Saturday, November 9, 2013

Make Your Own Nutmeg Muffins

Looking for a morning treat that a little different from the usual blueberry muffin or toast? Perhaps something with a bit of holiday flare? Then try these nutmeg muffins. They have a warm spicy scent and exotic flavor, and make a great change from the usual spiced flavors of cinnamon and cloves. They can be left plain, served with a dab of cream for a tea, or you can top them with sugar to make them look extra special.

This is one of the recipes that's a go to favorite from my culinary arts days; when I make muffins, these are usually the easiest. They used to be baked for the morning display case at the Brickyard Center where I trained in baking and pastry, but now they pop up now and again to grace my kitchen with sweet goodness and lovely aroma.

Because I don't want this to be a totally fluff post though, I'll do a little mini education session. Since there is a lot of nutmeg in these, why not learn where nutmeg comes from?

About the most I knew of nutmeg is that it was a seed, that it came from a tree, and that it was two spices in one, the seed being nutmeg and the lacy, orange/red seed covering mace (which was usually removed from the nutmeg). I also knew that it is a component of pumpkin pie spice, and that I really enjoy its flavor.

What I didn't know is that it's an evergreen tree that grows in tropical regions. The most common commercially used nutmeg is the common nutmeg, which is native to Indonesia, but it is also grown in Malaysia, the Caribbean and India. Other species of the same family grow in Papua New Guinea and India.

The most common use for the nutmeg is culinary, with the nutmeg and the mace both ground into a powder, but the tree also provides essential oils, resins and nutmeg butter for other commercial uses. Trees produce 7-9 years after planting, but it takes them about 20 years to reach full production.

Fun fact: It is the only tropical tree that provides two different spices.

If you're wondering what the difference between nutmeg and mace are, they aren't too different; both have a similar flavor, but the nutmeg itself is sweeter and more pronounced, whereas mace is more delicate. Mace is often used for it's bright orange color, which resembles saffron, but nutmeg is used in a wide variety of dishes, both sweet and savory. It is used in many cuisines around the world. It is best if freshly grated, but ground is just as effective (provided you use it in a timely manner, of course).

In Medieval Europe, nutmeg was an extremely expensive and highly prized spice. It was said that it had to be guarded almost under lock and key (if not actually under lock and key) because one nutmeg seed could buy a man a house and land if stolen and sold off. Like much of the spice trade, nutmeg has a bloody history, with the English and Dutch fighting over control of it's trade.

Nutmeg fruit, with the mace (red) and the nutmeg (dark brown) visible.
It has been used medicinally since at least the seventh century, and was reputed to be good for a number of ills, including the plague, which caused a spike into demand and price, and was even used to cause abortions, which led to a rise of nutmeg poisoning cases.

In low doses nutmeg is harmless to humans, but in large doses, freshly grated raw nutmeg contains a substance called myristicin, which can cause convulsions, palpitations, dizziness, dry mouth, eventual dehydration and body pain, and even delirium and hallucinations. Fatal poisonings from nutmeg are rare though; only two cases have ever been reported.

Now that you've gone and gotten yourself all educated about nutmeg, you can try the recipe below and see how you like it! :D

Nutmeg Muffins

4 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 c sugar
2 T baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 T ground nutmeg
5 oz butter, melted
1 1/2 cups cream or (or plain Greek yogurt)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 eggs

Optional Finish:
3 oz butter, melted
1/2 c sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly butter 14 muffin cups (or use muffin pan liners).

2. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Warm the butter, cream andm ilk until just lukewarm, then whisk in the eggs.

4. Using a wooden spoon or a flat spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients until just mixed.

5. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and lightly browned.

6. Turn the muffins out onto a rack.

7. Serve plain or dip each muffin top in melted butter, and then roll it in the sugar mixture.


Substitute 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, a 1/4 tsp ground cloves for the 2 T nutmeg in the above recipe.

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