Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spiced Carrot and Onion "Khoresh Muffins"

So, the other night I was looking to make some lamb stew. Lamb stew sounded good. So I was looking around for recipes on the internet when I came across this one: Lamb and Orange Khoresh, a Persian dish that looked quite worthy of trying. I followed the recipe perfectly except that I didn't add the orange flower water (completely forgot) and I put turmeric instead of the optional saffron. After an hour and a half of slow-cooking in my cast-iron Dutch oven later, the result was lovely. Extremely flavorful, and I loved the combination of orange and lamb with the turmeric, cinnamon, and green cardamom.

Which brings me to now. Really, it does, the connection will be made apparent momentarily. Last night, I was, for whatever reason, dying to make cupcakes or muffins or some cake-like substance to put into my muffin tin (I have no other cake-baking vessel, but I accept that, as I like cupcakes and muffins). All of that led me to the question: WHAT is the difference between cupcakes and muffins? Is it the icing? I suppose it's because cupcakes are made with cake batter and muffins are made with more of a quick bread batter. But WHAT is the technical difference between, for example, pumpkin bread and pumpkin cake? Why is the world so confusing?

The internet gives me answers like "DUH ONE IS CAKE AND ONE IS BREAD" (very helpful) or "cake is richer and sweeter than quick bread," but my taste buds disagree. Think of banana bread. Isn't it in fact denser and sweeter than most cake? Imagine putting icing on it. All your teeth would instantly fall out. Plus, cake is usually airier, isn't it? WHY IS THIS QUESTION SO HARD TO ANSWER?

There's some interesting discussion about the whole matter here, and a tiny bit of incomprehensible technical explanation here, should it actually interest you. Apparently it's a matter of crumb structure. Cakes tend to use flours with lower gluten content (cake flour), which imparts a more tender texture. Quick breads, however, tend to use higher gluten content flour (all-purpose flour), resulting in a denser texture. There's some other differences, like leavening agents in some cases, but I got bored reading about it. I think we'll just have to accept that there is logic behind the distinction, but at times the line is hard to draw (yeah, way to legitimize your crappy half-answer!)

So now is the part in the blog post where I explain why the Orange and Lamb Khoresh is relevant to the distinction between cake and quick bread. CUZ I MADE CARROT, ONION, CITRUS AND SPICE _______ (insert proper terminology here).

So, with my leftover ingredients, which were two carrots and a yellow onion, spices, pistachios, and some citrus fruit, I set out to make an Orange and Lamb Khoresh inspired muffin/cake/bread. I decided that the model I wanted to follow was more one of a bread, as I was imagining a spicier, more savory (but still sweet) version of pumpkin bread with the pumpkin replaced by carrots and onion. So I followed the recipe for Pumpkin Bread in my Joy of Cooking, but with ample substitutions.

Clément hates my muffins, but I don't take that too much to heart because he hates carrot cake, pumpkin pie, and anything where a vegetable is made sweet, especially if spices are added. I guess if anything, that's evidence that I was on the mark. I think they're tasty, but I may have slightly overdone the spices, so I've adjusted them in the recipe below to the quantity I think would be about perfect.

So without further ado,

Spiced Carrot and Onion "Khoresh Muffins", makes 12 muffins, or one 9 x 5-inch loaf pan if you go the bread route

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
3 or 4 pods of green cardamom, the shells removed and the seeds inside crushed with the blade of a knife
a couple ample dashes black pepper

1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon orange flower water

6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 medium carrots
1 small-to-medium yellow onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped unsalted pistachios

Peel your carrots, wrap them in foil, and roast them in a hot oven. Chop your onion. In a small skillet on low heat, caramelize the onion in olive oil, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes. If the onion starts to brown, add a little water. When the carrots are cooked, remove them, and bring the oven down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Purée the caramelized onion and roasted carrots in a blender. The purée will be quite chunky. Set it aside.

Mix the first group of ingredients listed, the dry ingredients, in a small bowl. Set aside.

In another small bowl, combine second group, the juices and the orange flower water.

In a large bowl, beat the next group, the butter and sugar, until fluffy. Then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the carrot and onion purée.

Incorporate the dry ingredients and the bowl of juices alternately, stirring well between additions. Fold in the chopped pistachios.

Bake in muffin tins for 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean.

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