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Rustic Apple Pie

Apple Pie
Rustic Apple Pie

There is something warm, inviting, and nostalgic about walking into a kitchen to the tantalizing scent of an apple pie baking.  In my opinion, one of the best desserts is homemade apple pie, especially when topped with a nice round scoop of high-quality vanilla ice cream!  Fall is a great time to make apple pies (and some extras for the freezer) because the apples are so fresh and there is a great selection. The house smells so divine while the apple pie bakes!

Apples
Apples

One of my favorite fall rituals is to go picking apples.  I love being out in the middle of an orchard on a crisp, sunny autumn day surrounded by trees heavy laden with gorgeous big apples.  Typically, we make the annual trek to Arlington Orchards, west of Summerside, to pick a supply of apples.  It’s fun to load up some apple baskets into one of the orchard’s little red flyer wagons and strike off through the orchards.  They have many different varieties of apples from which to choose.

The Apple Wagon
The Apple Wagon

I like making pastry and baking pies and have been doing so since I was about 11 years old.  I watched my mother and grandmother make pies and as soon as I could mix the dough and handle a rolling pin, I was off and running! And, apple pie just happens to be one of my favorites to make.

Not all apples are suitable for making pies.  Some (like MacIntosh variety) are just too soft and, essentially, become apple sauce while the pie cooks. Soft flesh apples that have no crunch when you bite into them are not suitable for pies. It is important to choose apples that have good structure – i.e., those that will cook well but, at the same time, hold their shape.  A slice of a good apple pie will reveal the apple slices still in tact and recognizable.

Apple Pie
Apple Pie

My favorite apples for pies are Cortlands, Spartans, Honeycrisps, Lobos, and Pippins. The one thing each of these apples has in common is crisp texture which makes them ideal choices for pies because they don’t break down in the baking process.  I also like to use more than one kind of apple in my pies because each brings its own flavor and characteristics and, in my opinion, a blend of different apple varieties with various degrees of sweetness, tartness, and juiciness will result in a pie with a great depth of flavor.  Cortlands are a bit tart and quite juicy and, of these five varieties, perhaps has the least crisp texture which means it will soften the most in the pie and that will help to bind the filling .  Honeycrisps have a sweet-tart flavor and are quite aromatic which gives the pie that lovely scent while it is baking.  Spartans are juicy and have an ideally balanced sweet-tart apple flavor. Lobos are a bit tangy and Pippins have juicy flesh, are very aromatic, and reveal a balance of sweetness and acidity.  A combination of any three of these apples will yield a tasty pie. Some apples of each variety can, of course, be used in the pie if you have them.

For this 9” pie, 3½ pounds of apples are needed. It may look like a lot but the apples will settle as the pie bakes and the pie looks more impressive if it has some depth to it.

Apple Pie Under Construction
Apple Pie Under Construction

I peel, core, and quarter the apples when preparing them for pies.  I then slice each quarter, horizontally, into slices about ¼” thick and toss them with a tablespoon of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.

Apples Sliced for Pie
Apples Sliced for Pie

A perfect blend of spices is necessary to enhance the flavor of the pie.  I use cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. It is important that just the right amounts of spices be used because they are meant to enhance, not dominate or mask, the flavour of the apples.  Because apples are juicy, some thickening agent needs to be added to the pie – either all-purpose flour or cornstarch works for this. I like to use a blend of brown and granulated sugars in my pie.  I find the addition of brown sugar gives a deeper flavour and an enhanced color to the pie filling.

Apples mixed with spices for pie
Apples mixed with spices for pie

Mix the sugars, spices, a bit of salt, and the thickening agent (flour or cornstarch) together in a small bowl then toss the dry ingredients with the prepared apples to coat them.  Immediately transfer the apples to the pie plate fitted with the bottom crust pastry, ensuring that they are arranged so that any gaps are filled in.  Dot with some pieces of cold butter.

Once the top crust pastry has been placed over the apples, be sure to cut slits in the pastry to allow the steam to escape as the pie bakes. I also use the tines of a fork to prick the pie pastry in various places. It’s important that the steam have an escape valve as, otherwise, it may cause a soggy pie crust if it is trapped inside with the filling.

Venting the Apple Pie
Venting the Apple Pie

I don’t always brush an egg wash on the top crust of the pie but, for a more rustic looking pie, it does give a nice finish and appearance as it browns well.  If the pie browns too quickly before the apples are cooked, simply loosely tent a piece of tin foil over it.

I recommend placing the unbaked pie in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to allow the filling to settle and to chill the crust to prevent shrinkage during baking.

Fruit pies are known for bubbling out as they bake, even if they are well vented.  I think, so long as they aren’t too messy, some filling that has escaped to the top pie crust just makes the pie look like a good homemade pie and it really doesn’t bother me too much at all. However, the one thing I do not like is a messy oven to clean after the juices of a pie have boiled out. For this reason, I recommend placing the pie on a rimmed cookie sheet lined with tin foil.  If the pie does boil out, it’s on the disposable tin foil making clean-up easy.

Apple Pie Ready for the Oven
Apple Pie Ready for the Oven

For this pie, I pre-heat the oven to 425°F and bake the pie at this temperature for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400°F for the remainder of the baking time.  Be patient. This pie will take at least 50 minutes (maybe a bit longer) to bake. To check for doneness, carefully insert a fork into the center slit of the pie – the apples should be fork tender, not baked to mush, but not too firm that they will taste somewhat raw in the pie.

Apple Pie
Rustic Apple Pie

What follows is the apple pie recipe I have been making for many, many years. I hope you enjoy it!

Apple Pie
Rustic Apple Pie

[Printable recipe follows at end of posting]

Rustic Apple Pie

Ingredients:

3½ lbs apples, peeled, cored, and sliced ¼“ thick (any combination of Spartans, Cortlands, Pippins, Honeycrisps, Lobos)
1 tbsp lemon juice

Pastry for double crust 9” pie

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
¼ cup all-purpose flour or cornstarch
1¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter, chopped into small pieces

1 large egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk
Apx. ½ tbsp granulated sugar

Method:

Prepare apples, place in large bowl, and toss gently with the lemon juice. Set aside.

Roll pastry for bottom crust to approximately 1/8” thickness.  Transfer to pie plate and trim pastry flush with edge of pie plate.

In small bowl, combine the flour or cornstarch, sugars, spices, and salt together.  Mix into prepared apples.

Arrange the sliced apples in the pie plate, taking care to ensure that any gaps are filled in.  Top with small pieces of butter.

Prepare pastry for the top crust in the same manner as for the bottom crust.  Brush edges of bottom crust along pie plate edge with a bit of water to moisten. Transfer pastry to the top of pie filling. Trim excess pastry from the pie plate edge.  Press the edge of the pastry all around the pie plate rim with tines of fork to adhere top crust to bottom crust.  Cut slits in top of pie pastry to allow steam to escape as pie bakes. For additional venting, prick the pie in several places with tines of a fork.

In small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together.  With a pastry brush, lightly brush the pie with the egg-milk mixture.  Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Place pie in refrigerator for 30 minutes to allow filling to settle and to chill pastry to reduce shrinkage while it bakes.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Transfer pie to oven. Bake at 425°F for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 400°F. Bake for another 40 minutes then test with fork inserted into slit in center of pie to determine if apples are cooked. Apples should be fork-tender when pie is done. If not done, return pie to oven and check every 5 minutes until apples are fork tender.  If pie browns too quickly before it is cooked, loosely tent pie with tin foil.  Remove pie from oven and transfer to cooling rack.

Yield:  1 – 9” pie (apx. 6 servings)

Rustic Apple Pie

Yield: 1 - 9" double-crusted pie

A classic apple pie made with a combination of sweet and tart apples and a perfect blend of spices.

Ingredients

  • 3½ lbs apples, peeled, cored, and sliced ¼“ thick (any combination of Spartans, Cortlands, Pippins, Honeycrisps, Lobos)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Pastry for double crust 9” pie
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour or cornstarch
  • 1¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk
  • Apx. ½ tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Prepare apples, place in large bowl, and toss gently with the lemon juice. Set aside.
  2. Roll pastry for bottom crust to approximately 1/8” thickness. Transfer to pie plate and trim pastry flush with edge of pie plate.
  3. In small bowl, combine the flour or cornstarch, sugars, spices, and salt together. Mix into prepared apples.
  4. Arrange the sliced apples in the pie plate, taking care to ensure that any gaps are filled in. Top with small pieces of butter.
  5. Prepare pastry for the top crust in the same manner as for the bottom crust. Brush edges of bottom crust along pie plate edge with a bit of water to moisten. Transfer pastry to the top of pie filling. Trim excess pastry from the pie plate edge. Press the edge of the pastry all around the pie plate rim with tines of fork to adhere top crust to bottom crust. Cut slits in top of pie pastry to allow steam to escape as pie bakes. For additional venting, prick the pie in several places with tines of a fork.
  6. In small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the pie with the egg-milk mixture. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.
  7. Place pie in refrigerator for 30 minutes to allow filling to settle and to chill pastry to reduce shrinkage while it bakes.
  8. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  9. Transfer pie to oven. Bake at 425°F for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 400°F. Bake for another 40 minutes then test with fork inserted into slit in center of pie to determine if apples are cooked. Apples should be fork-tender when pie is done. If not done, return pie to oven and check every 5 minutes until apples are fork tender. If pie browns too quickly before it is cooked, loosely tent pie with tin foil. Remove pie from oven and transfer to cooling rack.
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Classic Apple Pie made with a combination of sweet and tart apples and a perfect blend of spices

 

 

Classic apple pie made with a combination of sweet and tart apples and a perfect blend of spices
Classic apple pie made with a combination of sweet and tart apples and a perfect blend of spices

Old-fashioned Apple Crisp

The time has changed and the days are getting shorter.  November always seems like such a dreary month.  Living on Canada’s East Coast, it also signifies colder temperatures surely followed by the long winter.

When it gets to November, I am ready for some comfort food.  One of my all-time favorites is the traditional old-fashioned apple crisp dessert — the sweet apple flavour filling topped with a crisp, crunchy streusel. And, oh, the heavenly scent in the house when the apple crisp is baking!

Apple crisps are not hard to make and basically use pantry staples for ingredients.  The key to a really tasty apple crisp is to use a blend of apples.  I find honeycrisps, cortlands, humes, and ginger gold varieties work really well.  Using a blend of apples allows their flavours and textures to play off of each other.  The honeycrisps and cortlands are  sweet-tart, juicy apples.  The ginger golds and humes are less tart.  The cortlands and ginger golds hold their shapes particularly well when cooked so they don’t cook to mush and the apple chunks or slices are still visible in the cooked crisp, giving it a pleasing texture.

I don’t always put four varieties of apples in a crisp.  Frankly, I’ve made quite acceptable crisps with just one kind of apple.  Essentially, I use  whatever apples I have in the house and, most often, use only a couple of varieties.  The apples I have used in my apple crisp today have come from Arlington Orchards, west of Summerside, PEI.  This is a large apple orchard where many different varieties of apples are grown.  It’s an annual October trek to Arlington Orchards for us and sometimes I get carried away and come home with lots and lots of apples for eating and baking! The photo below is just a sampling!  I think I brought home seven varieties this year!

Apple crisps are best made and allowed to cool for about 30 minutes before eating.  This allows the true flavours of the apples to be appreciated when the crisp is still warm but not too hot to eat.

Apple crisp freezes very well.  I often make the crisps in individual ramekin dishes and freeze them, unbaked.  Crisps can also be frozen after they are baked, then thawed and reheated in the microwave.  However, I find there is some texture deterioration in the latter method.

Apple Crisp

Streusel Topping:
¾ cup flour
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup rolled oats
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ cup cold butter
¼ cup chopped pecans (optional)

Apple Filling:
2½ lbs apples (e.g., Cortlands, Honeycrisps, Humes, Ginger Gold, individually or in any combination mixture)
2 tsp lemon juice
⅓ cup white sugar
⅓ cup brown sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp cornstarch

Method:

Place oven rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 375°.

Streusel Topping: In medium-sized bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, rolled oats, cinnamon, and salt. Using pastry blender, cut in cold butter until mixture is crumbly. Stir in pecans. Cover mixture and place in refrigerator while preparing apple filling.

Streusel Topping
Streusel Topping

Apple Filling: Peel, core, and cut apples into chunks about ¼”- ⅓” thick or so. Place in large bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to coat.

In separate bowl, combine sugars, spices, and cornstarch. Mix well. Add to apples and toss to coat.

Transfer mixture to greased 8”x8″ baking pan and arrange apples evenly over bottom of pan.

Sprinkle streusel topping evenly over apples.

Place baking pan on rimmed baking sheet (lined with tin foil for easy clean-up should apples bubble out).

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until topping is crisp and golden, apples are tender when knife-tested, and juices from the apple filling are bubbling up through the crisp topping. Remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or your favourite vanilla ice cream.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Apple Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream
Apple Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream

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Crabapple Jelly

It’s apple season on Prince Edward Island and orchards are filled with trees bearing wonderful apples of so many varieties.  There’s nothing like heading to a U-pick orchard to pick your own apples.  I always pick several pecks each fall — in fact, sometimes it’s easy to get carried away and pick too many!  However, they do get processed into pies, crisps, sauces, and jellies.  Apples are very versatile!

Crab Apple Jelly
Crabapple Jelly

For apple jelly lovers, now is the time to make that rich  red crabapple jelly that is so flavorful.  The apples I used in the recipe I am sharing today came from Arlington Orchards in Arlington, west of Summerside, PEI.  I knew by the color of them that they would make a good jelly.  They are the Dolgo Crabapple variety.

Crab Apples
Crabapples

Now, apple jelly is not particularly difficult to make but it is a lengthy process and does take a bit of skill and know-how to get it cooked to the correct jelly state.

First, you have to wash and cut off the stem and blossom ends of the tiny apples.  Then, they have to be cooked to the “mushy” stage.   I take a potato masher and mash down any remaining chunks of apple after cooking as I find this helps the mixture to drip better once it is in the jelly bag.  The “mush” (pulp) gets bundled into a cheesecloth bag, tied, and hung over a bowl or pot to catch the juice dripping from the cooked apples.    I use a double weight of cheesecloth because I don’t want any apple seeds or pieces of apple peel coming through.  The objective is to have the juice as clear as possible so it does not make a cloudy jelly.  The aim is to have a transparent jelly.

Clear, transparent jelly
Clear, transparent jelly

The time-consuming process is waiting for the juice to slowly drip from the pulp in the jelly bag– it takes several hours and I usually leave it overnight.  The bag has to get suspended to allow the juice to slowly drip out.  I concoct a really “sophisticated” outfit for this — I simply hang the jelly bag on to a broom handle and suspend the broom between two chairs with a bowl or pot placed under the bag to catch the juice.  Really high tech, don’t you think!  Nevertheless, it works and gets the job done.

Once it’s apparent that there is no more juice dripping, discard the contents of the jelly bag. Measure and pour the extracted juice into a stock pot.  Add the sugar and lemon juice and start the cooking process.  I add sugar at the ratio of 3/4 cup sugar to 1 cup extracted apple juice.  Place 2-3 saucers in the freezer — these will be used to test the jelly’s state of “jellying”.  Once a small sample of the jelly is put on a cold saucer, placed in the freezer for a minute, removed, and starts to “wrinkle” when pushed gently with a finger, it has reached the jelly stage and is ready for bottling.

I don’t process my jelly in a hot water bath because I have a cold room in which to store the jelly over the time I plan to keep it on hand.  However, if you don’t have a cold room or space in the refrigerator in which to store the jelly, I recommend processing it in a hot water bath following the directions provided from the manufacturer for your canner.

Crabapple Jelly

Ingredients:

4 lbs crabapples
7 cups water

Granulated sugar (see Method below for amount)
3-4 tbsp strained fresh lemon juice
1 tsp butter

Method:

Wash apples.

Remove stem and blossom ends from apples.

Leave apples whole. Place in large stock pot.

Add the water.

Cook for approximately 40-45 minutes or until apples have softened and begun to break down into mush.

Gently mash any large chunks of apple with a potato masher.

Place a double weight of cheesecloth in a large colander.

Place the colander over a large pot.  Pour the apple pulp into the cheesecloth-lined colander.

Let mixture drip for about 20 minutes or so to get some of the initial juice out of the pulp.

Gather up the ends of cheesecloth and tie tightly with an all-purpose twine or heavy string, making a loop by which to hang the jelly bag to allow the juice to drip out.

Hang the jelly bag on a broom handle and support the broom between two chairs. Place a large pot or bowl under the jelly bag to catch the juice as it drips.

Allow this to drip on its own for several hours (i.e., at least 3-4) or overnight, until no more juice is seen dripping through. Resist the urge to squeeze the jelly bag to hasten the juice flow as this could cause some of the apple pulp to escape the bag resulting in a cloudy juice and jelly.

Place 2-3 saucers in the freezer. You will need these to test the jelly for “jellying” status.

Place six clean one-cup mason jars upright in a large pot. Cover jars with water and heat to 180°F to sterilize the jars. Keep jars hot until ready to use.

When jelly bag is done dripping, discard bag and apple pulp. To determine the amount of sugar needed, measure out the extracted juice and add ¾ cup of sugar for each cup of juice.

Pour juice into pot.

Add the lemon juice and sugar to the extracted apple juice.

Stir to dissolve sugar.

Add 1 tsp butter to reduce foaming.

Bring mixture to a rolling boil.

Continue to boil over medium high heat for about 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, then test for status of jellying.

To test for jellying, remove one of the saucers from the freezer and place a couple of teaspoons of the jelly on it. Place the jelly in the freezer for one minute. Remove it from the freezer and push the jelly gently with a finger. If it wrinkles, it is done.

If it doesn’t wrinkle, keep cooking the jelly, testing every 5-6 minutes until it is done. Do not overcook.

Skim off any foam that may still remain on top of the jelly.  Bottle hot jelly into sterilized jars, using a funnel, leaving between ¼” – ½” headroom . Wipe rims with clean damp cloth.

Heat jar lids and immediately place over hot filled jars. Finger tighten a rim band onto each jar.  Process in hot water bath following canner manufacturer’s directions. Allow jelly jars to sit at room temperature for several hours to set then store in cold room out of light.

Yield: 5½ – 6 cups

Crab Apple Jelly on Fresh Biscuits
Crabapple Jelly on Fresh Biscuits

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The Bistro’s Bran Muffins

Bran Muffins
Bran Muffins

I like making muffins and I like eating them!  I have a collection of favorite muffin recipes that I have gathered or created over the years. I tend to make several batches of muffins at a time, butter them, and freeze them so I have a  variety of them ready for weekday lunchbags.  Muffins are very easy to make, are healthy snack options, and most freeze very well.

Bran Muffin
Bran Muffin

For years, I had trouble getting bran muffins to rise into the nice dome-shape we expect to see in muffins.  I finally discovered that it wasn’t the recipes I had tried but rather was the oven temperature that was causing the muffins to stay flat.  Muffins, generally, need to bake at a relatively high temperature (i.e., 375°F – 425°F but, for bran muffins, I find that if I preheat the oven to 500°F first and then drop it back to 400°F the moment I place the muffins in the oven, they rise into the rounded dome shape instead of staying flat.  It seems the instant burst of really high heat when they initially go in the oven activates the leavening agents (baking powder and baking soda) more quickly causing the muffins to rise better.  Below is a photograph of what a perfectly domed muffin should look like.  I finally got it!

Here are some other muffin-making tips I have learned over the years:

  • Don’t use an electric mixer to mix muffin batter and do not overmix the batter.  Just stir the batter until the flour mixture is incorporated.  The batter will be lumpy – that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Overmixing will make a tough-textured muffin.
  • Ingredients should be at room temperature.  If the recipe calls for shortening or butter, it is best to have it at room temperature for creaming as opposed to softening it in the microwave which can sometimes, too quickly, turn the fat source (or part of it) into liquid which can change the consistency and texture of the muffins.
  • Each muffin cup, as well as the entire top surface of the muffin pan, should be greased or sprayed with a no-stick cooking spray.  Greasing the top of the muffin pan makes it easier to remove muffins if the batter has spread over the top edges of the individual muffin cups.
  • Use an ice cream scoop or small ladle to fill the muffin cups with the batter.
  • Do not overbake muffins.  Muffins are done when they spring back to a light finger touch or when a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  • Allow muffins to cool in the pan for 5-7 minutes, then carefully remove each one to a wire rack to finish cooling.  Removing the muffins too quickly from the pan may cause them to break apart before they have “set”.

Today, I am sharing my recipe for bran muffins with raisins and applesauce.  The applesauce would be my featured Island product in this recipe as it was made with apples I picked at Arlington Orchard in Arlington, PEI, west of the City of Summerside.  I make and freeze a lot of applesauce in the fall when the apples are fresh and plentiful.

Basket of Bran Muffins
Basket of Bran Muffins

The Bistro’s Bran Muffins

Ingredients:

2 eggs

⅓ cup applesauce

1 cup sour milk*

¼ cup molasses

½ cup brown sugar, lightly packed

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp grated orange rind

1½ cups natural bran

¼ cup shortening, softened at room temperature

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

1¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp soda

¼ tsp cinnamon

⅛ tsp allspice

¼ tsp salt

¾ cup raisins (optional)

(*To make one cup sour milk, place 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice in one-cup measuring cup.  Add enough milk to equal one cup.  Stir. Let stand 4-5 minutes before using.)

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Grease muffin tins or spray with a no-stick cooking spray.  Be sure to grease or spray the entire top of the muffin pan as well.  Alternatively, line each muffin cup with a paper liner.

Preheat oven to 500°F (then drop it back to 400°F when muffins are placed in oven).

Break eggs into bowl.  Whisk lightly.

Add applesauce, sour milk, molasses, brown sugar, vanilla, and orange rind.  Whisk together well.

Add the bran.  Stir until completely incorporated.  Set aside for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt.  Whisk to combine ingredients.

In separate bowl, cream shortening well.  It should almost be the consistency of thick cream when it has been well creamed.

Pour the wet bran mixture into the bowl and stir well to blend in the shortening.  Mixture will be lumpy.

Add wet bran mixture and raisins to the dry ingredients.  With a wooden spoon, gently stir mixture just until flour is incorporated.  Do not overmix.

Using an ice cream scoop or a small ladle, fill muffin tins to just about the top of the rim.

Reduce oven heat from 500°F to 400°F and place muffins in oven.  Bake 15-20 minutes or until muffins spring back to a light touch or a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Do not overbake.  Let muffins cool in pan for 5-7 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Yield:  12 muffins

Serve with butter and/or your favorite jam or marmalade.

Coffeebreak time!