Before I officially kick off some seasonal cookie recipes in the next few days, I want to share these muffins with you. You probably have already figured out from the title – Concord grapes are long gone and won’t be back until next fall. I’m sorry, it’s not fair for me to tease you like this, but I can’t allow this recipe to languish in the dark corners of my computer for nearly a year. I want you to tuck this recipe away somewhere, where you can easily find it. Also, I want you to mark your calendars for mid-September of next year. Pick a day and over it write “Concord Grape Muffins”. You won’t forget to make them, and trust me, you’ll thank me for the reminder.
Concord grapes and I go way back. As in “back in Russia” way back where we called them Isabella grapes, purchased them for eating (as opposed to juicing), and ate them spitting out the pits (it’s not pretty, trust me). I hadn’t tasted a single seedless grape until I arrived to America. Grapes without pits – now that’s the ticket! Those grapes were yet another thing to make me tumble into love with my new homeland even more. Already, it offered some irresistible things in the way of food: pizza, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, Thanksgiving, peanut butter and chocolate together. But nothing – and I mean nothing – tastes like a Concord grape, unless you want to throw grape juice into the mix. And while I suspect, not many crave a tart grape with gelatinous flesh, I continue to pop them like candy, so much so that while I bought a few bunches intending to make this, I remembered my original intention only after I’d eaten the last grape of the bunch.
And then Jennie made these muffins, and my obsession with Concord grapes renewed. I ran to the farmers market at the first opportunity, but by then the grapes were long gone, and the tables were lined with pumpkin, squash, and apples. I had missed my chance – I would have to wait until next fall to try my hand at these. Or so I thought. Enter Jennie – ever-so-thoughtful and kind – who, upon realizing my Concord grape lamentations, went back to her farmers market and extra time just to get me the last batch of the season. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. And so it is because of her, that I am sharing these with you in the fist place.
First things first – seeding. Hoo boy you won’t like this one bit! Seeding these babies is an exercise in patience. Pull up a chair and get comfortable; grab a paring knife and halve your grapes. Then, with great dexterity (and this won’t get easier with time and/or practice) try to cut the seeds out using the tip of your knife. Or squeeze them out. Or a combination of the two. The fleshy, meaty part of the grape inside seems to want to hold on to these seeds for dear life. And you – I’m just going to assume you’re not a fan of eating grape seeds, or spitting them out – will want those seeds out. May the stronger will win. If you want to make these in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up, allow yourself at least a good half hour of grape pitting before you can do the rest. Thankfully, the rest is pretty simple and easy.
I changed a few things in the recipe, swapping out milk for buttermilk. I infused it with a few sprigs of rosemary and let the warm buttermilk return to room temperature. It worked beautifully. I had wanted the muffins to impart a subtle complexity, tease the palate a bit. The soft, earthy notes of rosemary gave these muffins an undeniably autumnal feel. To save on time, perhaps you might want to infuse while you pit?
These muffins are probably best the day of – particularly in the hour that you make them. After I made the first batch, Andrew and I had three muffins each. Then we sort of glanced at each other, like what is wrong with us eating three muffins in one sitting, poured ourselves more tea, and split a fourth – we were feeling all weekendish and it was a fine enough justification for us. And while I’m sorry to tease you so unceremoniously, I think it’s best to share these now and make plans to make them next fall. I promise you, they are well worth the wait.
Concord Grape Muffins
Adapted from In Jennie’s Kitchen
Both Deb and Jennie recommend using a sharp paring knife to remove pits from Concord grapes. Cut grapes in half and use the tip of the paring knife to pick the pits out. I found that method to be laborious and somewhat frustrating. I discovered that if I take a grape half with the pit in it, and gently squeeze the pit with my thumbnails (while holding the little half with my fingers) nine out of ten times the pit would slide out gently. Sometimes, though rarely, the grape flesh would slide out of the skin, which didn’t bother me much – it was all going into the batter. In any case, the thumb-squeezing method worked much faster for me. It did, however, leave my fingers looking kinda dirty afterward. Well worth it for a good muffin, I say!
2 cups (8.5 ounces) flour
1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (11 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) sea salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold butter, cut into 12 pieces
1 cup (8 ounces/225 ml) whole milk
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
8 ounces seeded concord grapes
2 teaspoons (10 grams) coarse sugar, for sprinkling tops (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F. Line one 12-cup standard size muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.
In a microwave, heat together milk and rosemary sprig for about 2 minutes. Remove from microwave and let cool with rosemary sprig still infusing the milk. Set aside.
In a deep bowl, whisk together (aerate!) flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt to a deep bowl. Add butter and using a pastry blender, or your fingers (my preferred method), blend until it forms a sandy-looking mixture. Be sure to “rub away” any large chunks of flour covered butter. But don’t worry about pea-sized ones.
Checking to see the milk isn’t too hot, and after removing the rosemary sprig, pour in the milk and gently stir, using a wooden spoon, until just combined and there are no visible traces of flour. Gently fold in the grapes – it should take you a few folds, no more. Scoop into the prepared muffin tins and sprinkle tops with an even amount of coarse sugar, if desired.
Bake 20 minutes, rotating once midway, until tops are golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Don’t worry if you get grape fragments on it, what you’re looking for is a dry, not wet, crumb. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.