Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
This is the time of year when all the good things happen: leaves turn, football is in full swing and Halloween is just around the corner. Food is particularly delicious now, too, with the abundance of the harvest gathered and a multitude of choices at every market and produce stand. Apples, in particular, play a starring role right about now, whether they’re raw, baked, juiced or diced.
The mellow sweetness of an apple simply screams fall. If you’re lucky enough to find it, some freshly squeezed cider, spiced just so and then warmed a bit, is the perfect way to take off the early fall chill. A few years ago, I was treated to just such a beverage from a friend who had a bumper crop of apples from her backyard tree. While I guzzled fresh juice, she busied herself in the kitchen making one of the worlds finest fall treats: apple cider doughnuts. Warm and crusty on the outside, steaming and soft on the inside, the doughnuts were perfect, and they were the perfect complement to that cider. In my memory, cider and doughnuts flavored with cider, are a most excellent way to celebrate fall.
Still, nothing is perfect. I don’t have a lot of food “rules,” in my house, but one thing I don’t do at home is deep-fry food. I would love to say this rule exists to help me preserve my health, but in honesty it’s mostly to save me from the trouble of cleaning grease spatters off the wall, removing the unique scent of deep-fried food from my kitchen, and forcing me to find a way to dispose of the used grease. I just can’t handle the “ick” from fried foods, so I generally don’t make them. But I do like to eat them, especially in the fall, when cooler temps leave me craving warm, hearty treats.
My research into the production of apple cider doughnuts did nothing to convince me they were a good idea. The directions left me with visions of a disaster in the kitchen, and a batch of doughnuts so large I would never be able to use them up or even give them away before they went stale. So I went looking for something I could make in the oven instead (it is self contained, and has a cleaning function, so I tend to use it with wild abandon). As it turns out, there are hundreds of baked variations on the apple cider doughnut and most of them are pretty good replicas since the original is a cake-style doughnut, a close cousin of the muffin.
This apple cider muffin has the requisite soft, tender crumb, cider in the batter to give it a delicate apple flavor, and a cinnamon-sugar coating. And while it’s far from light (the entire outside is coated in melted butter and then rolled in sugar), the mess it makes in the kitchen is minimal. Eat them while they’re still warm, with some warm cider to wash them down, and you’ll be glad you did. I like these muffins as is, but they would also be delicious with a dollop of barely-sweetened whipped cream, or a faint drizzle of caramel sauce, or a compote of chopped apples, melted butter and brown sugar cooked until bubbly on the stove.
If you can get fresh-pressed apple cider or juice, by all means use it in this recipe. Otherwise, go for good quality apple cider at the market. Yield: 10 muffins.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cup apple cider
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons (one stick) of butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin pan (12 muffin capacity), and set aside. Combine flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk cider, egg and vanilla. Stir cider mixture into dry ingredients until just combined. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin (leaving two spaces empty), and bake for 15-18 minutes, until centers spring back when touched.
Remove muffins from tin immediately after they’re baked, placing them on a cooling rack. Mix one cup of sugar and one tablespoon of cinnamon in a small bowl. Dip each muffin completely in melted butter, then roll in cinnamon-sugar. Place back on cooling rack, and serve immediately or place in an airtight container when cool.