Cardamom Cinnamon Muffins with Cranberries
Happy New Year! May this New Year bring health, joy and peace to all! We can’t believe 2019 is already here. We had a beautiful time in the holidays, having some delicious meals with family and catching up with our reading and favorite tv shows. The weather was perfect for the season; you see, we had a lot of cold weather since Christmas, with lots of snow in the mountains. Even the mountains around Athens, were dressed in white.
One of the things that few people abroad know about Greece, is the fact that it has a lot of beautiful mountains in the mainland, that are amazing during the autumn and the winter. They have rich forests and picturesque small villages on their slopes, and taverns offering delicious authentic food.
They have rivers and lakes around them -or high up on plateaus- that are wonderful for canoeing, rafting or simply having a picnic and enjoying the view. During January and February, there are also ski resorts in the mountains, which are quite popular. And locals sell amazing produce, including herbs, handmade pasta, beans, jams, honey, spoon sweets, cheeses, sausages, and many more delicacies.
We had the opportunity to visit some of these beautiful places in the last months. We went to some of the most popular mountains of the Peloponnese, which are relatively close to Athens. One can visit these mountains, called Helmos, Ziria, and Menalo even during weekends, as they are only 2,5 hours away from Athens, by car. We will share some of these experiences, beginning with the current post. We’ll start with our trip to the mountainous Corinth.
A trip to Trikala of Corinth
We went to the mountains of Corinth on the last weekend of November. For accommodation, we chose to stay at Trikala, the most popular village in the mount Ziria. Trikala is always referred to as “Trikala Korinthias” (Trikala of Corinth), to distinguish from the large city of Trikala in Thessaly, central Greece. Trikala consists of 3 small districts: Kato (lower), Mesea (middle), Ano (upper). We chose the lower district, as it is quieter.
The forests, as we drove from Trikala to nearby Karya village, are spectacular! We drove slowly in these roads, to let our eyes feast on the forests with black pine trees and junipers, the green plateaus with lush green meadows, the herds of sheep and goats next to the road. Sticking between the forests, the magnificent peaks of Ziria, white from early snow.
Some of our most cherished memories are from the day we visited the peaks. We went there early in the morning, to avoid larger crowds that are gathering later on, on Sundays. The weather was cold, but it wasn’t snowing and there was no fog; just perfect for enjoying the sights and taking photos.
First, we went to the small, picturesque ski resort of Ziria. This is a very small resort, that’s perfect for amateurs and children that want to learn how to ski. There’s a small lift, on an easy mountain slope, where you can take your first steps in skiing. Next to the slope is a small chalet where one can enjoy the view with a warm cup of coffee or tea. When we visited, the resort was closed since there was no snow during this weekend, but we still got to enjoy the view with the forests in the slopes next to the chalet.
Leaving the ski resort, we went towards Lake Dasiou. This is a small mountain lake that dries up during the summer and fills with water from autumn to spring. The road to the lake is a dirt road, but one doesn’t need an SUV to get there; careful driving at low speed and watching out for the potholes is all that one needs.
Before one reaches the lake, there’s a large plateau where you drive straight for a large distance. While driving there, we saw something unexpected; around 20 horses, happily grazing on the meadow next to the road. We stopped and admired the sight, as they were without any saddles, free to roam the plateau. There’s always something majestic about horses and being around them.
After this beautiful encounter, we continued towards the lake. The landscape was amazing, with deep, dark green colors and a serene atmosphere. When we arrived at the lake, we were astonished by its beauty. Lake Dasiou is a picturesque tranquil place, surrounded by forests. The white highest peaks of Ziria were visible between the trees, making this a fairytale-like alpine experience.
Trikala of Corinth
After visiting the lake, we went back to Trikala and we walked in all three districts. The most popular one is the middle, called Mesea Trikala, which has most of the taverns and the coffee shops; all of the districts are beautiful though and one should take the time to visit them all.
We asked our friends and read reviews regarding where we should eat or have a coffee. One of the places we especially enjoyed (shameless plug) was Psitosinantisi, a grill house at the edge of Mesea Trikala, towards the Ano (upper) Trikala. This is a small tavern with a fireplace and serves one of the most delicious red semi-sweet house wines we ever had. They have all kinds of meats but we suggest the pork steaks and pork chops that we tried and were delicious. Be aware that their portions are really large, so take this into account when ordering! They also offer a yummy syrup-drenched portokalopita (orange pie) for dessert.
The desserts offered in the area are traditional ones: portokalopita, galaktoboureko (custard pie with phyllo/filo) and karydopita (syrup-drenched cake with ground walnuts) and all are fresh and delicious.
Of course, when we returned to Athens since the Holidays were approaching, we had a ton of melomakarona, diples and kourabiedes :) We also had one of our favorite winter-time muffins: Cardamom Cinnamon Muffins with Cranberries!
Cardamom Cinnamon Muffins with Cranberries
We made these muffins for the first time about a year ago, as an alternative to melomakarona. How is a muffin an alternative to melomakarona? Well, they both contain the wonderful combination of cinnamon and clove.
Those two are our favorite, warming winter spices. We also added another classic winter spice, the nutmeg, making a mix that is often used abroad as “pumpkin spice”, but without any ginger that’s also often added in such spices. You see, we’re not big fans of ginger ourselves. What we are big fans of though, is the cardamom; and that’s what we used in this recipe.
You may remember us using cardamom in this savory recipe for shrimp back in spring. Cardamom has a sweet floral scent with pepper undertones, so it was the perfect substitute for ginger. When the recipe was tested, it added the complexity that was needed; it was amazing in the combination with the rest of the winter spices.
If you wonder, what will I do with the rest of it, if I buy cardamom, don’t worry; you can use it instead of ginger in cookies and cakes or add it in savory recipes as well. You won’t regret trying it out, and most likely you will buy more and more of it :)
We wanted to add some texture too though. After some thought, we tried adding dried cranberries. We used cranberries preserved with concentrated apple juice without extra sugar added. They are more natural, and they don’t have any sharp tartness as one might have expected, so they’re perfect for adding them in sweets and desserts.
After trying out the muffins, first without and then with glaze, we opted for the latter. The glaze makes them much yummier (of course), but also helps them stay moist for longer. They easily keep up for 3 days. If you don’t want to use the glaze, then check out the ingredients below, where we also provide a different quantity for the sugar for this case. We do recommend that you try the glaze though, as it is super easy to make, and only takes a minute.
You can use any classic simple glaze made with milk (or water), vanilla and powdered sugar (also known as icing sugar). However, we will provide the recipe for our favorite glaze in this post; it’s made by adding melted butter as well. The melted butter adds more flavor and makes the glaze much more rich and decadent :)
That being said, however, you have to keep in mind two things. When you add butter to the glaze, then you can’t add acidic ingredients, like orange juice or orange zest. We learned this the hard way, when we had a perfect, buttery glaze, and added some orange zest in it. The glaze turned from smooth to something like sand and milk, and no matter how hard we tried, by whisking and warming it, nothing worked. So, no lemons, no oranges, no mandarins, nothing acidic should be added to a buttery glaze.
The second thing is that melted butter will eventually become solid again. That means that you have to add it into the glaze while still hot and runny, in order to get a smooth result. You can’t make it ahead, you have to make the glaze right before you use it. But this isn’t a problem, because as we mentioned, it only takes a minute to make it.
If you prefer a thick crust on your muffins, you can double-dip them into the glaze. You dip them once, swirling each muffin top and then dripping off the excess glaze and then let them stay on a wire rack until the glaze sets. This may take around 10-15 minutes depending on how warm or cold your kitchen is. When the first layer sets, you warm up the bowl with the glaze for a few seconds, because the butter will have started to solidify, you give it a quick whisk and dip the muffin tops in, for a second time. That’ it; let the glaze set again, and they’re ready.
A few more tips
You can serve these muffins both as the sweet part of breakfast as well as a moist, aromatic dessert. They’re also perfect as a mid-morning or and an afternoon snack that you can carry with you. They’re also delicious with a cup of coffee or with milk.
Another great thing is, that you can make these muffins at the last moment, since they are very easy to make, and it also doesn’t take long to prepare and bake them.
When making muffins, one of the most useful utensils one can use is an ice cream scoop with a trigger (spring). This is also the perfect utensil for making cookies. Now, why is that? Because with each scoop you get more-less the same quantity of dough/batter and thus, the muffins (or the cookies) are uniform in size. Moreover, the trigger helps you release the dough/batter into the lined muffin cups without touching any paper with it. Because we’ve all been there, with the batter sticking to paper liners, refusing to leave the spoon.
We also highly recommend using paper liners or the silicone ones, when you make muffins or cupcakes. This way, you won’t have to add extra butter, by smearing the muffin cups with it, and dusting with flour, to avoid having muffins stuck in the tin. It’s a win-win situation: the muffins come out of the tin easily, and the tin remains very clean, making the washing afterward an easy task.
You can also try many different variations, by adding raisins instead of cranberries, or even chopped dried prunes! You can opt for roasted nuts and add walnuts or pecans, for a healthier version. You can add chopped roasted or boiled chestnuts (they are so good).
You can also add more flavor, by adding some orange zest into the batter, together with the cranberries; it’s another delicious combination. You can also add more aroma, by dropping a tablespoon (or two) or liquor into the batter, if you plan to serve these to adults. Amaretto, cherry brandy, cognac, and sherry are all delicious additions.
So let’s see how easy it is to make these delicious muffins!
For the muffins:
- 250g / 9oz (2 cups) all-purpose flour, sifted
- 100g / 3.5 oz (1/2 cup) brown sugar*
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 cardamom pods (or 1/2 teaspoon store-bought ground cardamom)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 115g / 4oz (1 stick) butter, melted
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 180ml (3/4 cup) milk
- 150g / 4oz (1 1/4 cups) dried cranberries
* If you won’t glaze the muffins, then use 150g / 5.3oz (3/4 cup) brown sugar
For the glaze: (highly recommended and easy to make)
- 225g / 8oz (1 cup), powdered sugar, sifted
- 45ml (3 tablespoons) milk, room temperature or lukewarm
- 45g (3 tablespoons) butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Use pestle and mortar to crush the 5 cardamom pods (pic. 1, pic. 2).
Extract the seeds (pic. 3) and grind them into powder (pic. 4). Preheat the oven at 190 C / 375F (convection oven / fan-assisted).
Add all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, ground cardamom, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg) in a large bowl (pic. 5). Mix very well with a whisk. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan, on low heat (pic. 6) or in your microwave. Allow it to cool a bit, for a few minutes.
In another bowl, beat the egg and add the milk (pic. 7). Add the butter while whisking vigorously (pic. 8).
Once these wet ingredients are well mixed (pic. 9), add them to the bowl with the dry ingredients (pic. 10).
Use a rubber spatula to wet the dry ingredients and mix everything together (pic. 11). Be careful to avoid overmixing. This is the secret to great muffins. You just want to get everything wet, so it’s ok if the batter is lumpy. Add the cranberries (pic. 12) and fold them in.
The batter doesn’t look perfectly mixed (pic. 13); this is the desired outcome when one makes muffins. Line a classic 3.5cm / 1.38in deep muffin tin with paper liners (pic. 14). Please prefer using paper liners; it’s the best way to keep your muffin tin clean and your muffins intact. Also prefer the ones that are slightly more expensive, because they will peel easily from your muffins or cupcakes. If you don’t have any liners though, you can of course generously grease the muffin tin cups with butter and dust them with flour.
Using an ice cream scoop with a trigger release (pic. 15), pour the batter in each liner. This is the easiest way to get uniform sized muffins. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, you can use 2 tablespoons to get the butter into the liners. Drop the batter (from a small distance) into the lined muffin cups and fill each one about 3/4 full (pic. 16).
Please do this just like you see in picture 15; when we say drop it, we mean it. Don’t pour some of the batter directly into the liner first and then try to release it from the scoop/spoon, it will stick and make things difficult.
Place the muffin tin in the middle rack of your oven and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the tin halfway through. The muffins are ready when a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean.
Remove the tin from the oven and let the muffins stay in it for a maximum of 3-5 minutes (pic. 17). Don’t let them cool inside the tin for too long though because they will get soggy. Once cool enough to touch, move them to a wire rack (pic. 18) to cool completely.
For the glaze
When the muffins cool to room temperature (they will need 45 minutes to an hour) you can make the glaze. Don’t make the glaze ahead, as it contains butter. The butter makes the glaze so much better, but as it cools it solidifies. So you need to make the glaze just before you use it.
Melt the butter. In a large bowl, add the powdered sugar, the butter, the milk and the vanilla (pic. 19). Whisk very well vigorously, for at least 1 minute and you will get a delicious glaze (pic. 20).
Dip the top of each muffin into the glaze (pic. 21) and swirl for a few seconds; then lift and let the excess glaze to drip off (pic. 22) for a few seconds more.Return each muffin to the wire rack. Allow the glaze to set, for 10-15 minutes and serve.
Kali oreksi and let us know if you used some of the following tips to make your own versions!
1. You can keep the muffins in a sealed container for up to three days.
2. You can make countless variations, by adding your favorite dried fruits, nuts.
3. You can add a couple of extra cranberries on the top each muffin, right before baking them. These will get crunchy and caramelized.
4. Never overmix the batter; as soon as the ingredients come together, stop stirring.
5. Don’t overfill the liners.
6. Use an ice cream scoop with a trigger to divide the batter into the tin cups. They will come out uniform in size. It’s also the perfect tool for uniform sized cookies!
7. If you glaze the muffins, we think they keep better, and are equally delicious on the next day.
8. Make the glaze right before you use it.
9. You can double-dip the muffins into the glaze. When the first layer is set, warm up the glaze in low heat for a few seconds, whisk it, and repeat the dipping process. This will make thick, rich muffin tops.
10. You can add up to 10 cardamom pods (1 teaspoon powdered), for a more exotic flavor.
This post is not sponsored by the restaurant mentioned, or any municipality, or governmental/tourism organization, is not a paid advertisement or part of any affiliate marketing program. Meaning: We really enjoyed the places and the restaurant and are writing our own opinion without any compensation.