Why do they call it coffee hour? After all, don’t some people have tea? Or juice? Or even water? Well, we don’t know why it’s called coffee hour, but we do know that we wanted something new for when one of us hosts the tea/social hour at church. Of course, we could do something that we’ve done before, something that we know most people would like. But what’s the fun in that? Right! We can already tell the dedicated scratchers are rubbing their hands in anticipation, so let’s do it.
We knew we wanted something fast and easy to make, something that’s easy to serve — basically a grab ‘n’ go item — plus, we thought that we might like to use one of the cans of pumpkin we had in the cupboard. We always buy several cans around Thanksgiving when they’re on sale; they’re nice to have on hand. So, we hit the stacks and found this recipe in Quick Breads, by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. Having made some of her recipes before, we knew this would be simple, and easy, yet tasty. The only thing we changed is that we made small muffins instead of loaves. If you want to make loaves, just divide the batter between two greased 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch loaf pans and increase the baking time to about 1 hour 15 minutes.
The cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are there to take the place of pumpkin pie spice. If you have a pre-mixed version of pumpkin pie spice, you can use a tablespoon of that, instead. We didn’t have ground cloves, and didn’t want to grind just a few for this recipe, so we placed 5 cloves on a cutting board and crushed them with the back of a spoon. It’s a quick way to make “ground” cloves with little mess. Butter, unsalted, since no one but you should be helping to flavor your cooking. And those eggs, from happy hens (free-range), of course.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease mini-muffin pans (or use non-stick pans, or use liners in the pans).
Mix dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the pecans and whisk again. We do this in two steps so we can be sure that the spices and leavening ingredients are thoroughly blended. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar. Once the butter is room temperature, add it to the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Start the mixer on low and gradually increase the speed to medium and beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. If it isn’t getting fluffy, your butter might still be too cold (it should be about 68-72°F), and you might need to let it warm a bit more.
Add eggs. Add the 4 eggs and beat on medium-low until the batter is smooth and light; about 2 minutes of mixing should do it.
Add pumpkin and milk. Add the pumpkin and milk in one fell swoop. Turn the mixer to low and mix until incorporated and the batter is uniform, about a minute. You can remove the bowl from the mixer.
Stir in dry ingredients. Add the flour mixture to the batter and stir it in just until all the flour is just moistened. We used a spatula, since we needed to scrape the bowl in a bit, anyway.
Pipe. Scrape half the batter into a large (18-inch) piping bag — no tip necessary. It really is easier to deal with mini muffin pans using a piping bag; plus, you can get disposable piping bags that make for easy cleanup. Pipe the muffin cups about 2/3 full. Sometimes you’ll get a bit of pecan stuck in the bag opening, but you can just press it out with your fingers.
Bake. Mini muffins should take between 12 and 15 minutes to bake — ours ran almost exactly 15 minutes — but check for doneness by inserting a skewer into the center of a muffin; if it comes out clean, the muffins are ready.
These were pretty good little muffins. Perhaps not great muffins, but pretty good. Plus, they are really easy to mix up — even easier if you bake loaves — which is a nice feature for quick breads. Fifteen minutes of mixing and you can have muffins in the oven. For that alone, these deserve four stars.