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Introducing: a wonderfully food-obsessed New Yorker, and his orange-nutmeg muffins

In recent months, I’ve spent a lot of time gushing about Seattle. I don’t plan to stop anytime soon, but I should confess that when it comes to cities, I’ve been known to be unfaithful. First, there was San Francisco, and bien sûr, there will always be Paris. And though Seattle and I will celebrate our third anniversary in a couple of months, lately I’ve been feeling downright googly-eyed about New York, or, rather, a wonderfully food-obsessed New Yorker. It's serious—the sort of situation that leads to an uncontrollable frenzy of cross-country care-package exchanges, from Ithaca Nut Brown Ale to Fran’s chocolates, and from a vintage KitchenAid stand mixer(!) to orange-nutmeg muffins. I think I heart New York.

Through a variety of forces and what some might call divine intervention, a young man named Brandon came into my life and brought with him, among other things, a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon and a keen eye for ridiculously underpriced kitchen equipment. For our first date, he proposed SoHo, Balthazar, and French martinis, but instead we settled on Pike Place Market, Bottega Italiana, and pistachio gelato. In the months that have followed—during which I’ve secretly and thoroughly vetted him for you, dear reader, and have found him eminently worthy of your company—we’ve sent criss-crossing the country both boxes of food and ourselves. Some might thank the heavens, but I thank the United Parcel Service, JetBlue, and MasterCard.

As a modest early offering, I sent him a dozen homemade chocolate-covered coconut macaroons, and Brandon sent back four bottles of Ithaca Nut Brown Ale and one of his favorite bourbons. I shipped off a jar of homemade apple butter, and he sent back two kinds of pink sea salt, from Hawaii and from the Himalayas, and a jar of hazelnut spread from Le Pain Quotidien. I picked out a package of Fran’s gray salt caramels, and he countered with two bars of Michel Cluizel dark chocolate, a bar of Jacques Torres 60% chocolate, and a thick, dark bar of Spanish Chocovic 72% chocolate from Fairway, all four wrapped together in a silky green ribbon from Ladurée (he’d been saving it, he said, “for the right occasion”); as well as a bag of chocolate-coated and cocoa-dusted roasted almonds from Jacques Torres. I spent one of my loveliest evenings in recent memory sitting alone in my car in the parking lot of UPS, a box from Brandon spilling Styrofoam peanuts on the seat next to me and a smorgasbord of chocolates spread out on my lap. And just as I began to slip irretrievably into a care-package-enduced food coma, another box arrived, this time bearing an original K45 KitchenAid stand mixer.

I suppose I could have been overwhelmed, called a time-out, or picked up my skirts and fled, but when presented with such a show of gastronomic generosity and eBay aptitude, there was really nothing to do but retire to the kitchen and whip up a proper thank-you. Brandon had once mentioned in passing his love for a good nutmeg muffin, and well, I don’t let these hints escape me. Instead, I bake—and I hand-deliver.

So with only a slight delay, I flagged down a flight to New York and arrived with a bag of muffins in hand, red-eyed but no less googly-eyed. Yes, when it comes to cities, I've been known to be unfaithful, but maybe Seattle won't mind sharing me every now and then.

Orange-Nutmeg Muffins

Brandon ate quite a few of these toasty, spicy little cakes at the now-defunct Oberlin Music Café in Oberlin, Ohio (“some of the best espresso I’ve had,” he told me a bit mournfully), but since its closing, he hadn’t had a nutmeg muffin. Though I was unsure of the idea of a muffin flavored with sizeable quantities of what I considered an “only a pinch” spice, I did some detective work and found this recipe. It seemed promising, and with a bit of tweaking and the addition of fresh orange zest (optional, but nice), it more than lived up to its potential. Luckily—or rather, wisely—Brandon thought so too.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp salt
Zest of ½ to 1 orange, to taste
1 large egg
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup milk (nonfat is fine)
4 Tbs canola oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, and zest. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg well. Then stir in the cream, milk, and oil, whisking to blend well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir to just combine (overmixing will develop the gluten in the flour and make for tough muffins).

Scoop the muffin batter evenly into the wells of the greased muffin tin. Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes, or until domed and nicely golden. Serve warm. [These muffins also freeze beautifully. Allow them to thaw at room temperature; then reheat them gently in a 300-degree oven.]

Yield: 12 smallish muffins.


Blogger Nic said...

Loved your story, Molly. And the muffins look wonderful, as always.

6:51 AM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger ACB said...

How exciting! I'm away from my kitchen all summer, stuck with a testy range and dull knives, so I will get my fill of good cooking via your blog. Well, I guess that's not entirely different from being at home...

Yea, JetBlue! We all heart NYC.

8:08 AM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger Dawna said...

Lovely story, Molly! Orange and nutmeg do indeed go so well together - I can almost taste those muffins! Must get back to baking soon...

9:05 AM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

Coming from someone who cheated on an entire country for a boy, I understand your excitement and am sure Seattle will indeed understand. And if it doesn't, who cares? It's worth pissing off a whole city for a guy who saves ribbon.

PS Brandon, if you're reading this, what and where is the Oberlin Music Cafe? I completely missed it and its lovely muffins.

10:45 AM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger Anna said...

Mmm... He had me at Woodford Reserve. Anyone who drinks good bourbon is a friend in my book.

10:45 AM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger margrocks said...

ohhh...you made my day with your little story of love among culinary delights. just goes to show you...there's a muffin-maker out there for every muffin-man.

ha. stupid metaphor, but ya get my drift.

come to nyc anytime, molly.

11:55 AM, June 27, 2005  
Anonymous Samantha said...

Aw! Your story is so charming! I'm a sucker for food/romance stories. My hubby and I met at culinary school, so I know about love amidst food.

If you think you'll be in NYC the weekend of July 17th, we're having a big potluck (folks who met when Clotilde was in NYC). It should be a great time, so do email me at thesamanthafilesATgmailDOTcom if you and Brandon are interested.

1:19 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger debbie said...

Oh, Molly, what a lovely story! I saw on C&Z that you were in NYC and was sort of bummed that there was no Orangette get-together, but now I understand why. Shucks, romance is swell.

2:14 PM, June 27, 2005  
Anonymous lauren said...

Hi Molly,

Marion Cunningham in The Breakfast Book has a lovely nutmeg muffin recipe. I've made it a few times and they are tender and aromatic.

What a yummy sounding romance!

3:13 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, Nic! And yes, the muffins are pretty wonderful, if I do say so myself. Aromatic and subtly sweet, with a rich but not too buttery crumb.

ACB, I'm sorry to hear about your current kitchen woes, but I'll do what I can to keep you well-fed. And yes, three cheers for JetBlue!

And thank you, Dawna! It looks as though you've been doing some good baking--and photography!--yourself, what with all those beautiful ginger snaps and oatmeal cookies...

Amy, you know me well: indeed, it's all about the ribbon! Seriously. And as for the Oberlin Music Cafe, I'll let the guy tell you himself. Stay tuned.

Anna, yes, the man knows his bourbon. He's also a fan of Elmer T. Lee, which has "a deeper vanilla" and "more spice" than the Woodford Reserve, or so he tells me. Have you tried that one?

Margrocks, I LOVE stupid metaphors and, of course, puns. Let 'em fly, I say. And as for NYC, I'll be back soon...

Samantha, thanks so much for the potluck invite! I wish we could be there, but sadly, not this time. Hmph! I'll be back in NYC this fall, though, and I'd love to meet fellow foodies and otherwise then. There's planning to be done...

Debbie, my trip to NYC was a whirlwind--I'm barely settling down to be able to write about it now, a week after my return! Phew. I did manage to squeeze in drinks, dinner, and a barbeque with Amy, who was in town from Sweden, and then there was the incredibly fortuitous meeting with Clotilde at Sugar Sweet Sunshine, but other than that, I was, well, busy! I would love to plan something for my next visit, though...there are so many of you I'd like to meet out there!

And Lauren, thanks for the heads-up on Marion Cunningham. Her recipes are usually wonderful, so I can only imagine how delicious her nutmeg muffins are. Mmm.

5:48 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger The Yankee said...

Well everyone love muffins, don't they?


8:38 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger Chocopie said...

Hi, I think that muffin is a kind of simple bread. But fresh orange makes it special and chewy. I like orange favor

9:03 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Well, Yankee, I'm sure some people favor cinnamon rolls, scones, biscuits, or even toast. But these muffins are awfully lovable.

And Chocopie, you're right--muffins are a type of quick bread. They're somewhere between cake and bread, although they probably fall closer to the cake end of the spectrum.

9:58 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

How lovely to hear that the cross-country smorgasbord continues! From all indications, Brandon seems utterly charming, absolutely interesting and completely endearing. I'm so happy for you both!

9:54 AM, June 28, 2005  
Blogger farmgirl said...

Those muffins sound divine. What a wonderful combination. Can't wait to try them. There is nothing like fresh nutmeg--the first time I used my itty bitty nutmeg grater I was hooked.
P.S. Just found you through C&Z. I'll be back!

1:57 PM, June 28, 2005  
Blogger Tisane For One said...

Loved this post Molly - and Brandon sounds like a guy worthy of you...I feel special if my husband buys me flowers! haha, no, I'm just being mean.
Oh and I LOVE nutmeg and sprinkle it on my banana smoothies - ever tried that?

4:34 PM, June 28, 2005  
Anonymous anna said...

How wonderful it is to be googly-eyed! And how nice it is for you to connect with a fellow foodie.

I recently took your advice on roasting asparagus, rather than steaming it. I wasn't convinced that a hot oven & olive oil could outperform a microwave and & little bit of water. Boy, was I wrong. The asparagus actually tasted... more like asparagus! Thanks for the tip!

6:51 AM, June 29, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, tara!

And farmgirl, thanks for making the trip from C&Z. Fresh nutmeg is a lovely thing indeed, and I'm jealous of your nutmeg grater! I need to invest in one; that is one area where my abundant supply of kitchen equipment falls short! For now, I've been using the rasp side of a box grater. It does the trick, but the cuteness factor is lacking.

Tisane for One, thanks for the nutmeg-on-banana-smoothie suggestion. I can almost taste it now...

And anna, so glad to hear that the roasted asparagus was a success! I told you so...

9:11 AM, June 29, 2005  
Anonymous Kim said...

I just wanted to double check the recipie, is it really 1 tablespoon baking powder and a 1/2 tsp nutmeg? Thanks!

11:57 AM, June 29, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Kim, that's right--it's 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg. You could up the nutmeg a bit if you like, but 1/2 tsp of the fresh stuff yields a good amount of flavor.

12:08 PM, June 29, 2005  
Blogger Nandita said...

Am here for the first time, followed a link from Foodblogscool. I loved your writing style Molly and had to compliment you no sooner than I had read your post! Am going to read a lot more of your thoughts when I am at leisure.

4:38 AM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Aw, thank you, Nandita! That made my morning.

1:09 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Kristen said...

I made this recipe today for Mother's Day, and it turned out absolutely perfect! The muffins were a huge hit with everyone, and a snap to make. (And they even survived an accidental substitution of EVOO for canola oil.) I do recommend careful checking though, they were done in 15 minutes in my oven and would've burned in a minute or two. Thanks for the great recipe!

11:18 PM, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Oh good! I'm so glad you liked them, Kristen.

6:36 PM, May 15, 2007  
Blogger Carrie said...

Molly, these muffins are heavenly. The orange zest pairs so nicely with the nutmeg. They were delicious the morning I made them, and they seemed to get even denser and more donutlike the next day. Yum. A friend of mine steered me toward your blog about a month ago, and I've been an avid reader since. You're such an excellent writer!

5:52 AM, April 21, 2008  
Blogger selena said...

Whoa, these muffins are seriously freaking good. I just made a batch and they're so yummy! I subbed lemon for orange since that's what was around. These will be a big hit with my Japanese students, who love delicately sweet things but pass on sugar overloads.

8:36 PM, December 13, 2008  
Anonymous AnnieB said...

I just made these muffins last night - they are delish! Molly, did you experiment with adding as much nutmeg as indicated in the recipe you linked to in the comments preceding your own muffin recipe? It calls for 1 1/2 whole nutmegs (if that's what you call the whole thing).

9:27 AM, January 14, 2009  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Delurking after a year to say I absolutely love your blog. My husband bought me your book as a surprise (he even managed to feign ignorance as I waved a Barnes & Noble copy in front of him by way of unsubtle birthday gift hint!) and I have savored every page. In your absence, I've decided to start reading your blog from the beginning and it's providing a delicious distraction from exam revision! Long story short, I just wanted you to know how excited I am that your muffins have turned out PERFECT...at 6000 feet! We moved to high-altitude Colorado 8 months ago after living at various sea level locations (Kuala Lumpur, Edinburgh, Rhode Island) and most of my baking has always suffered just a tad despite my tweaking. Well, this is the first recipe to turn out *just right*! If you ever need to bake these at 6000 feet, give me a shout and I'll pass on the adjustments :) Take care and I look forward to having you back when you're ready.

1:20 PM, July 09, 2009  
Blogger Christine said...

I am just about to make the batter for orange ricotta pancakes (I do a variation on Martha Stewart's recipe) and I wondered if nutmeg might be a nice addition. So I googled "orange nutmeg" (without quotes) and found your website. So I am going to add nutmeg to these pancakes (my boyfriend LOVES them sooo much, but I can't resist tweaking recipes after a while). I'll let you know how it goes. I make the batter the night before then chill overnight. Stay tuned. PS I live in NYC. it's 1:30 in the morning, my terrace overlooks Central Park. All is right with the world.

10:33 PM, October 27, 2009  
Anonymous Mark said...

Hi Molly...I just made the orange nutmeg muffins this morning and absolutely loved them. I think they're the best muffins I have ever made! Great recipe thanks for posting this one!


5:50 PM, December 20, 2009  
Anonymous benoit said...

I love the taste of these muffins. I juiced the orange and replaced part of the milk with the juice. I also decreased the amount of baking powder to 1 teaspoon and they turned out great and without that aftertaste of baking powder.

10:05 AM, January 10, 2010  
OpenID prufrock31 said...

I remember the Oberlin Music Cafe! I never tried the muffins, but it was a wonderfully cozy, inviting space, as well as a great place to pick up some staff paper or a cheap Dover piano score.

I didn't try the espresso, either, but I can vouch for its popularity: one of my creative writing classes gave an end-of-semester reading there, and you could hardly hear us over the near-constant whir of the coffee grinder.

Anyway, I just pulled a batch of these muffins out of the oven, and they smell terrific. Can't wait until they cool!

6:17 PM, April 25, 2010  
Blogger Hina said...

i made these yesterday and they are divine!....so moist and citrusy and warmly spicy...i just have one question...3/4th cup brown sugar or 3/4th cup packed brown sugar?....as perfect as they were, they could have been a little sweeter.

12:09 PM, July 05, 2012  
Blogger Molly said...

Hina, to be honest, it's been a while since I made these muffins, but my recollection is that I don't pack the brown sugar. But if you want them to be sweeter, go for it!

8:20 PM, July 08, 2012  
Anonymous cindy said...

Wondering if you could make this recipe into a loaf pan for a quick bread? Any ideas? Loved the muffins. So subtle.

7:57 AM, September 15, 2013  

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