A sprinkling with sparkling sugar adds a nice crunch

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 A hopefully happier New Year (no broken foot, no deer in the car, and no campaign ads!) has begun  – and with it a brand new Avid Baker’s Challenge. In 2013 we will throw out combined baking efforts at King Arthur recipes, published on their website.

As a professional bread baker, I use a lot of King Arthur Flours, but in this recipe were some unknown ingredients that made me wonder whether I should spend the extra money, or make do with substitutes.

Our January challenge, Panettone Muffins, requires “Fiori di Sicilia” – Flowers of Sicily, a citrus vanilla essence that is, according to King Arthur, traditionally used to flavor panettone.

After an inner struggle with my thrifty super ego I ordered it – who am I to spurn a time honored Italian tradition! (It better be good – for that price!)

The Cake Enhancer, listed as an optional ingredient, was another matter – no way I would use an additive that wasn’t a matter of life or death. And besides – enhancers are for wimps! I dare any cake or bread not to give its best when I bake it.

Apricots, pineapples, prunes, cherries and raisins soaking in a rum-orange mix

For the dried fruit mixture I chose mostly tangy fruits, like pineapple, prunes, tart cherries, apricots and golden raisins. I didn’t have quite enough rum to soak them, so I topped it off with orange juice, using the microwave for a flash soaking.

Adding dry ingredients alternating with milk to the butter mixture

Preparing the batter was fast and easy. I changed two things: we don’t like it too sweet, so I reduced the sugar. And I exchanged some of the white flour with whole wheat pastry (my favorite flavor enhancer – and anti-staling agent.)

Folding in the soaked fruit

The batter was sufficient to fill the twelve muffin cups almost to the top. A sprinkling of coarse sparking sugar added a nice crunchy topping.

Fresh from the oven

After 18 minutes the muffins were done. They were still rather pale on top, so don’t wait for them to turn golden brown – if you do, they will be dry.

The best of all husbands could hardly wait until the muffins were out of the pan, no wonder, they looked really nice and smelled so good. The rum-orange soaked fruit pieces could have been a little more (I was cautious and used only the smaller amount). The muffins had a very delicate citrus flavor from the 1/4 teaspoon of Fiori di Sicilia.

A day later, the muffins tasted even better. And we noticed that they were moister – overnight the liquid from the fruit had permeated the crumb. There was no noticeable alcohol taste, next time I would be probably bolder and make an all-rum soaker.

Here is King Arthur’s Panettone Muffin recipe – you can switch between volume, ounces, and metric measures. A very handy tool!

My recommendations:

  1. Use the full 9 ounces/255 g of fruits.
  2. Reduce the sugar by a quarter or a third – the fruit and sugar topping are sweet, too.
  3. Exchange a quarter of the all-purpose with whole wheat pastry or white whole wheat flour.
  4. Don’t wait for the muffin tops to get a golden color on top – they might get over-baked and dry. 
  5. DO WAIT a day before eating them, your muffin will be more flavorful and moister. 

    Like their big cousin, the Pannetone Muffins taste better after resting for a day

    We Avid Bakers don’t bite and welcome company! So, if you’d like to bake along, here is the link to Hanaâ’s blog.


    1. Hi Hanseata,
      I love it that you have used prunes! Should have added that to mine! Yes, I do agree that these muffins tasted better overnight, you can taste the flavours from the rum, not overpowering, but really nice. This is a lovely bake. Looking forward to next month's, that's another one on my list of to-do!


    2. Lovely fruit combo and great looking muffins! Since I froze my leftover muffins, I never got to try them the next day. I should take one out and try it. I used a lot of orange zest in mine instead of the FdS. As always, I enjoy reading about your WW substitions. Glad it worked this time too.


    3. I suspected the muffins would be better the next day. While I didn't notice that to be necessarily true, I did like them better a couple hours after I baked them, as opposed to still warm from the oven. I thought the texture was better and the flavors more integrated.


    4. I love your fruit combo! The “cousins” turned out great. I almost ordered the FdS but didn't cause I knew I wouldn't have another free night soon to bake. I did order some saf gold yeast though!!! I had a left over muffin the next day. I thought they were still yummy! Thanks for daring 🙂


    5. Yes, I was a bit cautious with the rum, I didn't want it to overpower all the other flavors, but it didn't taste boozy at all. Prunes and apricots are my favorite snacks – I like tarter fruits better than just sweet ones.


    6. We served the last six ones to guests we had yesterday. They loved them! After 3 days they still tasted great, the WW substitution really keeps them longer fresh.


    7. Honestly, I can't really say whether the FdS made such a difference, since I didn't taste the muffins with orange zest as substitute. I always use SAF instant yeast, I get it in bulk because I go through quite a bit of it with my bread baking. I really like it.


    8. Thanks, Lien. I feel uncomfortable with the idea of putting enhancers in my cakes or breads – we buy enough food that has preservatives and additives to prolong their shelf life.


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