In the 1960s when I was in primary school, my friends and I would pop over to the milk bar at the village shopping centre that was right next door to our school. This was in the good old days when a kid could buy a decent-sized bag of mixed lollies with around twenty cents. Looking back, I don't really know how the owner of the store stayed sane, with a gaggle of little children standing at his counter for what seemed like ages, eyes wide, umming and ahing, and doing their best to choose a good selection of sweeties. I do know that my dentist was a happy man, that I can tell you for certain.
Travelling several thousand kilometres by car recently, and stopping off at some of Australia's top east-coast tourist locations, Peter and I made a point of seeking out quirky cafés along the way. My Peter is always quick to make up his mind on the morsel he'll be having with his espresso, while I always seem to take longer, carefully scrutinising the goodies on offer behind the glass counter. Call me picky, but I like to consider the look of the item and the ingredients in it before announcing my choice. Usually I rule out calorific cakes, as my preference is for tasty-looking slices, mini-tarts, strudels or muffins. As far as my palate is concerned, the said item must be obviously fresh, not sickly-sweet, and should also be a good accompaniment for my double-shot macchiato. As my patient man stands beside me, tapping his foot gently, I'm like the veritable kid in a candy store, but eventually I do choose. Really I do.
I surveyed and devoured a good share of muffins and slices on our trip, purely for research for this little blog, you understand, my friends. Indeed, I even forced myself to endure 'Death by Muffin' at the fabulous Twisted Sista Café in Byron Bay, which is situated at the far north-eastern point of New South Wales. The area is home to the historic Cape Byron lighthouse, built in 1900, and there's a delicious little café next door to the lighthouse too. Incidentally, we saw a dozen or more whales that day, but more about that breathtaking adventure in an upcoming post.
Forgive me, for as usual I have wandered off the topic, which is muffins. I was going to tell you that I spotted some pear and walnut muffins at Belmondo's, an excellent café, deli and grocery store in Noosa, Queensland. I never did get to taste them, as I chose a paleo style fudge slice instead. A fellow-customer, Annette, who I chatted with, kindly emailed me her recipe for that slice (thanks so much, Annette, I promise I will give it a try soon!). Truly, the pear and walnut muffins were so beautifully presented that as soon as I saw them I made a mental note that I wanted to create my own. And so I have, they're very good and here is my recipe... enjoy.
SEMI DRIED PEAR SLICES (pictured below)
1 Corella pear
1 tablespoon coconut palm sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cassia*
Preheat your oven to 130-140 degrees C. Combine the coconut palm sugar and cassia in a Pyrex bowl. Cut the pear into thin slices. Sprinkle with the coconut palm sugar and cassia, coating both sides. Place the pear slices onto a rack over a baking tray and bake for an hour or so until they are almost dry (taking care not to burn them). Turn them over halfway through. Store in an airtight container. These are great as a snack or as a topping for my pear muffins, below.
PEAR, WALNUT AND GINGER WHOLEMEAL MUFFINS
2 cups self-raising wholemeal flour
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
2g ground vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon ground cassia*
1 tablespoon naked ginger (or crystallised ginger), finely chopped or grated
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 free range egg, whisked
3/4 cup soured milk or buttermilk
1 cup chopped fresh pear, skin on (I used a combination of Corella and Packham)
up to 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter*
1-2 tablespoons pure honey, to finish
icing sugar to serve, optional
Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C. Prepare a six cup Texas muffin tin by lining it with paper liners. Combine the flour, coconut palm sugar, ground vanilla and cassia in a bowl. Run a small balloon whisk through the mixture to break up any lumps in the flour and sugar. With a silicon spatula, fold in the whisked egg, milk or buttermilk, melted butter, chopped pear and walnuts; and stir briefly, only until the ingredients are combined. Using a metal serving spoon and a smaller tablespoon, divide the mixture evenly between the lined muffin cups. Drizzle the top of each muffin with a little warmed honey. Top with a slice of the semi dried pear. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Allow them to cool on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar before serving (optional). Store in an airtight container. Makes 6 extra large muffins.
Use your cook's judgement to ascertain how much of the melted butter to add. You don't want a dry muffin mix, nor do you want it to be too wet. Also, please bear in mind that you should never over-mix or beat a muffin mixture. In terms of the spices, sometimes I choose cassia over cinnamon in my baking as I find it has a sweeter taste... but less is more with cassia. If you use too much it can taste bitter. Naked ginger is uncrystallised ginger, sold in pieces.
Tell me dear readers, do you still get that delightful 'kid in a candy store' feeling? Are you quick with your choices in cafés? Do please share your stories with me. I love hearing from you all... Bizzy xo
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.