Umbria, Italy, in the fall, is waking up to dense fog that eventually ends up as gloriously sunny afternoons with clear blue skies. It is also the smell of wood fires and roasting chestnuts and the selection of fruits sold at the markets changes from peaches, nectarines, and plums, to pears and apples. And not so pleasant, is that fall is hunting season, so we wake up to the sounds of dogs barking and gunshots on those days that hunting is allowed. Just two years ago, I could not find sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts, and winter squash apart from what the Italians call zucca, at any grocery store or outdoor market in the fall. Being used to having those ingredients onhand in North America every fall, I had to go to a health food store here in Umbria to find them and I paid way too much just to get my hands on these basic fall vegetables.
This year, all three ingredients are available at my local grocery store only ten minutes from our house, and surprisingly are very inexpensive. I have never come across canned pumpkin here in Umbria, however, so if I want to make any recipe with pumpkin puree, I have to buy a pumpkin, roast it, and puree it. With all the pumpkin spice recipes popping up on social media as soon as the temperatures began to cool, I had a craving for some type of fall muffins that I could season with warm spices. I had already roasted butternut squash and pureed the flesh earlier this week, so I decided to use that for my muffins instead of pumpkin. I find butternut squash to be a little more subtle in flavor than pumpkin, but the squash does keep these muffins very moist, and I knew that warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice would help bump up the flavor. If you want to simplify this recipe you could certainly use canned pumpkin if you wanted to.
I had some hazelnut milk and chopped hazelnuts on hand, so I decided that butternut squash and hazelnuts would pair well in my muffins. Wanting to make my muffins somewhat healthier, I used organic maple syrup as my sweetener and replaced all-purpose flour with oat flour. These muffins are very moist, though not too sweet, so I whipped up some honey butter to serve with the warm muffins and it was a perfect pairing. I like a muffin with a domed top and did some online research to see how bakeries achieve the beautiful high, rounded dome top. Apparently, by baking muffins at high heat for the beginning of the total baking time, the muffins will rise and hold their shape. I tried this technique out three times so far, filling my muffins right to the top of the paper liners, baking them at 425 degrees F. for 7 to 8 minutes and then turning down the heat to 350 degrees F. and I must say it works. I was able to achieve lovely rounded top muffins like you find in the bakeries and coffee shops.
Using My Winter Squash Purchases As Outdoor Decor
Deborah Mele Revised 2022
- 2 2/3 Cups Oat Flour (240 grams or 8.4 ounces)
- 1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
- 1/2 Teaspoon Allspice
- 1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 2 Large Eggs At Room Temperature
- 1 Cup Hazelnut Milk
- 1 Cup Pureed, Baked Butternut Squash
- 1/2 Cup Maple Syrup
- 4 Tablespoons Mild Flavored Vegetable Oil
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 3/4 Cup Finely Chopped Hazelnuts (Or Walnuts)
- 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Hazelnuts
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
- In one bowl, stir together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt.
- In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, squash puree, maple syrup, oil, and extract until blended.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry along with the hazelnuts and stir with a wooden spoon just until blended.
- Divide the batter into the muffin liners, then sprinkle the tops with the hazelnuts.
- Bake for 7 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for about 7 to 8 minutes longer, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out cleanly.
- Cool 5 minutes then serve.