Friday, July 9, 2010

Jumbo Sweet Cherry Muffins . . . with Buttermilk and Brown Sugar

There's a lot of enthusiastic chatter in the food-blog world lately about cherries. After all, they're in season right now; have you noticed? Because if you haven't, you'd better take heed--those little beauties won't be around long.  I'm talkin' fresh sweet cherries. You know, the kind that grow on real trees.

Gosh, I love 'em. You too? Yeah, I can see that you do. Besides eating cherries, I  also love picking them, in part because the trees themselves are so exceptionally pretty. They're kind of small and their diminutive nature seems to invite one to come closer.

They endear themselves by being so approachable, and cater even to little kids in this respect. Could they be any more charming if they tried? I think not.

A few days ago, my family and I went picking in a northwestern Michigan orchard, while visiting my in-laws' cottage on Torch Lake. A huge inland lake, it's in one of the most beautiful areas in the state.

It's also in the middle of cherry country, which spreads out for miles around. I'm always kind of thrilled whenever our visits up north coincide with cherry season and, this summer, fortunately for us, the crop ripened a little earlier than usual. It made the picking almost too easy.

Lush branches, heavily laden, leaned down to accommodate even the most minimal effort. In some spots, the cherries clustered into big shiny bunches, mimicking grapes. Standing beneath the branches and gazing up, with a hazy sun poking through the almond-shaped leaves, was a delightful thing.

If you ever get the chance to pick them, you should jump at the chance. There's nothing in the world like the taste of a really fresh cherry just plucked from the tree, wiped clean, and popped into your mouth.

 Of course, after picking the cherries, I longed to bake with them sooner rather than later, but because of the alarming heat wave sweeping this part of the country, I couldn't contemplate it seriously until we got back home into air conditioning. So, I tucked a few pounds of the cherries, unwashed, into the fruit drawer of the fridge where they were likely to be undisturbed, and on the day we left they were carefully packed into a cooler with ice for the journey home. They arrived here in very good shape, thankfully.

Now, though I know it's not original in the least, I decided I had to use some of the cherries to make muffins yet again. (Yes, I know. It seems I'm on a major muffin binge this year. Can't help myself, I guess.) Specifically, I needed to bake these muffins.

About this recipe . . .

A splendid vehicle for the combo of sweet black cherries and the lighter, milder Queen Anne cherries. these jumbo muffins are substantial and flavorful. Who knew that brown sugar and buttermilk could complement fresh sweet cherries so completely?

Adapted from Peter Reinhart's book, Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers, I adjusted the spices (added in a pinch of cinnamon and of nutmeg) and the flavorings (instead of using all vanilla extract, I used half as much vanilla as indicated, and added in a small amount of almond extract).  Instead of using dried fruit in these muffins I used only fresh fruit, and I chose canola oil instead of melted butter. I left the base of the muffin essentially alone because, I figured, why tamper too much with perfection? (I was about to substitute in some whole wheat flour, but held back at the last minute.) And, predictably, I reworked/reworded the instructions a bit to reflect exactly what I did.

I've mentioned Peter Reinhart before, in a post on challah bread, and I have to reiterate here that I think his recipes are exceptionally reliable, and the books of his that I've spent any time with are remarkably well worth reading. (This may make me sound like a groupie or something, but I must admit I feel profoundly lucky as a baker to have easy access to his knowledge, experience, and overall philosophy through his writing. This guy knows what's what, and he clearly loves sharing what he's learned. Valuable stuff.)

These muffins are jumbos because the recipe seemed to merit that kind of heft. But large or small, I think you'll like them. From this recipe I got nine jumbos, but if you don't want the huge guys, I assume you could easily get 18 modest regular-size muffins out of this batter. 

Jumbo Sweet Cherry Muffins

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin pans with paper liners and spray the inside of the liners with baking spray. This recipe will make 9 jumbo muffins, 12 generous regular size, or 18 smallish regulars.

3 and 1/2 cups unbleached All-Purpose flour
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt (I actually used 1 scant tsp. kosher salt)
2/3 cup canola oil
1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar, tightly packed (I used light brown)
2 large eggs
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 and 1/4 cups buttermilk (I used regular buttermilk, not low fat)
 2 cups of pitted, coarsely chopped, sweet cherries (I used half black cherries and half Queen Anne)
coarse, or granulated, sugar (optional)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a medium size bowl. Add the brown sugar and whisk it in thoroughly.

In a large bowl, mix together the oil, eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, and buttermilk. (I did this by hand, and my muffins turned out great, but Reinhart instructs doing this part in your mixer. You decide!)

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until the dry ingredients are absorbed.

With a portion scoop, fill the muffin cups about halfway full. Using your hands, sprinkle on that a couple tablespoons worth of the chopped fruit and gently pat it down into the batter. Scoop another glob of batter atop that. Sprinkle the remainder of the fruit over that. If any batter remains in the bowl, dab it equally over the top of the muffins. It's fine if some of the fruit is exposed and not buried in batter.

Sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar or granulated sugar if you like.

Place the muffin pan on top of a baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 375 and bake for 10 minutes more. Check the muffins to see if they're browning too quickly; if they are, cover them lightly with foil. Bake the muffins until golden brown, and until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Mine took barely 30 minutes to bake. I also checked them with a toothpick inserted in the center to ensure they were fully done.

Let them cool in the pan, on a rack, for a few minutes before attempting to remove to the rack to finish cooling.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)


Anonymous said...

How I would love to pick some of these cherries. We had three cherry trees in my parents garden growing up in Germany. How I miss that.
The muffins look unbelievably delicious. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Looks delicious, I am inclined to eat the top of all those muffins

Stella said...

Oh Jane, how lucky you are! I would love to just see a cherry tree, and you got to go cherry picking-that's so nice. These muffins look wonderful too. Nothing like a homemade muffin with a big cup of coffee. Ooh, and I love that you used vegetable oil instead of butter!

Chele said...

Wonderful photos! I love fresh cherries but hate the taste of cherry flavourings. That said I've never actually cooked fresh cherries, they ususally get scoffed before they even reach the kitchen. I'll need to try and keep some aside to try this recipe out!

Susi's Kochen und Backen said...

Jane, I so look forward to your posts. Everything you make looks so delicious! I would love to eat one (or two, or three) of these muffins right now. Your pictures are just as stunning! If there is one complaint I do have though, it is that there are not more Jane posts :o)

Diana's Cocina said...

What lovely photo's. The muffins look delicious.

Allison@Radishes and Rhubarb said...

Hi Jane, Those look delicious. Good use for fresh picked cherries. I love the photos of the fruit on the trees.

Katrina said...

I love sweet cherry and brown sugar together! I thought I was weird or something. I'm going to LOVE these muffins.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for becoming a follower of my blog.

Let me tell you that yours is amazing. Love the photos!!!!

Linda said...

I normally skim through a post to get to the recipe, but I read every word of yours--what a lovely read! Kudos for the almond extract addition--I rarely use almond extract, but I do use it in cherry pie.

How I would love to have access to your cherry orchards. We currently have Rainier cherries available in Oklahoma--I wonder if they would be good in this excellent looking recipe.

Jane said...

Hi My Kitchen,
I wish I'd had a cherry tree in my backyard as a kid. You were a lucky girl!
Thanks so much,
Jane :)

Hi Jennifurla--
You and me both! Tops first, though, and then bottoms.
:) Jane

Hello Stella,
Yep, cherry trees are nice to behold. I told my youngest son that I was glad Michigan was known for such a delicious and beautiful fruit as cherries and he said in response, "Yeah, good thing we're not known for something like cauliflower." Ha! Kids.
Jane :)

Hi Chele--
I'm with you! I don't care for most cherry flavorings either. Nothing compares with the real thing.
:) Jane

Hi Susi--
You are so sweet to say those things! Thank you so much, Susi. You're just a peach.
:) Jane

Hi Diana-
Thanks very much!

Hi Allison,
Nothing more fun than photographing in an orchard! Whenever I get some kind of really good fresh fruit I'm just compelled to stuff it into muffins. :)
Thanks so much,

Hello Katrina--
Good gosh, you're not weird at all! Brown sugar and cherries is a really great combo. Yummy!
:) Thanks,

Hi Moogie--
You're so welcome! I love your blog too!
:) Jane

Hi there Linda,
Welcome! Thanks very much for those nice comments. I appreciate them. I usually use almond extract in cherry pie too, and I do love it.
I checked out your blog and it's lovely! Hope all is well in Oklahoma today.
Jane :)

Unknown said...

Now I'm officialy jealous. I missed cherry season over here!

HanaĆ¢ said...

I'm so jealous!! Cherry picking?? That sounds like so much fun! Your muffins look super delicious. Great job as always.

Jax in the Alps said...

Between my neighbor and me, we have literally buckets of sweet cherries from our trees this week. I made this recipe today, adding some chunks of dark chocolate, and the muffins were amazing. My husband said they were the best muffins he's ever had, and he's eaten more than a few! Thanks for a recipe that I'll make over and over.