Fickle weather this week in San Francisco: A few glorious mornings of sunshine have been tempered by the usual and omnipresent fog, reminding me of just how chilly the summer months can be here. Last August I was in Yosemite for nearly a week and then went to Maine for 2 weeks so by the time I returned in late summer the sun had settled in for the long haul — in other words, I’d forgotten how gloomy this city can be earlier in the month. I’m not really complaining, mind, just observing. I think in a way this fog and mist is a good thing for it helps us appreciate the fleeting, warmer days of summer – and, oh, lovely Indian Summer I await you so very eagerly this year for a variety of reasons – when they come, and consequently we don’t take them for granted. Plus, a lack of intense heat and humidity is always great in my book. (See also: why I moved back to the West Coast eight years ago.) So I will welcome these cooler days, but I will also be grateful for my wool socks.
In Morocco I found myself wishing for muffins at random moments (and the need to wear a scarf, July of course being somewhat of a frigid month here in SF). I won’t call this a craving per se, but more of a feeling of ‘oh, I can’t have this particular thing (insert here blueberries, tofu, hummus, chocolate buttermilk cake, vegan donut, etc.) at whim, thus I will instead become obsessed with the thought of it’. Something along those lines and why I’ve been treating myself to burritos at every opportunity, calories be damned. If I’d had my muffin tin I could have baked a batch of muffins myself … but alas it’s still on a boat somewhere in vicinity of the Panama Canal and was wholly inaccessible to me in July. Wisely I’d kept back a battered tin in my San Francisco kitchen and so when the urge came upon me – as it very often does – to bake, I unearthed it and gathered my ingredients.
As I may have mentioned, my penchant for sweets continues unabated. And yet, I am also sort of sick of sweets. It’s difficult to explain. For sure I have recently overdosed on ice cream and now the very thought of it makes me feel a bit ill; yet I still wanted a little something to satisfy the yearning and also to warm up the apartment for the time it would take to bake the muffins. On Wednesday afternoon I’d just finished up another – and hopefully final – round of cookbook edits and decided I needed a little bit of a reward to celebrate. I’d also just gotten Kate Christensen’s newish memoir from the library and a read + tea + muffin on the couch seemed just the thing.
I struck a compromise between my need for a sweet treat and my need to at least attempt to be healthy by making a batch of vegan, maple-syrup sweetened strawberry muffins that, and I’ll admit it unashamedly, might just be the best muffins I’ve ever made. Lightly sweet from the maple syrup but not cloying at all and surprisingly fluffy from the peculiar, wonderful alchemy that occurs when vinegar and baking soda combine, you might not notice these little cakes are sans butter, milk, or eggs. Nor would you miss those ingredients. Rounded out with whole wheat pastry flour, the muffins are hearty and wholesome. They’re also luscious and jammy with fruit and a hint of cinnamon. In short: the muffins of my dreams. And please believe me when I say in earnest I really did dream about muffins when I was in Casablanca.
Last night as I tucked myself into bed I heard the fog horn booming away down in the bay; it always seems closer than it is. This is yet another thing I have sometimes cursed and will probably miss when I don’t live here (I will trade that horn for the call to prayer that will no doubt awaken me at least once a night until I am accustomed to it). For all that I will miss California I am so, so grateful that our new city runs up into the Atlantic Ocean — we can even see it from our house — and that is infinitely soothing for I have gotten so accustomed to living near the water. Not sure I will particularly miss the fog, however, though I suppose it does have its own particular charm. At least in my kitchen, with my familiar cooking implements and American baking powder (!) I will always feel at home.
I’m tempted to experiment with using entirely whole wheat pastry flour but the muffins might turn out a bit too crumbly … or at least to substitute 1/4-1/2 cup of cornmeal or other whole-wheat flour (spelt, for example) for the all-purpose flour … but really, these are utterly perfect as the recipe stands. Swap in whatever fruit you like — blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, diced peaches or plums — and play around with the kind of chopped nuts, maybe even use a bit of honey in place of the maple syrup for a flavor twist. I will also note that while I refer to the crumble topping as ‘optional’ I quickly decided after a few bites that it is, in fact, ‘essential’.
Makes 1 dozen muffins
3/4 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar, if that’s all you’ve got)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or oil of choice, bearing in mind if you choose olive or coconut you will impart that taste)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground ginger
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
optional: 1/4 cup sliced almonds or chopped walnuts
Optional oat crumble topping
3 tablespoons rolled oats
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat oven to 400°. Grease a muffin tin or line it with cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the non-dairy milk, vinegar, maple syrup, and oil until well combined.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and the pinch of ginger. Mix in the strawberries, tossing to coat the fruit lightly.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir gently until just combined. Fold in the nuts if using.
Distribute the batter evenly into the muffin tins and sprinkle each muffin with oats and brown sugar. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Remove tin from oven and let muffins cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn the muffins out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Serve room temperature or slightly warm, with a bit of margarine or coconut butter.