Over Christmas I picked up Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl. Drummond, an L.A. city girl, went back to her hometown in Oklahoma on her way to a move to Chicago and met and fell in love with a cowboy. Now the city girl is a mom, feeding ranch hands, photographing and blogging from a working cattle ranch. She's adapted from being a former vegetarian to the meat and potatoes ranch lifestyle and palette. She began her blog "Confessions of a Pioneer Woman" sharing recipes, photography, and stories about ranch life and cooking.
I expected to find a few recipes that might be fun to try. But I immediately got wrapped up in the very engaging world of her life on the ranch. The cowboys, the husband, the four kids, the dogs, the cattle, the horses, the stories, the love and of course, the food. Her tone is very accessible and conversational and in no time at all you wish you could sit down in her warm kitchen with a hot cup of coffee (or a margarita) and gab and cook and watch her world go by.
Even if you aren't interested in cooking, her photos hook you immediately. They are gorgeous and thoughtful and give you insight into a beautiful, natural world. I would love to spend time there with her just seeing, taking in the incredible expanses and also the small details.
Aside from just having so much fun with her book — I curled up in bed on a cold night and read straight through the whole thing, like a novel, and had a great time — she includes instructions and photos of EVERY step of every recipe. This is a great resource if you're new in the kitchen. She'll take you through it step-by-step-by-step. And her recipes are straightforward, made with ingredients you can find in an Oklahoma grocery store and they are down home and hungry cowboy satisfying.
I wanted to share with you one of the first recipes I tried from her book, the French Breakfast Puffs. These are muffins, baked with the sweet, comforting flavor of nutmeg that you'd find in a cake doughnut. But these are what a cake doughnut aspires to be. They are soft and light and fluffy and steamy. Better than any cake doughnut I've ever had. Then, when they are hot out of the oven, you roll them in melted butter (and lots of it) and then in cinnamon sugar. The butter sinks in just a bit, giving them an added layer of to-die-for-ness and helps the sparkly cinnamon sugar stick to form a sweet and spicy crust.
I made these early one morning and wrapped them up still warm for my husband to take to work with him. I was jokingly calling them "butter bombs" because I felt so naughty rolling around in all that butter. But they were apparently quite enthusiastically received. I tried them in regular muffin cups and in mini muffin cups. I really liked that the mini muffins could be more easily handled (for the baker and the eater) and you can just pop them in your mouth. But I found the proportion of butter to muffin was much higher in the little guys because they are so much smaller. So I liked the overall flavor better in the regular-sized muffins. Whatever size you want them, bake these now. They are little puffs of happiness. These are impressive enough for a special occasion, but easy enough for an everyday breakfast.
French Breakfast Puffs
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup nonhydrogenated shortening, at room temp
1 cup milk
for cinnamon sugar crust:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 sticks of butter
muffin tin (12 muffin size) sprayed with cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together in a bowl: flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In another bowl, with a mixer or a whisk (if you want to work some of these off before you eat them), cream together one cup of the sugar and the shortening. Add the eggs and mix to combine. Add half of the flour mixture and mix in, then half of the milk and mix in. Continue with the other halves, mixing until completely combined.
Pour batter into prepared muffin cups to just over half full. (You don't want these going up over the top of your pan too far or they'll fall apart when you roll them around in the butter later.) I used an ice cream scoop to get even amounts and quick release into the muffin cups.
Bake for 20-25 minutes (about 12-15 minutes for mini muffins) until tops are golden.
While the muffins are baking, melt the butter. Place it in a bowl big enough to roll the muffins around in comfortably. In another bowl (or a cake pan works well here too) combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar with the cinnamon and stir together.
When the muffins are out of the oven, let them cool briefly so you don't get burned. Then take the still very warm muffins and roll them first in the bowl with the melted butter, to coat on all sides. Then roll them in the cinnamon sugar completely to coat. You're going to want to eat that first one. And you should just go ahead. They smell too good not to. Repeat with remaining muffins and serve immediately.
These are to die for freshly baked and still steamy. But I tried one the next day, popped it in the microwave briefly and it returned to its steamy, fluffy goodness.
Note: I filled my muffin cups only about half full and ended up with a little extra batter. So I made the mini muffins just to see if I liked that size better. You could use the remaining batter to make a second smaller batch after the first are out of the oven. Believe me, you'll want them all.
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond.
And check out Drummond's blog, The Pioneer Woman. You'll be charmed and she's sure to get your appetite going.