Saturday, February 02, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Making Lemon and Ginger Muffins with Jeanne

The quote I am sharing today comes from The House at Salvation Creek by Susan Duncan. It is kind of long, but I loved the way the whole passage sat together, including the recipe, so hopefully it isn't too long. It will give a nice taste of the author's writing too! (See what I did there!)

The House at Salvation Creek is the author's second memoir, following on from Salvation Creek: An Unexpected Life which I read last year. Whilst neither of these books are specifically foodie, there is a lot about lifestyle in the books and so there are plenty of foodie moments in the pages which had me salivating! Seafood, community gatherings, cakes, and so many other delicious reading moments! Which reminds me, I really need to make the lemon cake that all the people in the book rave about!

I have previously shared a couple of quotes from the first book about making Christmas puddings, but today's quote is about making Lemon and Ginger Muffins with her friend who is well known for them. It sounds a bit like a lesson, but the author seems to be quite a good cook herself even before this lesson.

I have just realised that I forgot to write the page numbers down and I have returned the book to the library so I can't check! Sorry about that!


In Jeanne's kitchen, a wide window above the sink is framed by pure white angel trumpets (brugmansia) and shell ginger with waxy yellow, white and pink flowers. Blood-red bougainvillea splashes against the sky. Little firetail finches, lured by goodness know what, bang into the glass then fly off unsteadily, probably to nurse a headache for a day or two.

"This is so beautiful, it could be a movie set," I say, looking at glossy copper pots and pans, bunches of dried flowers hanging from a French herb-drying frame, and bowls of fruit and paintings everywhere. "It's the country kitchen you dream of but never quite achieve. And also utterly functional."

"Let's get started," Jeanne says, rolling up her sleeves. "We're going to make two hundred and eighty-eight muffins in three separate batches."


125g butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons peeled and coarsely chopped fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plain yoghurt or buttermilk
2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, extra

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees (F). Beat together the butter and one cup of sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the ginger and lemon peel. Stir the baking soda into the yoghurt. It will start to bubble and rise up. Fold the flour into the egg mixture, one-third at a time, alternating with the yoghurt mixture. When blended (do not overmix or the muffins will be dry and tough), scoop into muffin tins. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden and springy when touched.

While the muffins are baking, mix together the lemon juice and extra sugar until the sugar dissolves. When the muffins are baked, remove them from the oven and let them cool for 3-5 minutes in the tin. Remove them from the tin and dip the top and bottom of each muffin into the lemon syrup.
Note: If you have a food processor, put the lemon peel, ginger and sugar in the bowl and process. Add the butter and process until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. If it look curdled, don't worry. Continue as above.

Carefully measured and weighed ingredients for three batches of muffins are separately grouped near the food processor. Twenty-seven lemons float in a sink full of water.

"Wash every piece of fruit before you grate it," Jeanne says. "You never know who's handled it or what it's been sprayed with"

There are three giant stainless steel mixing bowls with two cups of plain flour in each. At the far end of the kitchen, on the bench closest to a bar door, eight muffin trays are lined with paper cases, like a frilly-collared army waiting to advance.

"Why the paper cases? The pans are non-stick?"

"It's less trouble if you're making huge quantities but they're not necessary for smaller batches."

Jeanne hands me a can of non-stick spray. "For the paper cases."

"But you don't need it, that's the point of paper cases."

"I remove the muffins from the cases as soon as they come out of the oven, so I can dip the whole muffin in the lemon syrup. The muffins come out perfectly if the paper cases are greased." Then she gives me a grater and nine lemons she's towelled dry. "Now, let's really get started!" she says, happily.

Music wafts. The house smells sweetly of oriental lillies from a vase in the front hall. A cookbook lies open on the dining table with a photograph of a cheese and fig tart. There's a bowl of shiny lemons - extras, if we need the. Old dressers lining the walls sag with colourful plates of all shapes and sizes, each arranged like a still life. Out of every window, the exquisitely tended garden seduces.

"One day, I want to come her to dinner in the middle of winter. I want the fire roaring, the smell of roasting beef and potatoes seeping through the house, wine glasses glittering on the table. I'll bring dessert."

"No you won't. There's only one cook in this house."

"One cook and an apprentice," I reply. I look at Jeanne's pile of lemons. She's already grated six and I'm still on number three. "I'll have to speed up a bit or I might get fired."

"Not a chance!"

I watch Jeanne work like I'll be examined. Every good cook has tricks that no cookbook ever reveals, and Jeanne is a master.

"One step at a time, that's how you do it, and it all works out. Rushing never helps. Remember to keep the recipe in front of you no matter how many times you have made it. It prevents mistakes and you get the same result every time. And measure all the ingredients," she add firmly. "I know a chef who even weighs her eggs. Baking won't tolerate rough guesses. It's more science than skill."

The butter goes into the food processor and gets whizzed. The eggs, broken into a china jug, are tipped in slowly while the machine whirrs. When the batter is thick and pale yellow, Jeanne reaches for a stainless steel mixing bowl, stirs the flour quickly with her hands and adds the batter and the yoghurt in one go. She grabs a long-handled stainless steel slotted spoon and gently folds the mixture. Does air go through the holes in the spoon - helping to keep the mixture light?

"Don't be silly," she says. "It's just the biggest spoon I've got!"

When the mixture is still lumpy and barely combined, she declares it ready.

"I've been overmixing," I say.

"Fatal," she replies, picking up an ice-cream scoop and filling each paper case with a perfectly equal amount so the muffins will cook evenly. She scrapes the side of the bowl until it's clean squeezing two more muffins out of the mixture. Another lesson. Don't waste a skerrick.

"Now, whack them in the oven and turn the trays anticlockwise every four minutes. That's your next job. I'll get a new batch going."

I am far too cavalier in the kitchen. I measure roughly, substituting one ingredient for another if I don't have the one in the recipe, and I never open the oven once the tray's gone in.

"Why not?" Jeanne asks, perplexed again. "Without a perfect oven, which is very rare, most food cooks slightly unevenly unless you turn it.

"Doesn't a rush of cold air make cakes sink?'

"Only angel cake. If a cake sinks it's because you're cooking at a temperature that's too low. Or you've pulled it out of the oven before it's fully cooked."

"Oh." Another misconception gets torn up and thrown away.

Two and a half hours later, the muffins are defrocked, dipped, lined up on melamine trays and wrapped in plastic film.

"Don't you wait for them to cool?" I ask, watching Jeanne wrap the final tray.

"I think they stay more moist if you get them into the freezer before they've cooled down completely."

And another myth gets blasted into the stratosphere.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.  


  1. Lovely excerpt! I can't imagein 288 muffins, 24 are already more than enough for me!

    1. Yes, the thought of 288 is a bit overwhelming isn't it!

  2. Well you didn't have to get all one-upmanship with me :))))) Ginger & lemon? Two of my favorite flavors. Now you know I'm doomed. If the ginger looks good at the store today, I know what I'm baking this weekend.

  3. Lemon and ginger sound perfect together but I don't think I've ever come across that combination in a baked good. Yum!

  4. Great post -- love the excerpt and the recipe sounds divine. I love buttermilk in baking, and the lemon-ginger combination is irresistible. I too, am doomed . . . :)

  5. What a lovely scene she sets in this excerpt! I learned a lot from reading this, as I am a little too cavalier too when I bake. My sister-in-law follows the directions exactly (tough she doesn't measure eggs!) and that is why her food comes out perfect every time.

    1. I am a bit cavalier too, I must confess.

  6. such a good description of baking. and yes, i do agree that it is as much science as anything else.

    1. Baking is a science more than any other type of cooking I think.

  7. Pinned this one. With both ginger and lemon on hand, due to cooking a lot of vegetarian and Chinese dishes lately, I am set.

  8. can't help it - I have both ginger and lemon at home, begging to be used. Muffins it is!

  9. I would love to sit in and just watch that whole process - and enjoy the ambience! What a lovely passage. Thanks for sharing!

    1. It is a lovely passage isn't it! Part of the reason why I couldn't narrow it down!

  10. Lemon Ginger is one of my favorite flavors. Pinned this so I can remember to try this recipe. Thanks!

    1. I hope you enjoy it if you do get to make it.

  11. I was a bit shocked at the 288 muffin figure too. Thanks for sharing this quote Marg, as I do like the sound of the writer's style so I will have to try and read her books.

    1. To be fair they were catering for a big deal but I certainly wouldn't have volunteered to do it! lol

  12. Lemon and ginger sound delicious together. Thanks for the taste of her book as well.

  13. Lemon and ginger - 2 great ingredients - haven't thought of doing muffins with them. Have a great week.

    1. I wouldn't have thought of using ginger either

  14. Marg, I had pinned your recipe and finally got around to making a batch today, using buttermilk and crystallized ginger. They are light and full of flavor and have the character of an old-time treat. Good.