5 weeks ago
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
There are certain things that I am always afraid to confess to people, for fear that they will start to think less of me. For example: "I made a special trip to six different stores in search of the People issue with Brangelina's newborn twins on the cover." And: "No matter what is going on in the world, I always read Dear Abby first when I open a newspaper." And finally: "my favorite pumpkin muffins in the world come from a bag."
I know that Dorie says that Sarabeth Levine's pumpkin muffins "ought to be the gold standard for all pumpkin muffins in the world," but for me, Chuck Williams has long set the gold standard for pumpkin muffins. I adore the Williams Sonoma pumpkin muffins, have made them for years, and have felt absolutely no need whatsoever for another pumpkin muffin in my life. I've always been a one pumpkin muffin kind of girl.
But I'm a loyal TWDer, so of course I decided to give Dorie's a try. I had a lot going on the day I made these muffins, and my kitchen was a wreck. I had made stock the night before to use in some Butternut Squash Risotto, and was skimming the stock and transferring some of it to baggies to freeze. When that got boring, I'd measure out some dry ingredients for the pumpkin muffins. Suddenly, I realized that one of my baggies had fallen over, and stock had spilled out onto the counter, soaking the bottom of a bag of flour. I dumped the flour into a large mixing bowl so that I would not end up with chicken stock-infused flour, and set the bowl on the opposite side of the counter so that I would not get it confused with the pumpkin muffin ingredients. Then I went to do some laundry, or watch a couple of downs of the Virginia game, or have a tea party with my three year old, or something, and came back to mix up the pumpkin muffins. When the batter was done, it seemed . . . odd. Sort of, what was it? -- stretchy. Rubbery. The texture was so familiar to me -- that shininess, that boingy-ness. I scooped a little up with my finger and knew right away -- it felt exactly like:
Silly Putty!!! There was no question in my mind that if I pressed the batter against the Sunday comics, I'd end up with the perfect image of Funky Winkerbean. (Am I dating myself here?)
I tasted my batter and found it to be rather flavorless. I could taste the pumpkin, but couldn't really pick up the spices. Dorie said that they would be "gentle," though. The woman knows what she's doing, who am I to question her? Surely this bland orange silly putty would bake up into something just grand. I filled up my muffin tin and popped those bad boys in the oven. I then started cleaning up my kitchen and was horrified to discover:
the bowl containing all of my dry pumpkin muffin ingredients. You saw that coming from a mile away, didn't you? Oh yes, I had mixed up the batter with approximately TWO THIRDS OF A BAG OF STRAIGHT FLOUR, not my pumpkin spice flour mixture. It was only the presence of six impressionable little ears that stopped me from cutting loose with the most elaborate string of rhyming profanity since the release of the last Snoop Dogg record. I grabbed the muffins out of the oven, dumped them in the trash, slammed the tin onto the countertop, grabbed my keys, and told David that I was leaving to go buy more eggs. David called after me as I stormed downstairs to the garage: "do you think that maybe you need to take a little break from all this baking?"
Later that night I tried again on the dough -- it was really quick since I had already mixed up all of the dry ingredients! -- and the batter definitely looked and tasted like something that would become a really great pumpkin muffin, rather than a really great clay animal.
The muffins themselves? They were beautiful, and delicious:
The spices WERE subtle, but they worked so well together. The texture was perfect -- light and moist, with just the right amount of "crumble." The raisins and the nuts completed the package. These are particularly glorious when eaten warm with a little butter.
I now understand that the difference between my now-dethroned Williams-Sonoma pumpkin muffins and Dorie's pumpkin muffins is like the difference between Epcot Center France and real France. Epcot Center France is lovely, it looks a little like what you would imagine France to look like, people speak French and you can get a great croissant. But it ain't France. Likewise, the Williams Sonoma muffins are a bit of a caricature of what you think a pumpkin muffin should be: they are a pleasant orange color, and their pumpkin spice flavor nearly knocks you out. It has to, if it is to smell enticing enough when baking to lure you into the store, where you will proceed to purchase a pumpkin cakelet pan and an orange silicone spatula, when you were ONLY at the mall in the first place -- pinkie swear! -- to get jeans at Old Navy for your six year old.
I love Epcot Center, don't get me wrong. And I'll still eagerly accept the clerk's offer of a sample when I stroll into Williams-Sonoma in October (I might even take two). But from now on, when I want a real pumpkin muffin, I'm making Dorie's. In fact, I've already made these four times -- the silly putty, a batch for a family trip, another batch for family trip because we ate too many of the first trip batch before leaving on trip, and again just because we love them so. So thank you, Kelly of Sounding my Barbaric Gulp , for choosing a muffin that is sure to ring in the fall for my family for many years to come!
And I'll close with a gratuitous picture of two of my pumpkins in their pumpkin shirts with the pumpkin muffins (because I am all about taking a theme one step too far):