It’s December now, which means one thing… Well, two things. Firstly, uhm, how is it already the last month of 2011?! Seriously, when did that happen? Let’s ignore it and move on swiftly (and with style) to the next thing: December means getting all festive!! Now, leading up to December, I am a complete and utter scrooge and I detest everything to do with Christmas. In any month other than December, I could probably give Scrooge a run for his money. Possibly even Scrooge and the Grinch combined. Then, as soon as it’s December, you could flick a switch and suddenly I get all enthusiastic about it. Well, about the festive spirit. Not the overly-commercialised you-must-buy-as-many-hideous-and-useless-presents-as-possible aspect to it (which is a rant for another day. I’m sure you’re looking forward to it already…). But let’s all give a huzzah for the festive spirit! And for mulled wine! (Although that’s acceptable from Bonfire Night. Or as soon as it starts getting cold really.) And mince pies – I love mince pies!
You know what else makes me think of Christmas? Dates. Of the edible variety (as opposed to the going-for-dinner variety). Every year my mum makes dates stuffed with home-made marzipan, and I could easily hoover up enough of them to feed a small army in approximately ten seconds. I have a recipe for pear, date, walnut and Stilton muffins which to me just sounds like such a Christmassy combination, and that I’ve been meaning to try out for over a year, but I completely forgot about it at Christmastime last year. When I eventually remembered about it in April it was neither Christmas nor pear season. So I bookmarked the recipe with a giant hot pink post-it note so that when Christmas rolled around again, I would be more likely to remember. And guess what? I did! (Which is an achievement in itself.)
I should probably add the caveat that if you really detest blue cheese, these probably aren’t the muffins for you, but if you’re a bit on the fence about blue cheese, maybe give them a try – the Stilton really doesn’t come through as much as you might expect so it really doesn’t over-power the muffin, and the sweetness of the dates combined with the subtle pear flavour counter-balance it really well. Even though they’ve got both sweet and savoury elements, I’ve categorised these muffins as savoury because they work really well as a light lunch or snack. They could possibly even work as an informal alternative to a cheese board. However you decide to eat them, they’re definitely deliciously seasonal! Here’s to getting into the festive spirit!
Pear, date, walnut & Stilton muffins
Makes 13 muffins
Adapted from Mad About Muffins
The pear is quite a subtle flavour, so I made sure not to mash it up completely so that there were still a few chunks to give little explosions of flavour. I used Stilton, but I’m sure that most blue cheeses would work. The Stilton doesn’t come through as much as you might expect it to, so don’t worry if you’re not too keen on blue cheese. As with most muffins, these won’t keep all that long, but they will store well in an air-tight container for a couple of days. These are delicious both warm out of the oven or fully cooled.
355g all-pupose flour
160g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
250g pears (just use the weight as a rough guideline)
100g organic rapeseed oil
60g pitted ready-to-eat dates
100g walnut halves
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C. Butter or line 13 muffins pan sections or set out 13 silicon muffin moulds on a baking sheet.
2. Roughly chop the walnut halves. Chop the dates and crumble the Stilton (don’t crumble it too finely – little chunks are good). Set aside.
3. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and mix together.
4. Peel and core the pear and add to a clean bowl. Mash roughly with a potato masher (make sure there are still some little rough chunks left). Add the oil and eggs and gently beat together with a fork.
5. Fold the pear mixture into the dry ingredients with a large metal spoon, until just combined (it’s fine if there’s still a little bit of flour visible). Carefully fold the dates, Stilton and half of the walnuts into the mixture before spooning into the prepared muffin pans or moulds. Sprinkle the remaining walnuts evenly over the tops of the muffins.
6. Bake for 22-25 mins, until the muffins are golden and well risen. The tops should spring back when lightly prodded. Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before eating.