Tuesday, September 6, 2011

0 Recipe #279: Cherry-Almond Amaretto Muffins

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There were lots of leftover cherries after making the cherry clafouti, so I had to figure out what to do with them. Of course, I could've just eaten plain ole' cherries, but that would've defeated the purpose of the exercise: to come up with new and exciting ways of using available ingredients in order to create a new recipe, and also have some fun in the process. :)

And, it's so much fun to be creative in the kitchen! Also, the recipe blog beastie needs to be fed a continual supply of new and completely original recipes. Otherwise, it'll starve and get cranky. ;) LOL.

I love challenging myself to come up with new recipes, particularly when I'm faced with a situation that puts me into problem-solving mode. :) After all, necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing gets my creative juices going like the time-sensitive lifespan of perishable goods. :)

Often, the question I'm asking myself is this: "How do I find a way to use a particular ingredient (or ingredients) that's either on my cupboards or in my fridge?" For example, my mother recently gave me a whole lot of fresh fruits and vegetables because she was going away and didn't want them to go to waste. The only catch is that I was also going away not long after that. So, I was in a mad race to use them up. Nothing like a race against time for a little motivation. :)

Of course, it's best to use perishables at their peak freshness for flavor and also for health and safety reasons as well. ;) However, sometimes a person's faced with the imminent "vacation scenario." We've all had it happen to us before: While you're away having fun in the sun, those fresh fruit and vegetables you weren't able to use before your trip will just be sitting in the fridge for a week or two losing their freshness. And we can't have that. :) I don't know about you, but the thought of impending spoilage and waste would really bug me. This realization might very well keep a person up at night. LOL. But seriously, I hate wasting food -- my mother trained me well -- and so, I'll typically only buy as much as I can use for any given week. However, when I'm gifted with additional food that I didn't expect, that can make the situation a bit more challenging.

Thus far, I've been able to use up 2/3 of the cherries my mother gave me for this recipe and the previous one. So, expect another cherry-based recipe. :)

Cherry-Almond Amaretto Muffins


Wet Ingredients:
1/2 c. applesauce
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. lime zest
1/4 c. cherry juice
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2  Tbsp. Amaretto
1/2 Tbsp. almond extract (or substitute this with another 1/2 Tbsp. Amaretto if you like)

Dry Ingredients:
1 c. wheat flour (or if unavailable, unbleached, all-purpose flour)
1 c. whole oats, finely ground (into oat flour) in a food processor
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Nuts & Fruit:
1/2 c. almonds, slivered
1 c. fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1/3 c. dried cherries

Special Materials/Equipment:
12 paper (or foil) baking cups (or 6 large ones if you're using a 6-cup muffin tray)
12-cup nonstick muffin tray (or 6-cup nonstick muffin tray for larger muffins)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F.  Pour applesauce, lime juice and zest, cherry juice into a small mixing bowl. Then stir in baking soda together so that it starts a chemical reaction. (You should start to see bubbles upon contact. Mixture will become fizzy and fluffy when stirred.) Mix until just combined. Set aside. In an electric mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, honey, vanilla, Amaretto, and almond extract on high speed until well-combined; mixture should be fluffy & frothy. Turn down mixer to medium speed, pour in the bowl of liquid fruit mixture, & whisk together until just combined. Don't overmix or batter will become gluey, making a dense, hard bread. (There should still be some small lumps of applesauce in the mixture; be careful not to purée mixture or muffins won't become as light & fluffy as they should during the baking process.) Turn off mixer & set aside.

Next, sift together all remaining dry ingredients into a separate, large bowl. This is a very important step. Do NOT skip it; it will help to further aerate the ingredients. Transfer wet ingredients from mixing bowl to this bowl & gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry (i.e., this is called the muffin method) until just combined. Gently fold in nuts & fruit. (Bubbles should appear in the mixture, which is an indication that the baking soda & baking powder are reacting with the wet ingredients.) Place paper (or foil) baking cups in each muffin cup depression. Spoon out batter into each baking cup and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Test with a fork for doneness; if fork pulls out easily without any batter on it, then it's ready. Cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pan. Serve, preferably warm, & enjoy!

Yield: Makes 12 small (or 6 large) muffins.

Chef's Notes: The paper (or foil) baking cups are used for easy clean-up and also to reduce total fat content. It's also less messy, as you don't have to butter the muffin tray. :)

Depending on the thickness or height of your mixture, and also your elevations level, this dish may take longer to cook. To be on the safe side, continually check the oven while the mixture is baking to ensure your muffins don't burn. Test occasionally with a toothpick or fork to see if it's ready; if the utensil comes out clean, i.e., without any ingredients stuck to it, you know it's probably ready. You can also cut into it with a knife to check its progress.

Be sure to remove the muffins from the tray soon after cooking, so if they don't stick to the tray. This is especially likely to happen if you've used paper baking cups, as oftentimes the moisture from the muffins will seep through the paper, and then they'll stick to the tray. (Believe me, I've made this mistake before; you don't want to have to employ a large catapult to heave out the ingredients, or you'll be scraping out the pan until next Tuesday.)

You can also bake this dish in a sheet cake pan, cut it up into bars, and just leave it in the fridge (in a plastic/Ziploc bag or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or foil) to nibble on whenever breakfast or snack time rolls around. Breakfast-bar-sized portions are about 4 oz., while snack-sized portions are about 2 oz. You might have to cook the dish slightly longer if you bake them this way, so adjust baking time accordingly. Best to check the oven at regular intervals, testing with a fork for doneness. Bake until golden brown.

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