Yield: 1 dozen

Cook’s Notes: These muffins are based on the recipe for Apple-Sage Muffins in my book Morning Glories. There’s a running debate among bakers about which muffins are better, those based on oil or melted butter (which can be mixed by hand), or those based on softened butter (which must be creamed with a mixer to get the butter fluffy enough). I won’t turn down either kind, but I usually vote in the oil camp, for moistness and preparation ease. Let your creativity loose with variations on this recipe. When my son and I made it, I had no fresh sage, so we used a teaspoon of minced rosemary leaves instead. The muffins had a crisp top and just a hint of the herb, as I prefer when I use herbs in baking. I’ve also used a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon in place of herbs. Likewise, you could substitute a teaspoon of apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice, or even try a little ground star anise, or Chinese five-spice powder, or anise extract, or about 1/3 to ½ cup of ground or chopped almonds and just a touch of almond extract. Or try a little lemon or orange zest (you can mix the zest in with the dry ingredients, or try first grinding a few strips of zest with some of the sugar in a food processor or blender to get a stronger flavor). Other flavor-makers include ½ cup of pecans, walnuts or pine nuts; ½ cup raisins, dried currants, or dried cranberries (all good with cinnamon or citrus); or a few handfuls of grated Cheddar cheese. You may also substitute some whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose, to make them more nutritious. Just remember that the muffins will be heavier with whole-wheat flour; I wouldn’t substitute more than ¾ cup flour. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, make a little sour milk by stirring ¾ teaspoon of lemon juice or cider vinegar into milk; let it stand for about 5 minutes to thicken slightly.

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

1 to 2 teaspoons flavoring, such as 1 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves or cinnamon

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups diced peeled cooking apples (try Braeburn, Rome, or Granny Smith) (about 2 small apples)

½ cup raisins or chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place paper or foil muffin cup liners in muffin cups.

In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and dry flavor ingredient (if also using a wet ingredient, such as an extract, whisk it into the oil mixture below). In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, buttermilk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Pour oil mixture over flour mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula until barely blended. Fold in apples and raisins or nuts, if using, until just combined.

Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake muffins 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

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