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Once upon a time, in a land somewhat far away and before pastry school, I was obsessed with packing baked goods with somewhat unusual flavors like edible flowers and savory herbs. While I wasn't quite crazy enough to stuff chives in cookies or crumble oregano into cheesecake (hmmm...) I did get up to some unusual things like simmering cherries with sage before stuffing them inside a brown butter-vanilla cupcake then topping the cherry buttercream with sparkling fried sage leaves.
Recently I found myself on the move again and wound up at an adorable Mediterranean restaurant. I'm exploring the full breadth of the region with a lot of nuts, exotic spices, and many of my favorite fruits. With a gelato machine and the ability to run specials and experiment freely, I'm already reaching for the fresh herb bin.
I definitely won't forget my old buddy sage. Sage infuses very easily and, though it smells unmistakably savory, imparts its own special sweetness when combined with milk or cream. Sage whipped cream is as easy as dropping a few leaves in as you whip, the bruising action of the whisk extracting precious sage essence with every stroke. When I think of sage, I think of its best friend brown butter, and then sometimes their good buddy chestnut. Whole chestnuts are a pain to cook oneself, and jarred can have an odd texture, but chestnut flour is a great way to get the flavor of chestnuts into baked goods without compensating for heavy chestnut puree.
Chestnut flour is a very underrated ingredient. It's light and slightly sweet with a delicate roasted flavor. It tends to keep baked goods very moist, and since I don't particularly like terribly sweet breakfast foods, I used the opportunity to drastically reduce the sugar in my favorite muffin recipe. If you like a sweeter muffin feel free to double the amount of sugar, but I love how the sage and chestnut flour provide much of the perceived sweetness in this recipe. These muffins would be great for any winter holiday breakfast, with cranberry jam or orange marmalade, or even a sweetened cream cheese.
About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna.