After some searching I found a recipe that seemed to have the correct ingredients. So I got the ingredients and am particularly happy to have got hold of some really lovely dates - very soft and creamy. But when I came to actually making the muffins and started converting the amounts to metric, it became obvious that this recipe would not work for me. The amount of dates needed seemed way over the top and with my recent banana muffin experience, I'm very cautious. Some of the other amounts were also suspicious.
So, I resorted to checking what Delia Smith and Mary Berry had to say on the subject. Well, Delia had two recipes, but for carrot cake, not muffins and I didn't have all the ingredients for them. The Mary Berry one seemed very intriguing and I will give it a try some day. This time, I used it as a guidance for the amounts of my recipe instead.
12 whole dates
3 - 4 large carrots
400 g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 dl chopped walnuts
250 g honey
4 medium eggs
4 dl water
1.2 dl grapeseed oil
300 g unsalted butter at room temperature
500 g icing sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
100 g maple syrup
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk (if needed)
ready-made tiny sugar carrots for decoration
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Prepare the muffin cases - you need 24 of 5 cm diameter.
- Cut the dates lengthwise in half and remove the stone, then set aside.
- Peel and trim the carrots, then grate coarsely. Weigh up 300 g for the recipe.
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and walnuts.
- Add the carrots, honey, eggs, water and oil and stir together to get thoroughly mixed through. It will look like runny porridge with orange sticks in it.
- Pour some of the batter into the cases, filling to about a third. Then place a date half in each, with the cut side up.
- Distribute the remaining batter in the muffin cases, then bake until they go golden brown, about 50 minutes. Check with a toothpick for readiness.
- Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
- While the muffins are baking, place the butter, icing sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and stir together with a fork until well combined.
- Add the maple syrup and vanilla extract and incorporate well.
- If the mixture feels too thick for piping, add the milk and incorporate. Wrap tightly so the icing doesn't start drying and store in a cool place until it's needed.
- Once the muffins have cooled completely, prepare a piping bag with a nozzle and transfer the icing to it, then pipe onto each muffin.
- To finish, place a small sugar carrot decoration.
I have two muffin tins, taking 12 cases each, so had two batches to bake. The first one I baked for 45 minutes and they had a really nice colour on the surface when they came out. I'd tested for readiness several times and each time, the toothpick came out with small amounts of batter. I let them cool inside the muffin tin, which is fairly thick, so would extend the baking a little. They were slightly warm by the time I took them out.
The second tin, I left to bake for 60 minutes and it went a bit darker on the surface than I would have liked. But the tooth pick came out clean. However, when I cut in half one of each batch, the 45 minute one seemed moister than the 60 minute one. And this was indeed the feeling I had when I ate them. Lundulph commented that the 60 minute ones were better as the creaminess of the date became more prominent. However, once the icing was in place, the date creaminess was lost a little. Lundulph was adamant that the date should be in one piece in the middle and not chopped and stirred into the batter. These dates don't really have that strong a flavour, so chopping them up would make them disappear completely. Possibly this goes for all dates, I don't know.
On the whole, I'm very pleased with this recipe, as I feel I put it together myself to a much larger extent than before. I've also been racking my brain on variations for the future. For starters, if the muffins won't be iced, then the amount of honey should be increased, they weren't very sweet on their own. The recipes on Delia Smith's website had orange zest in them and that might complement the flavours nicely.
After baking was over, the whole house smelt very nice, but I think if I'd used butternut squash instead of carrots, the result would have been the same. Lundulph reckoned it's just there to add bulk. The carrots do add some sweetness and certainly moisture. I would have liked a bit more crunch, so will probably toast the walnuts beforehand. And use honey with stronger flavour too.
I'm particularly pleased with the icing - inspired from this recipe, I used the amounts from my cookie monster cupcakes, but added vanilla and cinnamon. Actually I made half the amount, from 150 g butter and this as barely enough for 20 cupcakes, so I've doubled the amounts in the recipe above, so that all 24 muffins can be decorated and one doesn't have to worry about running out. I should practise my piping though.