overcome my fear of baking with whole wheat flour. I eat whole grain bread happily, and I have finally found a couple of whole wheat pastas whose textures aren’t gritty, but whole wheat baked goods? To me, they conjured up dry-as-a-bone, leaden health food store lumps. Something virtuous that I would have tried to choke down by dipping them in tea. Not so with this recipe. These are surprisingly airy for whole wheat, the keys being, as the article says, buying whole wheat pastry flour, which is ground finer, and not over-mixing the batter.

I upped the sweet potato content from the original recipe because there was a little extra in the can that would have gone to waste, and because I was terrified, despite his assurances, that they would be too dry. I took my spice cues from the piece, but added a little vanilla extract for a touch of added sweetness, plus used mostly brown sugar and added toasted, chopped pecans. My thought here was to try to re-create the sweet potato dish we often have for Thanksgiving, in muffin form, and it worked! They’re just sweet enough to feel like a treat, with healthy enough ingredients that it doesn’t feel like you’re having a cupcake for breakfast, which is how I often feel about most muffins. (And honestly, in that case, I’d rather just have a cupcake.) They also make your house smell incredible while you’re snowbound, which could come in handy if this winter keeps going the way it’s been going. I am pretty sure the scent of cardamom has magical, mood-lifting properties further enhanced by the sight of fresh snow accumulating on branches.

I imagine these would be great as a way to turn a bowl of spicy soup into a meal, and I can tell you for certain that the’yre fantastic with a cup of tea. They also freeze well (flash freeze on a sheet and then toss in a freezer bag) and can be popped in the microwave for 20-30 seconds and eaten when you need a winter morning pick-me-up. Add a pat of butter for those extra-cold days.

Cardamom-Ginger Sweet Potato Muffins with Toasted Pecans

adapted from Mark Bittman in the New York Times

½ cup melted butter, slightly cooled

¾ cup pecans, toasted, then coarsely chopped

2½ cups whole wheat pastry flour*
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
¼ tsp freshly ground cardamom

1¼ cup sweet potato puree
½ cup buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten

*Make sure your whole wheat flour says “pastry” flour. It’s ground a lot finer than regular whole wheat flour and keeps the muffins from becoming the kind of leaden baked goods often associated with whole wheat. (Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills both make it.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin tin or line with cupcake liners.

Toast pecan halves over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Spread in a single layer over a plate or cookie sheet to cool. Chop coarsely when cool.

Melt 1 stick (½ cup) butter in pan over low heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Combine flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl and stir together with a whisk.

In a separate, smaller bowl, mix together buttermilk, sweet potato, vanilla extract, and the cooled butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and slowly stir until just combined. With muffins, you want to stir as little as possible, so just sort of fold in the dry ingredients until there are no dry spots. Do not over-mix! Lumps are totally okay. Gently fold in chopped pecans.

Fill muffin pan so that each cup is about ¾ full. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Yields: 16 muffins

Time to Make: 15-20 minutes active prep, 45 minutes total time

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