Apple Cinnamon Muffins

The past few weeks have been a haze of grading papers, tough conversations, and long walks beneath autumn streaked trees. I was at the doctor's office recently and received discouraging news, the specialists' words painting a picture of a long road ahead. I am fine right now—healthy, even—but it won't be that way forever.

We all are faced with the unknown that is our future. None of us know how much time we have left. It is something that we all grapple with, in some way or another, at some point in our lives. It is easier for us to push aside the unknown as a problem for another day. We make plans when the future is not promised: this is our paradox. There are too many variables in the future, too many unknowns, too many directions the story could go. The unpredictable nature of the future is what allows us the freedom to distance ourselves from it. 

It feels different, though, when you are given a glimpse of that future. When you know, with some semblance of certainty, what type of elements that future will hold. Instead of feeling like a source of relief, the knowledge becomes a chain. I feel shackled to a fate I did not imagine for myself, but now carries my name. The chain is still new to me, which is why it weighs so heavily on my mind right now. I know the significance will fade over time, as all things do. Soon this knowledge will be absorbed into the narrative of my life; it will become just another part of me. 

At the moment, I am in the middle of the adjustment period, coming to terms with what has changed and what has not. My day-to-day life is identical, but I now see the world with a new pair of eyes. I have had the tough conversations—with myself, with the man I have been dating for six years. I have confronted the idea of the family I imagined for myself through this altered lens. I don't have all the answers to the difficult questions life has posed. I am not sure the questions even have answers. 

I have spent some time in the kitchen lately, using baking as an outlet for equal parts thought and distraction. With my attention elsewhere, the cakes and cookies emerge from the oven inedible. The recipes are scattered, as I skip over important steps and fumble over ingredient amounts. Fortunately, it is the methodical, scripted process that I need right now—the swift leveling of a cup of flour, the tension of stirring a thick batter with a wooden spoon—and not the finished product. 

I wondered whether I should share this here, whether I should keep my thoughts and feelings to myself and tell you a happy story about walking beneath autumn streaked trees instead of the reality of the tough conversations. But then I reminded myself these two stories are intertwined: a cause and effect, a circular chain of events that has evolved from the last few weeks. Writing is a source of therapy, the release of feeling into words, a way to share the joy and pain of our lives.

A few days ago, I pulled a pan of these sweet, cinnamon-scented muffins from the oven. When I took my first bite, I was surprised to find I had created something truly delightful. After weeks of tossing pan after pan into the bin, it felt wonderful—a tremendous relief—that something had come out of the oven right. I would like to believe these muffins represent more than the sum of their parts, that in some way they speak for a positive change in me. 

May these muffins represent only joy for you, dear friends. Enjoy.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins are a simple breakfast staple scented with warm spices. Diced apples are sautéed in butter and sugar until softened. The apples are folded into a spiced batter, topped with a thin apple slice, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar before baking. The exposed apple slice turns chewy, like a dried apple, which contrasts nicely against the tender crumb of the muffin. Serve for breakfast or an afternoon snack alongside a hot cup of coffee or tea.  

One Year Ago: Carrot Almond Muffins, Pear Almond Tart, & Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake
Two Years Ago: Boiled Cider, Pumpkin Molasses Bread, Vegan Caramel, & Rustic Apple Tart
Three Years Ago: Vanilla Bean Malt Cake, Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread, Apple Cinnamon Pancakes, & Classic Apple Pie
Four Years Ago: Pumpkin Espresso Bread, Triple Coconut Cookies, Pumpkin Waffles, Apple Cinnamon Scones, & Pear Crisp
Five Years Ago: Pumpkin Granola, Pumpkin Spice Latte, Red Wine Chocolate Cake, & Apple Cinnamon Cake
Six Years Ago: Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes, Butternut Squash Custard, Pumpkin Bread Pudding, & Apple Almond Tart

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Yields 6 large or 12 standard sized muffin

Apple Muffins
1/4 cup (50 grams) melted butter, divided
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons boiled cider, optional
2 medium apples (170 grams), peeled and diced
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (177 ml) milk

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Thinly cut apple slices, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a frying pan, combine 1 tablespoon butter, granulated sugar, boiled cider, and diced apples. Sautée over medium heat until apples have softened, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside.

For the apple muffins, stir the remaining melted butter and brown sugar until uniform in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the egg and vanilla. Gradually add the dry ingredients (cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, salt, all-purpose flour) alternatively with the milk and stir until smooth. Stir in the sautéed apples. Set aside.

For the cinnamon sugar topping, stir together the sugar and cinnamon  in a small bowl. Set aside.

Divide batter evenly between liners, filling each approximately 3/4 full of batter. Top each with a thinly cut apple slice. Sprinkle evenly with cinnamon sugar topping. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Roasted Fig & Almond Cake

The wind carries a chill, an edge that scents the air with a hint of sweet decay, a reminder of events soon to unfold. The sun rises later each morning, streaking the sky with bold hues of fuchsia and orange on the morning drive to work. Rain drizzles from the sky in lazy streams, the clouds both blue and weary. Autumn has arrived, unpacking her bags slowly and settling in for the next few months without fanfare.

Even though I may dismay over the end of summer and her beautiful weather, the change of the seasons has a way of breathing new life into an old rhythm. The start to a new school year, the warm embrace of the oven, and the appearance of fall fruits at the market have given the transition a gentle touch.

Last weekend, in my haste to enjoy as much fall produce asI could carry, I purchased too many figs at the market... again. While fresh, ripe figs are delicious, my personal favorite are figs that have been cooked down so the flavor concentrates and the fruit releases its sweet juices. With this in mind, I sliced my fig bounty in half, brushing the open face with honey and roasting them in the oven until they started sizzling. Half of the figs were chopped and folded into a honey sweetened almond cake batter and the rest were pressed on top in concentric circles.

This cake may be a simple one, without glaze or icing, but when the slices are topped with a honey sweetened yogurt before serving, each fig-filled forkful is a celebration of the new season.

This Roasted Fig and Almond Cake brings out the warm flavors of fall. Figs are brushed with honey and roasted to concentrate the flavor. The roasted figs are then baked into an almond cake, which is sweetened with additional honey and spiced with a touch of cinnamon. The honey caramelizes and a toasted almond flavor emerges, adding another layer of dimension to the cake's final figgy flavor. Serve with honey sweetened yogurt and a mug of warm, milky tea.

One Year Ago: Blueberry Honey Scones 
Two Years Ago: Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, Calm of the Coast, & Espresso Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake
Three Years Ago: Vanilla Ice Cream Cake, Honeyed Apricot Granola Bars, & Chocolate Banana Chip Cookies
Four Years Ago: Caramelized Leek Biscuits, Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins, Cinnamon Roll Cookies, Bourbon Peach Jam, Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Scones, & Brown Butter Pear Muffins
Five Years Ago: Zucchini Bread, Lemon Blueberry Scones, 3 Milk Coconut Cake, Tomato Basil Tart, & Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
Six Years Ago: Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake, Strawberry Shortcake, Brown Sugar Coconut Bubble Tea, & Cinnamon Chocolate Banana Bread

Roasted Fig & Almond Cake

Yields 9-inch cake

24 ounces (680 grams) ripe fresh figs, de-stemmed and cut in half
3/4 cup (255 grams) honey, divided
12 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup (112 grams) almond flour
2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Place figs face up on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the figs with 1/4 cup honey. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until they release juices and are fragrant. Set aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and remaining 1/2 cup honey until uniform. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until uniform. Stir in the vanilla and almond extract. Fold in the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

Roughly chop half of the roasted figs into bite-sized pieces. Fold chopped pieces into the cake batter. Pour cake batter into greased 9-inch cake pan. Top the cake batter with remaining fig halves, placing them in a circular pattern.

Bake cake for 40-45 minutes, or until cake is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Serve with honey sweetened yogurt, if desired.

Fig Oatmeal Bars

I escaped to the mountains. An end of summer restlessness has been holding me close the last few weeks, and I needed an escape before the school year started up again. A breath of fresh mountain air and a few handfuls of ripe mountain cherries felt like the cure.  As someone who organizes the minute details of daily life, purchasing two last minute plane tickets to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains was not in the plan, but I am trying to teach myself that life doesn't need to be so scripted. 

When we reached the mountains, we hiked away from routine and took a step into the unfamiliar. We walked along a well trodden path only a few feet wide for miles, a ledge on one side and a rock face on the other. We filled our hands with cold running water from glacial runoff, drinking deeply.  We rested on boulders as large as cars, feeling the sharpness of the sun's warmth at high altitude. We were privy to an impromptu guided tour from a mountain goat, who preferred the ease of the path to the steepness of the cliffs.

The view was the greatest of nature's design, of distant snow-topped peaks, of deep forested valleys, of wildflowers within an arm's reach. We stopped for lunch on the top of the world, sitting in silence and eating our way through PB & J sandwiches and fig oatmeal bars. Some moments, I've found, need few words.

Fig Oatmeal Bars make for a sweet, filling snack. Fresh figs are cooked down with brown sugar into a compote and subtly flavored with balsamic vinegar and vanilla. The compote is spread over an oatmeal base and baked until golden. The bars cut beautifully and hold together well without breaking apart or leaving crumbs everywhere. These bars are perfect for packing for a snack on the go and eating wherever life leads you. 

One Year Ago: Iced Matcha Coconut Latte 
Two Years Ago: Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Citrus Zucchini Muffins
Three Years Ago: Date Flapjacks & Nordic Pancake Cake
Four Years Ago: Rum Raisin Oatmeal Cookies, Banana Rum Bread, & Vanilla Cardamom Peach Pie
Five Years Ago: Chocolate Malt Cupcakes, Coconut Pancakes, Rocky Road Cookies, & Chocolate Beet Cake
Six Years Ago: Chocolate Prune Cake, Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread, & Blueberry Muffins

Fig Oatmeal Bars

Yields 8 x 8-inch pan

Fig Compote
1 lb (450 grams) ripe figs, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Oatmeal Base
1/3 cup (70 grams) coconut oil, liquid state
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1  cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (135 grams) old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan, bring the chopped figs and brown sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. There is no need to add liquids because the figs will release a considerable amount of juice. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until figs soften and compote thickens. Remove from heat and set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together coconut oil and brown sugar until uniform. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing until blended. Stir in the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. The batter will be slightly sticky. Using greased hands, press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread fig compote evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the dough evenly on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly in the pan before serving.