Delicious Cake in Muffin Form: Apple-Honey-Pecan Muffins

I had purchased a lot of Calville Blanc apples from the farmers market, so even after making Rose Levy Beranbaum's Apple Walnut Bundt Cake, I had more apples just waiting for my next baking project. I decided to try a recipe for Apple-Honey-Pecan Muffins from Ochre Bakery in Detroit.

I don't make muffins often, but there were a few things about this recipe that intrigued me. The cooked apples glazed with honey. The ground pecans toasted in a dry pan until they're on the verge of being burnt. The unusual mixing method for the batter that involves whipping eggs and sugar for 8-10 minutes. It's definitely a little more involved than your typical muffin recipe, which usually requires just a bowl and a spoon.

First, I ground pecans in a food processor until they were the texture of coarse sand. Then I put them in a dry saucepan and toasted the nuts over medium-high until they were quite dark; the recipe says it's even okay if some of the pecans are slightly burnt. I used a larger pan to cook apple slices in melted butter with honey and salt (I was making a double batch of muffins, so I had a lot of apples). The recipe says to cook the apples for about five minutes, until they are "deep golden brown." But my apples didn't take on any color, even after about seven minutes. I didn't want the apples to become too soft, so I decided to stick with pale apples that were tender to the bite. I let the nuts and the apples cool before proceeding with the recipe.

For the batter, you use a whisk attachment to beat eggs with sugar until tripled in size (about ten minutes); gradually add in buttermilk and oil with the motor running (I used canola oil instead of olive oil because I don't care for the taste of extra virgin olive oil in baked goods); and fold the egg mixture into the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and the pecans; I used only all-purpose flour because I didn't have any spelt). I used a large balloon to do the mixing in the final step to avoid deflating the eggs.
Apparently these muffins are prone to spreading out and onto the top of the muffin tin, because the recipe instructs you to coat the top of the muffin tin with non-stick spray. There is nothing sadder than a muffin with the top ripped off because it's stuck the tin, so I decided to take no chances and I used tulip cupcake liners. They are greaseproof because they are made from parchment paper, and since they rise significantly above the top of the muffin tin, I was confident that they would keep the batter neatly contained. I put a few tablespoons of batter in the bottom of each cupcake liner; laid on two slices of apple; added more batter; topped the batter with a large apple slice; and sprinkled on coarse sugar before baking.
I was completely unprepared for how wonderful these muffins were. The texture was airy and definitely more like sponge cake than a muffin (and I'm considering that a plus). The pecan pieces were small but distinctive, and richly flavored from their dark toast. The apples were juicy but not mushy and the ratio of batter to pecans to apple was just perfect, with the coarse sugar adding a nice touch of crunch. I have no complaints. I'm pretty sure I've never had to use a food processor, a saucepan (or two), and a stand mixer fitted with a whisk to make muffins before -- but all of the effort and dirty dishes were worth it. These were fantastic.

Recipe: "Apple-Honey-Pecan Muffins" from Ochre Bakery (Detroit), recipe available here from Bon Appétit.