The three recipes were Vermont Baked Apples, Gingerbread Muffins, and Top Secret (made into Honey Ricotta Cream). Why did I decide to do them together? It was basically Maida's suggestion. She said that the apples would be good with the cream and that the muffins could be passed with baked apples. Thus was born what Sami called a "spectacular breakfast."
As I may have mentioned before, Saturday morning is Fancy Breakfast time. It's not Saturday unless Scott Simon is on the radio and I'm in the kitchen whipping up something sweet. Sometimes it's pancakes or French toast, sometimes it's a ridiculously complicated (for 7 in the morning) coffee cake, and sometimes it's muffins or scones. So this trio of recipes was a natural. I got up at about 7 and we ate at 9, which was good considering that I had to go to the store for a few things. Claire helped me with the apples, which hurried things a bit.
I didn't make a lot of changes to the recipes. I halved the apple recipe since I had just 3 Ginger Gold apples in the fridge (and figured one per person would be plenty) and used a combo of dates, raisins, and golden cherries since I could find only one large date in the fridge. I found a couple more today. Oops. For the muffins I used half white wheat flour and also 6 T melted butter and 2 T. grapeseed oil. What can I say--I love butter! The Top Secret was pretty much as written.
The verdict: The muffins were my favorite. They're super light and have a great gingerbread flavor. I guess that's because there's only 1 cup of flour to 1-1/2 cups liquid. It's a very liquidy batter indeed--you pour it into the muffin cups instead of scooping. The apples were Claire's favorite. They might have stayed in the oven just 5 minutes longer because they were a bit crisp still, but the flavor from the lemon peel and nuts and spices was fabulous. The Top Secret--meh. I know this is probably an attempt to replicate what the French call fromage blanc and the Germans call quark, and I've actually used it successfully in French and German recipes, but on its own, I find it too cheesy and salty. When you make this, try to find a low-sodium cottage cheese, if such an animal exists. And maybe up the honey and add some grated lemon peel. (Update: Jessica at cookbookhabit explains that cottage cheese varies by region. Maybe that's my problem...)
So here's what I made, in the order I made it. Have at it!
Vermont Baked Apples
About 3 dates, cut into small pieces with scissors. For heaven's sake, don't use the pre-chopped ones!
2 T. honey
2 T. chopped pecans (those TJ's pecans, again, are perfect here)
Grated rind of half a lemon (organic if you can get it)
2 T. graham cracker crumbs (I used a small handful of graham bunnies. This would probably be a half-square of a graham cracker.)
1/2 t. cinnamon
Generous pinch nutmeg
Generous pinch ginger
6 large baking apples (Maida says Rome Beauty, I used Ginger Gold. Just don't use Gala, Fuji, or Red Delicious)
2 T. (1 oz.) melted unsalted butter
1/3 c. maple syrup
2-1/2 T. boiling water
Heat the oven to 400; get out a shallow baking dish that will fit the apples fairly snugly. In a small bowl, mix together the dates, nuts, honey, and lemon rind. It will make a sticky mass--they honey should glue together the nuts and fruit. In another small bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs with the spices. In yet another small bowl (make these dishwasher safe bowls!!), melt the butter in the microwave on high. Now comes the hard part. Peel the apples about one third the way down. If you have an apple corer, no problem. Core the apples, but not all the way through, and then maybe use a spoon to scoop out a bigger hole. If you don't have a corer, use a paring knife to cut out the top of the core, and then use a spoon to scoop the rest out. Then take each apple and either bathe or brush them in butter and then roll them in crumbs. Then fill each one with the sticky fruit and nuts. When they're all buttered and crumbed and filled, put them in the baking dish. You'll probably have leftover crumbs and butter. Sprinkle the crumbs over the apples and pour over the butter. Then mix together the maple syrup and the water and pour that around the apples. Put that in the oven for about 30 minutes. If you think about it, baste the apples with the maple syrup when you put the muffins in the oven. I only thought about it once and it was fine. The apples should be barely tender when they're done. Maida says they're good cold and at room temperature, but they're quite good hot as well.
Now that your apples are in the oven, you can make your
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour (can be half whole wheat)
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. finely ground (really finely!) black pepper
1 t. ginger
1/2 t. cloves
1/t t. cinnamon
1/4 t. dry mustard (!)
1 egg and 1 egg yolk (I used one small and one large egg)
Scant 1/2 c. (3.3 oz.) sugar
1/2 c. (6.5 oz.) molasses (I used cane syrup, a fine Southern product)
1/2 c. tasteless oil (or melted butter, or a combination)
1 T. instant coffee dissolved in 1/2 c. boiling water (or 1/2 c. hot coffee, if you have some to spare)
Your oven is already heated to 400, so you're good there. Spray or line with papers about 10 muffin cups. I only got 8 from this recipe and Maida says 16, but I have a silicone muffin pan with very large cups. There must be an innuendo there somewhere...Anyway, sift together the flour and all the spices and set that aside. Then get out a bowl with a pouring spout and whisk together your egg and egg yolk (Maida wants you to use your electric mixer here, but it's really not necessary.). Whisk in the sugar, molasses, and oil. Then mix in the flour mixture, and finally the coffee. Pour the mixture into your prepared muffin cups, put the muffin pans in the oven and bake about 18 minutes or until the muffins spring back when gently touched. I found that these do a volcanic eruption halfway through baking (that's when I took the apples out), which is very entertaining. I guess that's the baking soda and coffee interacting. Anyway, when they're done, let them cool on a rack a bit while you get the Top Secret ready, should you choose to...
Top Secret with Honey
1 c. cottage cheese (4%; low sodium if you've got it)
2 T. plain yogurt
about 2 T. honey
Possible add-ins: about 1/2 t. vanilla extract; the other half of the lemon rind, grated
OK, this is easy. Put the cottage cheese in your food processor and turn it on. Leave it on for a full minute. That's longer than you might think! It will be really smooth and creamy. Then add the yogurt and honey and process a bit. Taste and see what you think. Maybe it needs more honey or one of the add-ins I mentioned, or maybe it's perfect as is. Serve that alongside the baked apples and the muffins. Maida says it's also good with berries, but since it's past berry season, I haven't tried that yet. I'm going to have to figure out what to do with it, in any case, since it wasn't as popular as Maida had predicted.
But anyway--this is a highly recommended breakfast. You've pretty much got all the food groups, and it's not *that* much work. And it makes Saturday special.