Marion Cunningham’s Nutmeg Muffins Gluten Free

Gluten free nutmeg muffins for Christmas

Today, on Christmas Eve, I got a craving for The Last Word in Nutmeg Muffins, so I scanned my kitchen bookshelves for one of my greatest treasures, The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. It was published in 1987, a lifetime ago–I bought it before I married Bill–but Cunningham’s recipes are timeless.

As I took the tattered and food-stained volume down from the shelf, I turned to Claire who was standing in the kitchen. “When I die, make sure one of you gets this book. Don’t let it go into the estate sale.”

The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham.
The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham, probably my favorite cookbook.

Claire looked askance and slightly horrified. Who could blame her?

I tried to explain. “I have all of Marion Cunningham’s books, but I think this one is her best. She taught me how to cook.” Claire still looked at me as if I had two heads. She’s the youngest child of four. She doesn’t remember a time when I couldn’t cook.

“It’s because of Marion Cunningham that we use whole nutmegs. Let’s make her nutmeg muffins.”

At the mention of the nutmegs, Claire finally nodded with understanding. She pulled a spice jar out of the cabinet, and taking off the lid, sniffed the nutmegs and smiled.

Claire tossed me two nutmegs, and I grated one and a half into a bowl that already held flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. As I performed these familiar steps, I thought about Cunningham’s struggles with agoraphobia and later, Alzheimer’s Disease. As someone who also struggled with anxiety in my forties, I now recognize a fellow survivor in her calm words. While I’m a huge fan of Julia Child, it was Cunningham who really taught me the important steps to cooking. Plus, her recipes are easier. Ask anyone who’s made Child’s boeuf bourguignon. I make it often because it’s my kid’s favorite stew, but let’s be real. Making boeuf bourguignon is a multi-level, time consuming process.

Contrast that recipe with Cunningham’s cheery preview of the best nutmeg muffins you’ll ever eat.

Fragrant, creamy-crumbed nutmeg muffins, the best of their kind, but you must grate one and a half whole little nutmegs to make these perfect creations. Although whole nutmegs feel like rocks, they are rather soft and easy to grate. The flavor of freshly grated nutmeg is incomparable. These muffins taste good with fruit, or butter, or all by themselves.

If I still haven’t convinced you, read The Amateur Gourmet’s estimation of this magical little book.

I made my muffins with King Arthur Gluten Free Multi Purpose Flour, my current favorite. Since they have butter, I used ghee, i.e., clarified butter. Clarified butter doesn’t have that nasty casein which gives me so much trouble.

[gmc_recipe 26362]

I spooned the thick batter into a heart-shaped muffin tin and placed it the oven for twenty minutes. Soon our house was filled with the scent of fresh nutmeg baking. Is there any scent more Christmasy than that?

I don’t think so.

Maybe I’ll just buy all of my children a copy of The Breakfast Book. It would make a great Christmas present idea for next year. Sssh, don’t tell them.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

Making and baking bread a new gluten free way

Sliced gluten free pecan bread with Earth Balance spread.
Cinnamon raisin pecan bread made with teff flour and other good things

Right now, my kitchen smells of good things like cinnamon, raisins, flour, olive oil and yeast.

It smells like home.

I’m tired of bad, gluten free bread, so I am now making some of my own bread weekly.  After it cools, I slice and freeze it for my morning toast.  Morning toast and hot tea are among life’s greatest, everyday pleasures.

Two loaves of bread are rising in the oven as they bake, without the standard extra rise normally done for yeast breads.  This is a new concept for me, and it’s the process used by Jennifer Katzinger who owns the Flying Apron bakery in Seattle, WA.  I include the location info and link for you lucky folks who live there or will be visiting soon.  There are times when I wish I lived in Seattle, and not just for the gardening weather.

However, I could never leave my beloved Oklahoma, and further, I digress.

Baking such bread isn’t that difficult once you understand the concept behind Katzinger’s style.  As a small Christmas present to myself (yes, I know I bought a few of those), I ordered her new cookbook, Flying Apron’s Gluten-free & Vegan Baking Book.  Note to those of you new to gluten and casein free baking, vegan is good for us.  Vegan is how I found hempmilk for which I will be eternally grateful.

As soon as the wet and dry ingredients are barely incorporated, you knead the bread a few times and then place it in a 300 degree F. oven where the yeast will expand.  This requires a much, longer cooking time, but I liked the idea of kneading the bread and then letting it do its thing.  Kneading bread was once a passion of mine.  I made beautiful whole-wheat loaves, their slices dripping with butter and honey.

Now that I know gluten and dairy hurts me, I shudder a bit as I write the above paragraph, but it is what it is.  Gluten and dairy give me pain.

So does bad bread, and I’ve eaten too much of it in the past three years.  Covered in ice crystals, the bread from the local “health food” store, costs twice as much as regular bread, and it’s half the size in slice and loaf.  I might as well eat frozen cardboard.

I tried this cookbook because it promised bread with whole grain flours.  I don’t know about you, but I miss the chewy goodness of whole grain.  I’m really tired of white flour made with white rice and bound by tapioca and potato starches.  There’s nothing wrong with these, but they are the nutritional equivalent of bleached white wheat flour (if not worse).  I still use them for certain desserts, but not for my daily bread.

One caveat, Katzinger relies heavily on garbanzo bean flour, and it’s not for everyone either.  I personally like it, but some people don’t like the “beany” taste.  I did read in a comment somewhere (after the bread was in the oven) that toasting the garbanzo bean flours helps dissipate the “beany” taste and smell.

Also, the cookbook is filled with other vegan and gluten free treats which I haven’t tried, but the chemistry in them looks sound.  If the yeast bread is good, I’m sure the cakes and muffins will be too.  One thing I am dying to try (perhaps for Diva’s birthday) is the chai “buttercream” icing.  Katzinger uses it on a spice cake.  We’ll see.  Diva is typically a lemon cake fan.  I could take it to the monthly Nash birthday party as an extra special treat.  We’ll see.

Sliced with Earth Balance spread

Okay, I just ate my first piece, and honestly, it was wonderful.  Full of lovely texture and no beany flavor.  Instead, I caught the aroma and taste first, of yeast, and then a light sweetness (probably from the sweet potato and maple syrup).   The crust is crunchy and excellent, and the middle melts in my mouth.  When I cut the loaf, it did crumble a bit, but I think that was my fault for being impatient.  Instead of butter, I topped mine with Earth Balance’s soy free natural buttery spread.  It is so close to butter that I don’t mind not having butter anymore.  Now, if only someone could make a decent cheese alternative which doesn’t have casein.

But, I can hear you thinking “does it taste like wheat bread?” That is the question we all ask ourselves when we go gluten free.

No, it does not, but then, who cares anyway?  It just tastes good. When serving this fabulous loaf to your family (if you decide to share), give it them and make no excuses.  A lot of cultures make bread without wheat, and now, thanks to innovative chefs like Katzinger, you do too.