Sweet on Sweet Potatoes: A Muffin for All Seasons

27 Dec

Sweet potatoes, with their sunset-hue and irresistible buttery sweetness, were a Sunday dinner staple during my childhood. Dad was in charge of the cooking that day of the week, and while he stuffed us to the gills with mini-Thanksgivings of turkey, cranberry sauce, and green beans with ham hock, my mom’s contribution of either baked-until-silky or expertly candied sweet potatoes (with brown sugar, maple syrup and orange juice) was easily the most beloved (and first eaten).

Baked Sweet Potatoes (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

In light of my early fondness for this root vegetable, I was looking to create a muffin that wasn’t merely a  Thanksgiving pumpkin bread retread (with its tired ground spice quartet of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger). I was in search of a moist, tender and tending-toward cakey muffin that would satisfy my sweet tooth without landing me in cupcake territory.  I also wanted a muffin that didn’t scream “Holiday!” like the Material Girl.

What follows is the recipe that I tested and developed.

Note: please don’t try to nuke the sweet potatoes. They just won’t taste as good as a baked fresh out of the oven meltingly tender ones. The muffin is delicious and satisfying without a streusel, but for those of us who aren’t satisfied without a proper topper, I have also included instructions for an optional streusel. I didn’t want a saccharine sweet sticky bun topping, a heavy crumb cover that buried the muffin, or one that turned sodden the day after baking. I ultimately settled on a simple brown sugar-based pecan streusel. It enhanced the browned butter flavor and contrasted texturally with the tender muffin. The streusel also blended attractively with the underlying muffin color and was just a hint sweet. Using the food processor for the streusel proved key in distributing the butter more evenly and avoiding oily nasty clumps. I also sprinkled the streusel on sparingly instead of loading this light muffin down with topping as sometimes less is more.

Sweet Potato Brown Butter Muffins with Streusel (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

Sweet Potato Brown Butter Muffins (yield is 1 dozen muffins)

2 small to medium-sized sweet potatoes (approximately 8 to 10 ounces each), for a yield of 1 packed cup (8 ½ ounces) of mashed sweet potato
8 tablespoons of butter (1 stick), cut into 8 pieces
1 ¾ cups (8 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon ground mace
2 eggs
½ cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (3 ½ ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup Grade A maple syrup (preferably Maple Grove Farms Grade A Dark Amber)
¾ cup currants

Pecan-Brown Sugar Stresuel Topping (optional)
1/4 cup (1 ¾ ounces) packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch table salt
3 tablespoons of cold butter, cut into 3 pieces
2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans

  1.  FOR THE MUFFINS: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse sweet potatoes under cold water, dry with paper towel, and pierce with fork (3 times for a small sweet potato; 5 or 6 times for a medium-sized potato).
  2. Place sweet potatoes on a foil-covered baking sheet and bake undisturbed, until some liquid begins to appear through the fork holes, the sweet potato flesh is easily compacted when squeezed, or a thermometer can be inserted without resistance, and the core of the sweet potatoes registers around 202 to 212 degrees (60 to 90 minutes depending on size and shape). Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack until they are easy to handle. They should appear to deflate somewhat as they cool.
  3. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Spray standard-sized muffin pan (the entire pan surface, not just the inside of the cups) with nonstick cooking spray.
  4.  While the sweet potatoes are cooling, heat the butter over medium heat in a small skillet or saucepan with a light-colored interior, swirling occasionally, until butter smells nutty and milk solids at bottom are golden, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the melted butter from heat, and transfer along with sediments into a small heatproof bowl to stop cooking.
  5. When cool enough to handle comfortably peel away the flesh of the sweet potatoes and discard the skin. Mash the sweet potato flesh with the back of a large plastic spoon and measure out one tightly packed cup (8 ½ ounces) for the muffin batter.
  6. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and mace in large bowl to combine; set aside.
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla together until combined, 10 seconds. Add the cup of mashed sweet potato, sugar, and maple syrup to the buttermilk mixture and whisk until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated; finally, add browned butter to wet ingredients, and whisk until incorporated, 10 seconds.
  8. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and gently mix with rubber spatula until batter is combined and evenly moistened. Do not overmix. Gently fold currants into batter. Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, divide batter evenly among muffin cups, dropping batter to form mounds. You can fill this batter to the cup rim, but do not flatten surfaces of mounds. If adding the streusel topping (see below), top each muffin with a scant tablespoon of streusel mixture, lightly pressing in streusel to help it adhere.
  9. Bake until muffins are golden and just firm, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving.
  10.  FOR THE STREUSEL: Pulse the sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor until combined and sugar lumps are eliminated, 2 to 4 pulses. Add the butter and pulse until butter is distributed and largest sized butter pieces are no bigger than a pea, 15 to 20 pulses. Add the nuts and pulse until incorporated and slightly finer in texture but not pulverized, about 5 pulses. Set aside in bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

2 Responses to “Sweet on Sweet Potatoes: A Muffin for All Seasons”

  1. Fred @ Savorique December 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    I think I can make this wonderful sweet potato-based muffin recipe gluten free if I use rice or quinoa flour instead of regular flour, can’t I?
    Using sweet potato is an amazing idea, bravo!

    • levjoh December 28, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

      Thanks! I haven’t tried it myself but think that should work. Please let me know if you decide to experiment as I’d love to hear how it turns out.

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