Over 25 years ago I landed my first real job at a publishing company in downtown Detroit. It was an interesting place, filled with smart, witty, and sometimes eccentric people, most of whom were recently graduated English majors like me. As entry-level research/editorial workers we had much in common--an insatiable love for reading, a constant yen to discuss books and authors, and the fact that we were all pathetically underpaid.
Despite our paltry wages, we did have unique company benefits. For example, employees could get free copies of any book they worked on and, typically, each person had a hand in several books each year, so that was potentially a lot of books. Since our names appeared on the credits page of each such book, that was a nice perk. In those early days, it was a thrill to open up a spanking new volume and show parents or friends your name in print. Another benefit was a policy requiring us to take rigidly scheduled breaks twice a day. Mandatory breaks. Just like recess in elementary school, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. A cute idea, at least in theory. You weren't supposed to work through a break, even if you were smack in the middle of a meeting or an involved task. That was the rule.
The break allowed enough time for a cup of coffee and chit-chat, but not much else. That, however, rarely deterred the famished among us from trekking out of our historic high-rise and heading down West Fort Street in search of nourishment. We'd dash half a block and duck into Britt's Cafe, a cafeteria/bakery that was bizarrely sequestered in the back of a high-end office supply store. (I know I reminisced here about Britt's once before, but please indulge me as I simply must do it again.) A best-kept-secret kind of place, Britt's produced fabulous baked goods, along with fantastic sandwiches, soups, and salads. Their roughly-constructed scones were to die for, and their fresh muffins sported the most colossal tops I'd ever seen. Once pulled from the oven, the muffins were cut apart and hoisted out of the pans. They were hearty, deeply golden, and packed with chunks of ripe fruit, toasted nuts, tangy dried berries. Sprinkled with coarse sugar, each was a glittering spectacle, a muffin-meal in and of itself. Well worth the risk of making it back to work a few minutes late.
I was reminded of Britt's muffins as I made these yesterday morning. My batter was really thick, there was a lot of it, and I wondered for a moment if I'd need two 12-cup pans versus just one. As I greased the cups with a pastry brush, I decided it would be fun to engineer a similar top-heavy result. I loaded the cups with batter, rounding them above capacity with my ice cream scoop, dusted the tops with nuts and sugar, then slid them into the oven.
These big-tops are in honor of Britt's, a great Detroit food spot that no longer exists but, happily, still persists in memory.
About this recipe . . .
This is an original, unadapted recipe. It contains a small amount of whole wheat pastry flour, which you can leave out if you wish (use white or regular whole wheat instead), along with small pieces of sliced, peeled nectarines (feel free to use peaches, or apples, instead). Coarsely chopped, salted, unblanched, Marcona almonds (oh, they're so, so good--I buy them from Trader Joe's) and turbinado sugar crystals are sprinkled on top. This recipe produces a hearty muffin that's not what I'd call cakey, nor too sweet.
Hearty Big-Top Nectarine Muffins with Marcona Almonds
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Yield: 12 very generous standard size muffins
1 and 1/3 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt (stir in a tablespoon or so of milk if it's thick yogurt)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons canola oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 XL (or 2 medium size) ripe nectarine, peeled, and cut into very small chunks (you'll need about one generous cup of chunks)
3 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (if you omit this, add in the same amount of another flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon of sea salt or coarse kosher salt
2 pinches of ground cinnamon
A few scrapings of fresh nutmeg, or about 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
For the top of the muffins:
1/2 cup salted, unblanched, Marcona almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (if you don't have this, you can instead use Demerara sugar, sanding/coarse sugar, or regular granulated sugar)
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Liberally grease a 12-cup standard size non-stick muffin pan, and also grease the top of the pan (I even use baking spray on top of all this, whenever I'm not using paper liners); or use paper liners and grease just the top of the pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and spices.
In another large bowl, stir together the brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, oil, and eggs. Stir until well combined, then add in the nectarine chunks.
Make a well in the center of the bowl of dry ingredients, pour in all of the wet ingredients, and stir just until combined. It's okay if a few small streaks of flour are visible. Using a portion scoop, distribute the batter equally into the muffin cups, heaping them high. Sprinkle the tops first with chopped almonds, and then with turbinado sugar.
Bake for about 20 minutes or more, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, the muffins are golden brown, and a finger pressed gently on the top of a muffin springs back. Check the muffins after about 15 minutes and if they're browning too quickly, lightly cover them with a sheet of foil. Let the muffins cool for about five minutes in the pan on a rack, then cut them apart to remove them from the pan and let them cool further on the rack.
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