Poppy Seed Muffins With Orange Glaze

Week Forty-Two: Muffin Week

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The minute the calendar declared it was officially Autumn (and I do mean the very minute), the weather up here ended the charade and stopped pretending like Summer had ever arrived.  Me, I was never fooled; a mere four days above 90º F does not a Summer make.  But when September 22 rolled up, the air heaved a sigh of relief, decided to stop living a lie, and promptly dropped twenty degrees.  I think we’re all happier to have it all out in the open, really.

This last week has been particularly chilly, which has turned my mind to thoughts of warming foods, things that taste of slow-cooking, but that you only have to scurry briefly out from under a cozy blanket to make.  Which brings us, naturally, to muffins.  When the weather turns cool, what better to warm your home than a plate full of cheerful and quickly-baked muffins, wafting their just-baked smell through the air?

First up this week is a poppy seed bread recipe that I’ve been dying to make ever since I ripped it from the pages of Bon Appétit.  Until now, I never could bring myself to make any other poppy seed bread than my mom’s, as any other recipe would surely not match up; or even worse, one might actually usurp the place of glory it holds.  So it takes an intriguing recipe to turn my head, and turn it this recipe did.

Most often, the only variation you see in poppy seed bread is the inclusion or exclusion of a lemon flavor.  No disrespect, lemon and poppy seeds are an excellent pair.  But really?  Can’t we be a little adventurous?  And so, when I saw the orange glaze used in this version, I sat up a little straighter and gave an involuntary “hmmm”, eyebrows raised.  (Let’s not get crazy here; we need to take baby steps away from the lemon.)  I tore it out, and it had languished ever since in my file of Recipes To Make Someday.

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Today, I’m kicking myself for not having made it sooner.  This is one incredible recipe, you guys.  The bread itself is flavorful, moist, fluffy, loaded with poppy seeds, and all in all a rather fine example of the poppy seed set.  But the orange glaze is the crowning glory here (no pun intended).  Immediately after baking, the glaze is spooned over the hot bread, which soaks it up like a sponge.  The tiny bits of orange zest in the glaze become candied, and sparkle on top of the muffins like citrine gems.

Made with fresh orange juice, the flavor of the glaze is like the best orange candy you’ve ever had.  The acidic citrus brings a familiarity, similar as it is to lemon, but the bright sunshiny orange sparkles with newness on the palate.  Freshly baked, the crust of the muffins is both crunchy and sticky at the same time, a combination that is almost irresistable.

Yes, this recipe is extremely good.  (It also makes an absolute ton of bread, never a bad thing with a result so laudable.)  Is it better than my mother’s recipe?  Well, color me biased, steeped as I am in childhood memories of munching on that particular bread, but I can’t honestly say that it’s any better.  But man, if today’s recipe can’t beat it, then nothing else ever will.

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Poppy Seed Muffins With Orange Glaze
Adapted from Normandy Farm Bakery, via Bon Appétit Magazine
Makes 24 muffins + one 8 x 4 inch loaf (or two 9 x 5 inch loaves)

For glaze:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange juice (from 1 large orange)
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (from 1 large orange)

For batter:
15 ounces (3 1/3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup applesauce
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups milk
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1.  Preheat oven to 350º F.  Butter and flour 24 standard muffin tin cups, and one 8 x 4 inch loaf pan (or two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans), knocking out the excess flour.

2.  In a small saucepan, bring all three glaze ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Set aside to cool.

3.  Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat together the oil, applesauce, sugar, eggs, almond extract, and vanilla extract, until pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes.

4.  Switch to the paddle attachment, and add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in 4 additions, alternating with the milk in 3 additions.  Stir in the poppy seeds by hand.  Divide the batter amongst the prepared pans, muffin tins first, filling each up three-quarters full.  Scrape the rest into the 8 x 3 inch loaf pan.  (If using 9 x 5 inch pans, divide the batter equally between the two.)

5.  Bake the muffins at 350º F for 35 to 40 minutes, switching positions of the pans halfway through the baking process.  Bake the 8 x 3 inch loaf for 45 to 55 minutes, and the 9 x 5 inch loaves for about 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

6.  Immediately after removing the breads from the oven, pierce each muffin or loaf repeatedly with a skewer.  Gradually spoon the glaze over the breads, dividing equally and allowing glaze to absorb after each addition.  Cool breads completely in pans, preferably on a rack.

Notes:
1.  Breads can be prepared 1 day in advance.  Wrap well with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature.  Alternatively, they can be frozen, wrapped tightly, and reheated in a 350º F oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until heated through.

2.  In zesting the orange for the glaze, don’t worry if you get a little of the bitter white pith included.  The glaze tends to be rather sticky-sweet, and the extra bitterness would cut it nicely.  For an even more bitter-orange flavor (which I just love), you can actually include the whole zested peel in the saucepan while making the glaze.  Discard the peel after the glaze has cooled.

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