Do you love to collect cookbooks as much as I do? Are you the kind of person who waits patiently for that special book, the one from a popular restaurant with a menu you would desperately love to recreate in your own home? One day Amazon sends you a kindly reminder: that book on your wishlist is available. You hastily place the order, without carefully scrutinizing the reviews (after all, a prominent Food Network star gushed about this book). And then, you get in the kitchen to try a recipe…Alas! The result is nothing short of disastrous! What’s worse is that you ignored the negative reviews, and that little voice over your shoulder that said, “the ratios seem off here, the texture is wrong, it doesn’t look right”. Hmmm, lesson learned. The world of restaurant cooking versus home cooking is fraught with these kinds of incidents. And recipes are only a guideline; they will turn out differently for every person who approaches the process of cooking and baking. In this instance, I wasn’t about to be deterred, and I went back to the cookbook reviews. Many, many readers were having problems with the recipes in the book. Some were scouring the internet for errata, without success. It’s very disappointing to invest your time, effort, and costly ingredients to end up with an item that is unpalatable and almost inedible. I should have known better, but my tendency is to follow a recipe as it’s written on the first attempt. My solution? I returned the book and I re-worked the concept of that recipe using the methods I am familiar with. And these fresh fig muffins are the result.
They are tender and just slightly sweet, full of fresh fig flavor, and a perfect breakfast or coffee break treat. A sprinkle of vanilla sugar before going into the oven produces a sweet and crunchy “cap” on each muffin. They turned out so well that I got to work jotting down the recipe, so that I wouldn’t forget any detail.
My summary of this discussion is simple: a classic technique, combined with fresh, seasonal ingredients will almost certainly bring a good result. Trust your instincts and have fun. And enjoy some fig muffins, with coffee (or tea).
Fresh Fig, Walnut, and Brown Sugar Muffins
- 4 ounces all-purpose flour
- 4 ounces whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 ounces brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 5 ounces buttermilk
- 3 ounces whole milk
- 2 large eggs
- 4 ounces unsalted butter , melted and cooled
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 6 to 8 small , fresh figs, rinsed, stemmed and cut into approximately 1/2-inch chunks (you will need a generous cupful of fruit)
- About 2 ounces chopped walnuts
- Vanilla sugar , for sprinkling over the muffins before baking (I keep "used" vanilla beans in my sugar bowl for an instant supply of vanilla sugar)
Preheat the oven, with a rack set in the middle, to 350°F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper cups or grease thoroughly with butter. Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, salt, baking powder and soda, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Whisk together to blend and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, whole milk, eggs, cooled butter, and vanilla paste. Whisk together until smooth and blended. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and start to stir together gently. Just before the flour is completely incorporated, add the chopped figs and walnuts and fold them into the batter. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl and blend in any remaining dry flour. Portion the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup to the top. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with vanilla sugar.
Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are firm, golden brown, and a tester comes out clean. Allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool sufficiently for you to handle them. Serve warm, with butter, cream cheese, or marmalade (orange is great with these). Muffins can be stored, airtight, for 2 to 3 days, but their crunchy sugar cap will soften with time.