Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Orange Pecan Carrot Muffins

Muffins belong to the quick bread family, along with scones and biscuits. They are simple batters that use chemical leavening agents (such as baking powder and baking soda) as opposed to yeast to give them lightness and texture. The method is simple - making muffins typically involves combining dry ingredients separately from wet ingredients and then gently stirring them together to form a sticky wet batter. The key is to not over-mix the batter because it will result in tough-textured muffins. This occurs because when wheat flour becomes hydrated, it can form gluten if it is over-worked. Gluten is the protein in wheat flour that develops during kneading of bread dough to provide strength and elasticity. When making muffins, the goal is to create a tender product and maintain a lighter texture simply by stirring as little as possible since there are no other air-incorporating techniques involved. Never trust a "muffin" recipe that calls for creaming butter with sugar. It is not a muffin – it's a cupcake!

These muffins are filled with warm brown spices making them very inviting. The subtle combination of honey and orange is also lovely; however, you can substitute 1/2 cup of honey with 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar in this recipe. If doing so, whisk the brown sugar into the dry ingredients making sure to press out any lumps before stirring in the wet ingredients. This produces a slightly thicker batter due to the lack of moisture originally provided by liquid honey. The result is a slightly sweeter muffin with a more rustic appearance.

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