In the autumn, when the leaves begin to fall from the trees and the days get shorter and cooler, most people (the type with varied interests and a healthy grasp on reality) are prone to melancholy. Foodies, however, see this change in a more positive light. A new season means new products to buy, new recipes to try, new realms of gastronomic pleasure to explore. Summer’s remaining wares might start to look a little stringy and tired, but right around the corner is the most delicious season of all: harvest.
This time of year has been even better for me since I discovered the vegetal delight that is the butternut squash. Yes, I know- I was a late arrival to the squash party. Everyone else has been enjoying it for years, where have I been, etc. No need to rub it in. But rest assured, since buying my first one sometime last September, I’ve been making up for lost time. Immediately falling for its sweet, nutty taste, creamy flesh and versatility, I, uh, went a little overboard. I began cooking with it all the time- squash made appearances in quiche, on pizza, in risotto, with numerous pasta dishes. Eventually, around the middle of November, Andrew had to impose a quota on me. I was allowed to cook one meal per week involving butternut squash. Just one. Really, it was for my own good.
Recently, with the lengthening of the days, I found myself looking forward to the fresh green goods of spring, and believed squash was slowly losing its grip on me. In fact, when I opened up my new Jamie at Home book for some fresh inspiration over the weekend, I hadn’t cooked with it in weeks. (Thank you, thank you.) But, as soon as I saw Jamie’s recipe for Butternut Squash Muffins with a Frosty Top, as soon as I read the description comparing the taste and texture to that of carrot cake (another foodstuff with a mysterious hold over me), I knew I had to make them. And it couldn’t wait until next fall. I was going back to the squash.
Of course, I did play with the recipe a bit- I can never leave well enough alone. I couldn’t believe a recipe for one dozen muffins called for 2 1/4 cups of sugar (that must be a typo), especially when squash is naturally so sweet. I promptly reduced it to a cup and subbed dark brown sugar for the called-for light brown. I also played with the frosting a little bit- adding cream cheese to suit my North American sensibilities.
The resulting muffins are nothing short of delicious. More an afternoon treat muffin than a wholesome breakfast number, they are dense but not heavy, with a nutty sweetness from the squash (and, uh, the nuts). They’re really good- just make them. You won’t be sorry.
Butternut Squash Muffins
Adapted from Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver
makes 12 large muffins (more if your tins are smaller are on the small side)
- 14 oz. butternut squash, deseeded but with the skin left on
- 1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 1/2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- zest of 1 lemon
- zest of 1 clementine
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1/4 cup cream cheese
- 1/4 cup creme fraiche
- 2 heaping Tbs. icing sugar
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF/170ºC. Line your muffin tins with paper cups, if you’re using them.
- Grate the squash, or whiz it in a food processor until finely chopped. Add in the sugar, eggs and oil and mix well. Then add the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and walnuts, and stir by hand until just combined. Don’t overdo it- you want it to be a bit lumpy.
- Divide the mixture among your muffin cups, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
- To make your frosting, simply combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Taste it to make sure you like the ratio of sweet to sour- I like my frosting on the sharper side, but you may want to add more sugar.
- When the muffins are almost cool, spoon the frosting over the tops. Depending on how thin your icing is/how warm your muffins are, it may melt attractively down the sides or else it might just sit there like a blob. Mine was a bit thicker so I had to spread it around. Top with a bit more lemon/orange zest, if you like.