Ginger Muffins

Marion Cunningham died last week. Not the mom from Happy Days, but the food writer. Some of you think that is obvious but, trust me, most people think of the mom.

Marion Cunningham may have been my favorite food writer. Not that a title needs to be awarded in that category, I love so many.  But I usually say, when asked, that The Breakfast Book is my favorite cookbook. It is true, though it could not be more different from the other contenders. It is simple and understated, focused on one meal, no fancy photos, just a few simple drawings. Still, it is the one I return to most often and relate to the easiest. Cunningham’s voice was strong and encouraging and I like cozying up to her books.

So I was sad when I learned she had died. I always feel a bit silly mourning over a person I didn’t really know. When Colleen Dewhurst died (who happens to resemble Marion, coincidence?) I cried. But really I was crying for Marilla Cuthbert. And Matthew Cuthbert. And childhood.  Is crying for a fictional character better or worse? Maybe they’re all pretty great—crying is undervalued. In any case, I was sad about Marion because they don’t seem to make them like her anymore. She liked iceberg lettuce. She did not want to be confused with a chef. She was a champion of home cooking. She drove a Jaguar.

She was rad.

My new range was delivered on Friday and I wanted christen it with a Marion Cunningham recipe, as a non-religious blessing of sorts…magical spell? I chose a recipe that I had made before, because you can’t take any chances when something is supposed to be magic. I made her ginger muffins, which I think pretty perfectly represent her: unfussy, delicious, and nurturing. They are best warm from the oven. They don’t need to be explained any further.

Ginger Muffins (adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham)

3 oz (or even a little more) piece of unpeeled ginger root, cleaned well
3/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. sugar, divided
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a muffin tin.

Cut the unpeeled ginger root into large chunks. If you have a food processor, process the ginger until it is in tiny pieces; alternatively, mince by hand. Measure out 1/3 cup – or a little more. As Marion says, it’s better to have too much than too little. Put the ginger and 1/4 cup sugar in a small skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has melted and the mixture is hot. This will only take a minute or two. Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers to release the oils. Add the lemon sugar to the ginger mixture.

Put the butter and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or, a mixing bowl, if you plan to use handheld beaters or mix by hand) and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, and beat well. Add the buttermilk, and beat until blended. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda, and beat just until smooth. Add the ginger-lemon mixture, and beat to mix well. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Serve warm!

Yield: 12 muffins

33 comments to “Ginger Muffins”

  1. Do you have any insight as to why the ginger remains unpeeled?

  2. Hey Kim- I’ll channel Marion and say: why not?

  3. What a coincidence- I just rediscovered my Anne of Green Gables obsession this weekend. It might be time to start reading those books again.

  4. I’m so sad to hear of her passing. The Fannie Farmer Baking Book is my favorite; I’m on my second copy. I was lunching in the Bay Area once when she walked through the restaurant by my table. I was absolutely thrilled.

  5. Good God – a man after my own heart! I watched my Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea VHS tapes until they squeaked in the video player! I was so sad when Colleen Dewhurst died, too.

  6. magical indeed! Look at those perfect crisp edges, where the hump sinks just slightly into the bottom leaving a little gutter all the way around: it’s almost like they are asking for a glaze or icing, but perhaps that is too much for breakfast, maybe if they become dessert ginger muffins they would accept a simple orange glaze.

  7. awesome post. i love that she loved iceberg.

  8. Tim, I thought of you immediately when I heard about Marion Cunningham’s death. I still remember a post you wrote, awhile back, about how much you love The Breakfast Book and how she’s such a champion for home cooks. They really don’t make them like that anymore, you’re right. xo–S

  9. Anna- Yes! i think they are the movies I have watched the most in my life.
    Caroline- Me too! Iceberg is good.
    Sarah- so nice to be thought of, thanks for being such a good reader! xo

  10. These muffins, and indeed, the entire book, are a family favorite. The ginger, sugar concoction that comes off the stove…Heaven.

  11. You are the best. I love this: the crying, the magic spell, the homage, the Jaguar. The Breakfast Book is one that’s long been on a secondary list that I forget about in the glut of new releases. Perhaps now’s the time.

  12. Sadly, I did not hear of her passing until I read this post. I agree with you The Breakfast Book is my favorite cookbook to read with her The Supper Book a close second. I adore her simple, delicious recipes. Her crisp whole wheat buns are one of my all time best recipes.

    Thank you for the unhappy news. Long live the home cook.

  13. Thanks for this recipe, and most of all, thank you for your homage to Marion Cunningham. she gave me quiet courage many, many years ago and I began my life-long love of cooking with her help. I’m sure that many people can say the same. I also loved your homage to your grandmother, and now that my son and grandson are visiting, I find myself peeling oranges and fixing peaches for them as a quiet gift of love. Thank you.

  14. what a lovely post!!! and beautiful muffins too!!

  15. OMG. I thought I couldn’t love your blog any more…and then you go and make an Anne of Green Gables reference! As an obsessive reader and a staunch advocate of books, I find it difficult to say this, but I think AoGG may be the *one* instance in which a movie surpassed the book for me. Or maybe not surpassed. Perhaps it was just that I watched the movie more times than I read the book–and I have read and re-read that book more times than I can count! But the movie…and Anne cradling Matthew’s head in the field. <> I think the no-frills Marion may have had a little of the best of Marilla in her.

  16. I imagine chunks of candied ginger would be awesome in these.

  17. These looks like a fitting tribute to a great woman. I confess, I hope one day I’ll leave behind a legacy like she did.

  18. I always loved Marion because she got what is great about food & cooking (very little to do with foam). And she loved a crispy iceberg wedge with a creamy dressing! I have a lot of cookbooks, featuring plenty of cool & trendy, but it is The Breakfast Book, The Supper Book and Lost Recipes that have pride of place on the shelf over the kitchen sink. RIP, Marion.

  19. She drove a Jaguar? Cool. Once again, I’m reminded that The Breakfast Book really needs to be a part of my collection. Can’t wait to make a spot for it on the shelf.

  20. These look scrumptious! Guess I’ll be adding The Breakfast Book to my extensive list of must-haves.

  21. Thanks for that. I adore Marion. And the Anne of Green Gable allusions are just gravy. Buttermilk pancakes and yeasted raised waffles for ever!

  22. Oh, there you go making these awesome muffins and channeling my childhood (and I hope you were talkin’ AoGG’s Mathew Cuthbert! Sigh!) I got this cookbook from the library when you posted the juice recipe a while back (which I made and loved). I had so many recipes bookmarked that went unmade because I had to return the book. Time to buy, I guess!

  23. What a lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing this.

  24. Marion Cunningham had a life well lived. Thank you, Tim, for sharing your tribute. I’m away on a motorcycle trip to Alaska and didn’t know of her passing until I read your blog.

  25. Cookbookchick says:

    July 22nd, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I have hundreds of cookbooks — in my kitchen, where I have room for only a few, I keep The Breakfast Book close at hand. The day after the news broke that Marion Cunningham had passed away, I made her Bridge Creek Oatmeal Pancakes in tribute for our breakfast. My husband and I love them, made always with steel-cut oats, as she recommends. Here’s to a great home cook, superb food writer, and remarkable woman the likes of whom, as you say Tim, they don’t seem to make anymore! Thank you for your tribute to her, as well.

  26. hello! long time reader. big fan! every time i make a recipe you’ve posted it rocks. first time i’ve been inspired to comment though. made these tonight and they are soooooo good! probably the best muffins i’ve ever had. usually i’m not a proponent of adding things or substituting in baking, but i had some lovely summer peaches sitting on the counter staring at me, and i thought…ginger peach. hello. i can’t stop eating them. help me.

  27. ex-Montrealer says:

    July 24th, 2012 at 1:02 am

    When the original Anne of Green Gables movie was filmed, among other things, my job was to issue film permits. I got to issue a 1-day ($10 per day!) film permit for Kevin Sullivan to shoot the scene where Anne, with Diana’s help, releases the sheep during their summer picnic. I was so excited, Tim, because I’d contributed in a very small way to the movie! The icing on the cake was the location manager invited me to watch the filming. However, I had a mean boss who told me I was needed at work. I never did get to see the filming; I should have played hooky and just gone!

    Thank you for your writing. Colleen Dewhurst is just the best, don’t you think? Since you have such impeccable taste, I’m going to check out Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book. My soon-to-be-82-year-old father has his birthday next month and LOVES all things ginger. This will be one of his treats for his birthday lunch!

  28. I made these muffins today. Oh my gosh….they are wonderful! The process is so interesting too…the minced ginger syrup with the lemon sugar zest is incredible. These are a wonderful addition to my summer! Thanks so much….

  29. Sad news indeed. Many thanks for the homage to Marion, may she bake in peace

  30. by the way, my favorite citation from the Breakfast Book:
    “7. Because everyone is defenseless at breakfast, there should be no contentiousness or crossness” p.53

  31. I adored this post–all of it. My mother in law is visiting and she is obsessed with ginger. My 7 yo has recently learned to make muffins. I think I see these muffins in my immediate future. And I’ve cried over people I’ve never met also.

  32. I’ve made these muffins twice now and I agree – this is simply an excellent and classic recipe! It’s very simple but that just lets the amazing combination of ginger+sugar+butter shine through. The tops become a little bit crunchy and caramelized which is incredible. This is destined to be part of my staple repertoire. Also works well with whole wheat flour.

    Thanks for posting! I’m so happy to have discovered this!

  33. angeli hernandez says:

    December 6th, 2012 at 6:31 am

    yummy.taste terrific. instead of using eggs i replace another hal
    half cup of milk.thank u for the yummy ginger muffin recipe.

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