There are thousands of years of history in my spice cupboard. Wars were fought, enemies were made, and tenuous relationships with countries were strained over simple ingredients like cinnamon and nutmeg. It is hard for me to imagine that spices were worth more than gold at one time, creating a spice trade that drove the economy of ancient civilizations for hundreds of years. India was (and is) the greatest producer of spices in the world, producing a whopping 86% of the world's spices.
Sometimes I like to remind myself that the act of opening my under-stocked spice cupboard would have been like discovering a treasure chest to the wealthy of the past. This simple thought makes me feel incredibly affluent.
Truth be told, I was never really into spices growing up. Salt was the only spice I wanted (or needed), and I sprinkled it on my plain, buttered noodles. My picky eating habits didn't leave space for adventure and variety. It was years until I was ready to put a little pepper on my macaroni and cheese (and years further until I was ready to accept more foreign flavors). While I like to think that my tastes have outgrown the bland choices of my youth, plain, buttered noodles are still a part of my regular diet.
Perhaps we never completely outgrow our past.
The one place I don't mind a little extra spice is in baking (surprise, surprise, I know). I look forward to autumn and winter each year for an excuse to put warm, cozy spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves—into everything I eat. Gingerbread is perhaps the most spiced food I have made in a long, long time. When I was looking around at various recipes, I noticed a major commonality between them all. They all use ground ginger. Since I have never made anything gingerbread before, I had assumed they all included fresh ginger, straight from the root, and I was disappointed to find out otherwise. How could it truly be considered gingerbread without using the (easily accessibly) fresh version?
When I went out to create these gingerbread muffins, I made certain to use fresh ginger. And I think it makes all the difference in the world.
Gingerbread muffins make for a lovely addition to a cold, frosted morning. The muffins are spiced with the classic fall flavors along with a good dose of freshly grated ginger and a pinch of black pepper. Molasses harmonizes with the heavy spices, creating a muffin that doesn't require any add-ins to feel special. A simple spread of butter is all these muffins need to round out breakfast.
Yields 10-12 muffins
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark molasses
1/3 cup (70 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup (115 grams) sour cream
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a muffin tin with baking cups.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the molasses, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Beat in the egg. Mix in the sour cream until uniform. Stir in the baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Fold in the flour until just incorporated.
Fill baking cups 2/3 full and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm with a pat of butter.