I predict you’ll fall in love with these simply gorgeous muffins, bursting with flavor from oodles of fresh ginger and lemon zest. Marion Cunningham created them many years ago for Bridge Creek Restaurant in Berkeley, California, and the muffins were so popular they always sold out.
Be sure to use cultured buttermilk. It gives these muffins a special tang that elevates the gingeriness of the ginger. Buttermilk keeps extremely well in the refrigerator usually well past the expiration date. And you can always buy a half-pint container and use all of it in this recipe. But do not substitute vinegar added to milk to curdle and sour it. That is not buttermilk and it will destroy the flavor of your muffins.
Marion was an accomplished home cook who turned professional after years of assisting James Beard in his cooking demonstrations. Beard was so impressed with Marion — she possessed an acute sense of taste and a knack for testing recipes — that he recommended her to his editor, Judith Jones, to author a modern re-write of the 1896 “Fannie Farmer Cookbook.”
The book was a work for hire, which meant that Marion received a set fee to cover all her expenses and no royalties. This monumental effort, published in 1979, took five years, with Marion having to spend a good deal of her own money after her set fee ran out.
But, the book’s resounding success — it sold more than a million copies — led to Marion authoring and collecting advances and royalties from all her subsequent cookbooks, including “The Fannie Farmer Baking Book,” “The Breakfast Book,” and her last, “Lost Recipes.”
I encourage you to read Marion Cunningham’s books. She writes with great warmth and feeling. It’s as though she’s right there with you in your kitchen.
Bridge Creek Ginger Muffins
Makes 12 large muffins
This outstanding recipe, from Marion Cunningham’s cookbook “Lost Recipes,” has oodles of pungent fresh ginger. Marion says to use unpeeled ginger. That’s fine if you can buy young ginger with thin skin. I think it’s best to peel ginger and then weigh it.
2 cups (10 ounces; 280 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 ounces peeled fresh ginger
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
Finely grated zest from 2 lemons (use a microplane for best results)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (shake before measuring)
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease or coat with cooking spray a standard 12-cup muffin pan.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda thoroughly. This simple step takes longer than you may think. Spend at least 30 seconds stirring with a whisk.
3. Cut the ginger into large chunks. If you have a food processor, process the ginger until it is chopped into tiny pieces. Lacking a food processor, chop the ginger with a chef’s knife into very small bits. You should have about 1/4 cup. It is better to have too much ginger than too little.
4. Combine the ginger and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small skillet or saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted. Don’t walk away from the pan — this step takes only a few minutes and you do not want the ginger to burn. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to let the ginger cool.
5. In a medium bowl, combine 3 tablespoons sugar with the lemon zest. Use your fingers to smush the zest and sugar together really well. You’ll get a lovely lemony aroma. Stir in the cooled ginger.
6. Beat the butter in a stand mixer with the flat beater or in a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer for 2 minutes on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Scrape the bowl once or twice. Beat in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar for 3 to 4 minutes on medium speed, until light and fluffy.
7. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. The batter may not look smooth at this point. Scrape the bowl. On low speed, alternately beat in the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the buttermilk in two installments, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. The batter will be thick and smooth. Stir in the ginger-lemon combo.
8. Divide the batter into the muffin cups. Each cup will be a generous three-quarters full.
9. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the muffins have risen with golden domes and the edges are golden brown. A toothpick inserted to the center of a muffin should come out clean. Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer them to racks to cool further. A small offset spatula is great for easing the muffins out of their cups. These muffins are best when very fresh. Leftovers may be reheated in a warm oven.
Greg Patent is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger, and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog, www.thebakingwizard.com, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.