Heirloom Recipes

Tassajara Spice Muffins

By • February 24, 2014 • 19 Comments

Every other week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.

Today: Carey Nershi of Reclaiming Provincial shares a spice muffin recipe that stood out in a house always full of treats.


If there is one motto my mother lives by above all others, it’s that a home should always be flush with treats. A bowl of popcorn that isn’t large enough to feed a family for several days is pointless. An empty cookie jar is a serious problem. The old wooden highchair that once held much tinier versions of my brother and myself now sits in the corner of the dining room, always occupied by a stack of tins containing extra cookies, brownies, and muffins. Options: That’s how we roll.

Given my mother’s religious baking habits, it’s no surprise that she has a number of go-to recipes in her repertoire. The sort of recipes that friends and family have come to count on for holidays and gatherings. For instance, our Easter and Thanksgiving tables are never without a basket of these spice muffins.

Mom has been making this recipe since I can remember. Even as a young, picky child, they were one of my favorites. I’d always insist that at least half be made without raisins -- a request that annoyed (and continues to annoy) my father to no end. The recipe comes from an old, well-used copy of the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. They are surprisingly light for muffins made entirely from whole wheat flour, with a lovely sweetness from the honey and a hint of warmth from the spices. Enjoy them for breakfast, with dinner, or at any and all snack times in between.

Tassajara Spice Muffins

Makes: 12 muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 egg
1/4 cup oil (coconut or organic canola are ideal)
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Tags: heirloom recipes, spice muffins, muffins, baking, family recipes

Comments (19)

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5 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

As many of the other commenters here no doubt know, Edward Espe Brown was also a founder of Green's Restaurant and co-author of the eponymous cookbook, with Deborah Madison (another culinary guiding light throughout my adult life). Brown's personal story of how he came to love good bread -- and how it changed his life -- is enchanting. http://en.wikipedia.org...

(His brother's comment about Smithfield ham, by the way, is utterly perplexing. But then, I hail from the great Commonwealth of Virginia, so I guess that's not surprising.) ;o)

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

Thank you so much for sharing, Antonia. :)

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5 months ago belfman

I grew up in SF and lived in the Marina as a young woman. This was my go to cookbook as well. I just moved and will have to track down my copy. This brought back great memories!

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

So happy to hear it!

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5 months ago lanalovesfood

these look amazing and I really enjoyed your writing. where'd you get the pan with those awesome shapes?

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

Thank you! The larger muffins were made in a John Wright cast iron pan. (My mother has a number of them in various shapes - vegetable, shell, and balloons.) They're a little bit harder to find now, but there seems to be a decent selection on eBay and the like.

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5 months ago susan g

I'm another one who had to go to the shelf and take out the book. Great memories of learning to bake, with yeast and unyeasted (Carob Date Bread). And the best directions for braiding a loaf. Bookmarks: a 13 cent stamp, receipts from 1973, and a drawing by one of my kids, now 40+. It was a book that opened doors. Carey, thanks for the stories. You've taken me back to a book I've close at hand, and now want to cook from again, frequently -- starting with the muffins.

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

This comment warmed my heart, Susan. Most especially the bookmarks — so wonderful. <3

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5 months ago alice

I have the cook book as well! It's a paperback and I had to make a new cover for it!

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

A sign of a well-loved book!

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5 months ago Marian Bull

Marian is Food52's Associate Editor.

The Tassajara book is so very high on my wish list! I keep meaning to make their Cardamom Lemon Soda Bread that Luisa Weiss wrote about last year. These muffins look beautiful!

Also "flush with treats" is my new favorite phrase.

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

YES, that bread! I remember seeing Luisa's post and thinking "oooh that's the old bread book my mom has." And then I forgot about it. Not making that mistake again.

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5 months ago Marian Bull

Marian is Food52's Associate Editor.

And it's about to be soda bread season! I'll have to keep you posted on how mine turns out.

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5 months ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

I think we'd all like your mother, Carey! I just pulled my own old (and admittedly dusty) copy off the shelf. We were all so into the basic Tassajara yeast bread method that I'd completely forgotten all the other gems. Time to put a few new splatters on its newly dusted pages.

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

Thanks, Chris! So happy to hear you're dusting off your copy. :)

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5 months ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Have you seen "How to Cook Your Life?" It's a movie about Edward Espe Brown. http://www.imdb.com/title...
(I have a falling apart copy of the book, too.)

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

Ooo, I have not, but it's now on my Watch ASAP list.

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5 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I suspect my well-worn copy of "The Tassajara Bread Book" resembles your mother's, Carey. One of the first cookbooks I bought (not long after it was first published), it has been and will always be a favorite in my kitchen. I've never tried that spice muffin recipe, though, so I look forwarding to using your version, soon. Thank you! ;o)

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5 months ago Carey Nershi

I bet it does! Hers has been loved for many, many years. :) I hope you enjoy the muffin recipe, Antonia!