muffins baked

“I’m giving you an F.”

I’m sitting in my 7th-grade home economics class, getting reamed by Mrs. Owens. Today’s lesson was muffin making, and I went through the class kitchen’s spice drawer. I wanted to add a few extra flavors to my basic muffin mix. Classmate Jan tattled on me, and now I’m in big trouble.

“We do not play with food,” Mrs. Owens intones, scribbling something in red marker on her clipboard. (Jan is snickering.)

Well, with all due respect, Mrs. Owens … yes, we do. How else will we learn? How else will we hone our techniques? How else will we discover unique pairings and unusual combinations? Become “cooks” rather than “recipe readers”?

My 13-year-old self couldn’t articulate all that (especially with snotty Jan laughing in the background). But it came to mind a couple of days ago when I decided to play around with some carrot muffins.

carrotsThe garden has had a stellar carrot year. Even with an influx of baby bunnies, the carrots have emerged unscathed. My vegetable bin is bursting with them, and we’re eating roasted carrots and carrot soup with almost every meal. Now it’s time for some giant carrot muffins.

I have a tried-and-true carrot muffin recipe from Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking cookbook. But I want something a little different. I want muffins with a dryer, sandier texture and a deeper, molasses-like flavor. Muffins that resist a little when I bite into them; that offer up a crystalline sort of crunch.

Working off the basic Baking recipe, I sub out some all-purpose flour for semolina instead. I like the crumb semolina gives to my apple cake, and I’m hoping it will keep the muffins from getting mushy two or three days out. I add raw sugar to the batter and sub in dark brown sugar for light. I macerate the recipe’s raisins in a bowl of brandy to plump them up (and make them slightly tipsy). And I sprinkle raw sugar atop the muffin batter to provide the kind of crunch I’m looking for.

When the muffins emerge from my oven, I’m afraid that Mrs. Owens was right. They haven’t risen as much as they normally do, and they feel slightly heavy when I remove them from the pan.

But after they’ve cooled? They’re just what I envisioned: Finely crumbed; caramel-flavored; faintly crunchy and just a bit boozy. They’re even better the next day, with none of the sogginess muffins can get when they sit overnight.

See, Mrs. Owens? You can play with your food! I think my muffins deserve an A.

Play-With-Your-Food Muffins (adapted from Baking)


I plan to make these again, switching up the spices (sorry, Mrs. Owens) and using the brandy in place of some of the milk. I also may sub in molasses for the dark brown sugar. I’ll let you know how the variations work.

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • Brandy

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a muffin tin with a bit of vegetable or canola oil. (I use giant muffin tins, which yield 10 muffins. A standard-size tin will give you over a dozen.)

Put the raisins in a bowl and pour in enough brandy to cover. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, semolina, baking powder, spices, baking soda, salt and sugars. Using your hands, toss gently, making sure all the lumps are removed.

muffin batterIn another bowl, beat the eggs to combine. Add the oil, milk and vanilla and mix well.

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and fold gently to combine.

Add the carrots, coconut and nuts to the batter. Drain the raisins and add them, too. Mix gently.

muffin in tinsScoop the batter into your prepared muffin tins. (Fill the cups about 2/3 full.) Sprinkle the tops liberally with raw sugar.

Bake 20 minutes (check after 15 for standard-size muffin tins), or until a tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean or with moist crumbs attached. Cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the tins. Let the muffins cool completely before you eat them.