Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eggnog Muffins

I like to pretend that muffins aren’t cake and serve them for breakfast and brunch. Typically, muffins are put into the category of “quick breads,” so called because they are bread-like foods that do not use yeast for leavening and therefore do not require the time it takes for yeast to rise. Perhaps, they should be called “quick cakes,” because they are faster to put together than cakes, needing only a quick stirring of the wet and dry ingredients together, but, let’s face it, they’re still cake. Nothing with this much butter and sugar isn’t a cake.

And nothing with this much eggnog flavor isn’t for Christmas (or whatever holiday you like to celebrate in eggnog-marketing season). These muffins get their festive flavor not only from eggnog, but also from a hefty dose of nutmeg and a splash of rum extract. I like to use freshly-ground nutmeg, and, since there’s a whole teaspoon of it in these muffins and their topping, I use a spice grinder (a coffee grinder that I use only for spices), to save time over a hand grater. I had to buy rum extract just to make these muffins, since I had never used it before. Now, I believe it is required to make any baked goods have a chance of tasting anything like real eggnog. In these muffins, it kicks up the authentic flavor without making them boozy.

There’s also a delicious, sugary streusel topping on the muffins, which is in turn laced with nutmeg. It bakes up nicely with just a little added crunch, and it sticks well to the muffins, even in the freezer. They might still be good without it, but they’re fabulous with it, so I’m not going to mess around.

These muffins smell delicious as the nutmeg and rum extract are released into the kitchen as they bake, and I loved them right away. Their flavor was just a teeny-tiny bit flat, however, so I added a smidge of salt to both the batter and the streusel topping. (There was no salt in the original recipe.) The difference was quite noticeable, but, while I could detect the salt just a bit in the streusel, the batter just tasted better in a less definable way.

As I said, I like muffins for breakfast and brunch, and I think these would be a great addition to a Christmas morning gift-opening (you know, to keep everyone from getting crabby early in the morning) or a Christmas brunch. To have them done early, I get as much ready as I can the night before I want to bake them. I make the streusel topping and refrigerate it, then mix together the dry ingredients. Then, I can melt the butter and mix it with the other wet ingredients and finish the muffin batter the next morning while the oven is preheating. To save even more time, you could have the eggnog measured out and the eggs released from their shells and waiting in the refrigerator.

I’m really tempted to gush on and on about how good these muffins are, with their eggnog and their nutmeg and their rum flavor and their sugary topping. I’m always a little concerned, however, that a reader won’t like them as much as I do. Then again, if you hate eggnog, you probably haven’t read this far, so I say crank up the holiday cheer and try these lovely muffins!

Eggnog Muffins with Streusel Topping
Adapted from Midwest Living December 2008

For the topping:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
pinch fine salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

For the muffins:
½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup dairy eggnog
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon rum extract

1. To make the topping, combine the 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, pinch salt, and ½ teaspoon nutmeg in a small bowl. Whisk together. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your hands or with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease or spray with cooking spray a muffin pan with 12 cups, or line the cups with paper liners. Set aside.

3. To make the muffins, melt the ½ cup butter and set aside to cool.

4. In a medium-size bowl, combine the 2 ¼ cups flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon nutmeg. Whisk together. Set aside.

5. In another medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the melted butter until well-combined. Whisk in the eggnog, vanilla extract and rum extract until smooth.

6. Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Stir together until just combined. The batter will be thick.

7. Spoon the batter evenly among the cups of the prepared muffin pan. Each cup should be about ¾ full. Distribute the topping mixture generously over each filled cup. (Squeeze it together with your hands to make larger clumps if desired.) You may have more topping than you need.

8. Bake at 375 F for 18-22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out without any liquid batter sticking to it. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the muffins from the pan (the muffins and the pan will still be hot) and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 muffins. Store in an airtight container or zip-top bag or freeze.

One year ago: Milk Chocolate Chip and M&M Cookies

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