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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pecan Pie Muffins

Mid-October begins the official pecan harvesting season, and they are ubiquitous in baking and cooking throughout Autumn. I adore pecan pie, it is one of my Fall baking staples, so I jumped at the chance to try Pecan Pie Muffins -- all the goodness of pecan pie in a muffin form. 

Pecans, or Carya illinoinensis, are native to North America. They're called after the Algonquin name for the nut, "pekkan" which literally means a nut that has to be cracked by a stone. These nuts were very popular in America from the colonial period onward, and had some notable fans early on. Thomas Jefferson used to grow them in his nut orchard at Monticello, and he made a gift of pecan trees to George Washington, who henceforth began to grow them at Mount Vernon. Although they were grown on a small scale sporadically in America, mass commercial cultivation had to wait nearly a century for a slave named Antoine of the Oak Alley plantation in Louisiana to develop a method for grafting and propagating pecan trees in 1846-1847. This cultivar was dubbed "The Centennial", and was the first commercial variety of pecans in the world. Two of the original pecan trees grafted by Antoine still stand today at the Oak Alley plantation, which is less remarkable when you realize that pecan trees can live to be over 300 years old!

I first noticed a recipe for Pecan Pie Muffins on Tasty Kitchen, and it instantly attracted me because 1) I was intrigued by the thought of a muffin replicating the taste of pecan pie; and 2) the recipe was exceedingly simple, with only a handful of ingredients. So, I made some minor modifications to suit my taste buds (a little less sugar, and the addition of some chocolate) and gave them a whirl.

This recipe contains the simplest ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, pecans and chocolate. Note that there is no leavening agent. Pecan pie is not known for being light and fluffy, and likewise these muffins are dense morsels of intense flavor.

First, you combine the flour, sugar, pecans and mini chocolate chips in a bowl and set aside.*

Then, you beat the butter until nice and fluffy, and then add in beaten eggs and mix until fully combined.
Add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Fill muffin tins 2/3 full (I used paper liners but it isn't mandatory), and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes.

Let them cool for a few minutes before you take them out of the tin. The original recipe suggests melting a small pat of butter on top and eating it warm, which I'm sure is delicious, although I didn't try it. I just ate one warm, and one cooled. They definitely do firm up a little the cooler they get, but it is a trade-off because the flavor intensifies. If you don't like the consistency when cooled, you can always heat it up in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds. I, however, am just fine with the room temperature muffins. If you can, though, you might want to make them fresh the day you need them. They are definitely at their best then (although still tasty the next day).

These muffins really do taste like little pecan pies. They are quick, easy, delicious, and now part of my permanent Autumn baking rotation!

*Just one quick point about the workflow. The first time I made them, I didn't even look at the assembly directions, and I just made them the way I would normally put together the ingredients: namely, cream together the butter and sugar, add in the eggs, then the flour, then the pecans and chips. And they turned out just fine (although the flour coating the pecans and chips helps them to not sink in the original directions), so if you have an "oops" moment, don't fret, you haven't ruined them.

Pecan Pie Muffins


  • 2/3 C butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 3/4 C packed brown sugar
  • 1 C pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 C mini chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Combine flour, sugar, pecans and mini chips in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Beat softened butter until fluffy, then add in eggs and mix until incorporated
  4. Add in the flour/sugar/pecan/chips mixture, and beat until just combined
  5. Fill muffin pan (with or without liners) 2/3 full
  6. Bake 20-25 minutes, be careful not to over-bake
  7. Let cool in pan 5 minutes before removing
  8. Melt a pat of butter on top and eat warm (optional)

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