Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have. For instance, if you wake up to the sound of twittering birds, and find yourself in an enormous canopy bed, with a butler standing next next to you holding a breakfast of freshly made muffins and hand-squeezed orange juice on a silver tray, you will know that your day will be a splendid one.
A Series of Unfortunate Events (The Miserable Mill), Lemony Snicket
I have fond memories of books at bedtime. Dad in a folding chair, dragged in from the deck, continuing long after our eyelids had started to grow heavy. Mum, sitting on the floor by our bunk beds, a book in her hands. These days, when I try to read at bedtime, I tend to end up falling into a slumber within minutes. But there are many evening where I do find myself reading out loud, from an armchair, or the floor beside a set of bunk beds, to my ten-year-old nannying charge. I fail spectacularly at accents, we have speculative discussions about what we think might happen next, and I try to find books she will fall as much in love with as I did. We've had varied success, until she brought A Series of Unfortunate Events home from the school library. We've been flying through them, and she is already planning on going as Violet to Book Day next year. And every time we happen across food - cold cucumber soup, chocolate pudding, coconut cake - she suggests we make it.
Last week, we came to the quote above, and it was so evocative and appealing that we had to go back and read the page a second time. We decided that the time had come - we had found a dish that we wanted to recreate immediately. Funny, then, that it is not a dish actually eaten by the Baudelaire orphans, but is instead an imagined dish on an imagined morning, providing a stark contrast to the terrible ones our three heroes experience. Birdsong, a canopy bed, fresh muffins and orange juice - it is all a mere dream. Happily, it wasn't for us.
We ate lots of muffins as we were growing up. They were a sweet thing that mum embraced, in league with banana bread as 'almost cake, but not quite'. They're also extraordinarily easy to make, and were one of the first things I learnt. If you don't have a butler to bring them in on a silver tray (a bit odd, actually, we decided as we were reading), rest assured that they genuinely are the work of moments. I made a batch at 3.30am once, to sustain a group of us on an early drive to France. Before I went to sleep, I put the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ones in a jug in the fridge. A quick fold in the morning, and they then baked while I dressed, collected my bags, and poured coffee into a flask. This recipe makes a small batch, as muffins are never better than when just out of the oven, split open, with a little bit of butter melting on the warm, cakey middle.
Makes 6 large muffins
190g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
75g golden caster sugar
60g melted butter, cooled
220g fresh raspberries
20g granulated sugar, for the tops of the muffins
Measuring jug/second mixing bowl
Large muffin tray
1. Preheat the oven to 210C. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in the largest mixing bowl. In the second bowl, or jug, beat the yoghurt, egg and melted butter with the fork, and then fold in the raspberries.
2. Ensure your oven has heated sufficiently, and then tip the liquid ingredients into the dry ones. Fold them together, stopping as soon as the flour is incorporated. The trick here is not to mix too enthusiastically; if you over mix at this stage, the gluten in the flour will start to develop, and you'll end up with a dense muffin.
3. Divide the batter equally between the six muffin cases, sprinkle each with a small pinch of granulated sugar, and transfer them to the oven. Bake for five minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 190C, and bake for a further 20 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for five minutes, and then serve warm, with butter, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.