The most commercial traction retailers have ever been able to get out of Thanksgiving has been to convince us all that it is the official kickoff of the Christmas season. But I noticed that this year several retailers dubbed the Friday before Halloween as "Black Friday" to encourage shoppers to consider that day the first shopping day for Christmas. When Halloween was over, the speed with which the stores replaced their Halloween decor with Christmas decor was astonishing...literally overnight. (I couldn't even find any half priced Halloween candy...)
Well just because the retailers might be trying to down-play Thanksgiving doesn't mean that I will. Because I love Thanksgiving, and all that it represents, I will try to offer lots of recipes this month for foods that can be made and shared with your families and friends—not just for Thanksgiving, but for Christmas too. Frankly many of the foods we associate with Thanksgiving show up on Christmas tables as well...pumpkin, cranberries, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, Turkey....
Today I'm posting an old favorite of mine—Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. I made a batch earlier this week because I had opened a can of pumpkin to make my pumpkin pancakes. The pancake recipe only uses 6 tablespoons of pumpkin. The 15 ounce can contains 1 3/4 cups. I have always been mystified by the fact that solid pack pumpkin comes in this odd size—most recipes are in 1 cup or 1/2 cup increments. But if you have a larger household than mine, you could make a double batch of pancakes, using up 3/4 cup of pumpkin and then you would have 1 cup leftover for the muffins. Since I only made a single batch of the pancakes, I still had some left over after making the muffins. But this is actually OK, since I recently discovered that my dog, who has some pretty interesting tastes, loves pumpkin (as a bonus, it provides some extra fiber for her—something an aging pooch occasionally needs). I just add a tablespoon or so to her meals until the can is used up and it makes us both happy.
As I mentioned, this is an old favorite that I have been making (and teaching) for years. But since I can't help myself, I continue to tinker with recipes long after they are "perfect" and sometimes I hit upon something that I find to be an improvement. Something like that happened this time with these muffins. The recipe calls for melted butter. Since most pumpkin- (or sweet potato, or carrot, or zucchini...) based baked goods use oil, I thought I would try oil in this recipe. Oil is liquid at room temperature, so it will produce a softer result than butter (which is solid at room temperature). If a cake, or other baked good, has enough strong flavors (pumpkin, spices, chocolate, etc.) to mask the fact that you are losing some flavor when you replace flavorful butter with bland oil, then replacing melted butter with oil is a reasonable thing to try. For these muffins, in addition to swapping oil for butter, I added a little vanilla to make up for that loss of flavor.
I really like the muffin that results from these changes. I am not saying that I will never make these again with melted butter—but I will lean toward the oil version. I have always thought these muffins were a little bit firm at the cool room temperatures common in most homes during the fall and winter months. This is nothing that warming them up slightly before serving them will not cure. But when made with oil, they become an easy "any-time" sort of treat. So, even if you don't need to make them in order to use up the rest of that can of pumpkin, make a batch to serve your holiday guests—for breakfast, as a nice accompaniment to afternoon coffee (or tea), or as a grab-and-go treat.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200 grams)
1 c. sugar (200 grams)
1 T. pumpkin pie spice*
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. dried cranberries
1 c. pumpkin purée
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 t. vanilla
Turbinado Sugar for sprinkling
In a large bowl, whisk together the first 6 ingredients. Stir in the chocolate chips and dried cranberries. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk the eggs together with the pumpkin, oil and vanilla until well blended.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and fold in with a rubber spatula just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
Scoop the batter into foil-lined or greased muffin cups. Sprinkle generously with Turbinado sugar.
Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed and springy to the touch in the center. Turn out onto a rack to cool.
These muffins keep well wrapped airtight. If you like, warm gently before serving. Makes 12.
Note: May substitute 1 1/2 t. cinnamon, 3/4 t. ginger, 1/2 t allspice and 1/4 t. nutmeg for 1 T. pumpkin pie spice.
• Use a stick of melted butter instead of vegetable oil
• Substitute golden raisins for the dried cranberries
• Increase chocolate chips to 1 cup and use 1/2 c. toasted walnuts, pecans or sliced almonds, instead of the dried cranberries.
(Recipe adapted from Muffins by Elizabeth Alston)