There is nothing worse than a tasteless muffin. I’m not quite sure why – perhaps it’s because the smell of the muffins cooking (regardless of how they taste) – induces Pavlovian drooling. With me, this conditioned response is so strong that I can barely wait till they’ve left the oven before I tear a muffin in half and slather it in butter. I think the other reason a tasteless muffin is so ghastly is that it’s actually quite easy to make a flavorful muffin, if only by adding a little spice. This is why I should have known better before trying Nigella Lawson’s Pear and Ginger Muffins from her latest cookbook Nigella Express. There was only one spice listed – the titular ginger – and very little else of flavor.
The first inkling I had that these would not be glorious muffins came as I was spooning the batter into the mini-muffin tins. I realized I had not added any salt to the recipe. At first, I thought I must have forgotten this step, but as I re-read the recipe I realized that it wasn’t called for. Now the necessity for just a bit of salt in baked goods was just about the first thing I learned about baking. You don’t add salt for a salty flavor – you do so to enhance the other flavors in the baked good – and this muffin definitely could have benefited from more flavor—or as Nigella might say, more flavour.
But not the flavor of ginger. If it is possible for a muffin to be both tasteless and overwhelmingly gingery, this muffin achieved it. A full teaspoon of ginger was excessive for this muffin – it overwhelmed any hint of pear or honey flavor. Cutting the ginger in half (at least) and adding in some cinnamon or nutmeg would have helped this muffin immeasurably. I suppose you could then argue that the muffin would essentially be the pear equivalent of an apple spice muffin – but apple spice muffins taste good. This muffin did not. And I like pears!
I suppose that this recipe failure could all be my fault – if so please prove me wrong. The recipe is copied below – just take my advice and add in the salt. Also, add in the cinnamon, nutmeg, or even allspice and use some restraint with the ginger – and let me know if you have more success with the recipe with these modifications. Because believe me – you don’t want a tasteless muffin.
Pear and Ginger Muffins
From Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson
1¾ cups flour
¾ cup sugar
½ cup (packed) plus 6 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup sour cream
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon honey
1½ cups peeled and chopped pears (about ¼-inch).
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin papers.
2. Measure into a bowl the flour, granulated sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, baking powder and ground ginger.
4. Lastly, mix in the pear dice and then divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
5. Sprinkle each one with ½ teaspoon brown sugar and then bake for 20 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack. Best eaten still a little warm.
Makes 12 (full size) 36 (mini-muffins)