Getting back to basics for creating real pumpkin flavor in a breakfast staple
When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, going to the apple orchard was an annual fall tradition. Among the obvious treats; cider, donuts and caramel apples, it was the warm, soft, pumpkin spice muffins that were always a favorite of mine. I remember the delicate hint of spices, the molasses aroma, and a steamy, sweet and moist interior with a toasted crust. The problem I often find with pumpkin muffins or pumpkin baked goods alike is their actual lack of pumpkin flavor. It seems the idea of pumpkin flavor has been replaced with kicked up amount of sugar and spice to equate some seasonal desire of what pumpkin should taste like. Pumpkin itself is not an overwhelming flavor; it is subtle, earthy, and slightly salty and sweet. I typically find that muffins in general are usually too sweet for my tastes so I wanted to figure out a way to recreate my apple orchard food memory of the Pumpkin Oat Muffins I enjoyed as a kid but also get back to basics and stay away from the commercialized version of what we think Pumpkin flavor is.
I started first by testing pumpkin filling; both canned versions of high end brand names to low end brands, as well as roasting and pureeing a sugar pumpkin. The results proved that using a good quality pumpkin canned puree was a better alternative to roasting and pureeing yourself. The roasted sugar pumpkin version rendered similar results to canned puree however it was a bit more fibrous and bland plus it took me two hours to roast, then puree, so why bother with the hassle of pots and pans. Skip the homemade puree and go for a good quality canned puree.
Next I tested different flour options, during my first few tests using all purpose flour, the muffins were coming out consistent but the texture was more cake like than anything else. The muffin was moist but too dense; I opted to try using oat flour instead of all purpose flour. Grinding up oats in the food processor gave me more of a grainy flour that ended up helping solve my texture issue. The larger pieces of grain mixed with finer, flour like oat powder helped create a light and fluffy texture. Adding ½ cup of rolled oats to the flour mixture allowed this version to hold up better to the incredible moist pumpkin puree, making for a light and fluffy muffin full of nooks and crannies.
Having the basic muffin texture down, it was time to work on the flavor. Since Pumpkin is a very light flavor of earthy and nutty tones, adding just the right amount of spice can really draw out and enhance the pumpkin flavor. Overload on the spice too much and you run the risk of muting the pumpkin flavor all together. I needed to find just the right balance; I first used a store bought pumpkin pie spice blend, which is a combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. This manufactured combination wasn’t enough to hold up to the oat flour, it was too subtle and far too cinnamon tasting. I was looking for spice and depth of flavor but Pumpkin Pie flavoring wasn’t what I was trying to achieve. Tasters agreed, even on varying levels of pumpkin pie spice that this was not hitting the right notes to balance the sugars or the pumpkin puree. I opted to play around with other spices and create my own harmonious blend. I used similar ingredients, but left out the allspice and replaced it for a hint of clove. Ginger powder was helping me create a spice note without taking over the flavors of the rest of the muffin. Cinnamon in a lesser intense amount added to the nutty sweetness of the pumpkin puree as well as brought out the oat flavor better. Using ¾ cup of light brown sugar as well as a tablespoon of molasses really gave this muffin the balance of sweetness it deserved.
For a finishing touch I added ½ cup of raisins to the muffin batter for a natural sweet burst, to my surprise it enhanced both the spices and pumpkin flavor separately as well as equally.
Pumpkin Oat Muffins- Makes 12 muffins
For best results use fresh ground oat flour from a food processor, pulverizing the oats yourself will give a better grainy texture the muffin needs to stand up, literally. Also, for a nice dome like muffin top, be sure to rest the batter for at least 20 minutes before scooping into the muffin tin cups.
2 cups whole rolled oats, reserve ½ cup
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2 egg whites
1 15 oz can high quality pumpkin puree
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon Molasses
½ cup of raisins
- In a food processor add 1 ½ cups of good quality oats, grind for about 10 seconds or until a gritty flour has formed.
- Whisk oat flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg in a medium bowl until well combined. In a separate bowl combine the wet ingredients; egg whites, pumpkin puree, buttermilk, canola oil, vanilla, and molasses, whisk together until combined. Add dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until the mixture is together. Add ½ cup of Raisins and recombine. Let the muffin mixture rest for 20-30 minutes.
- Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare muffin tin with paper muffin liners and spray the top of the muffin tin with baking spray. Gently spoon in batter just until it reaches the top of the liner, batter should be evenly distributed among all slots, do not leave any remaining batter in the bowl.
- Bake at 400 degrees 24-28 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Kitchen Tip! Using a tablespoon to measure out just the right amout of molasses can be tricky since so much of the molasses can stick and be left behind. To ensure you get exactly the amount of molasses the recipe calls for, measure out the canola oil first in this recipe and then measure out the molasses just following. The molasses will slide right off your measuring spoon, ensuring you get the exact amount in the recipe.