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Fresh mandarins brighten a gray morning's breakfast

Recipe: Citrus and spices flavor this little muffin

A light glaze is optional for these spiced fresh mandarin muffins. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

These Satsumas grew in Placer County.

When December turns drab and gray, it’s lovely to have ripe citrus fruit to liven up the day, not to mention our taste buds.

Right now mandarins are the best, freshest citrus you can find. Placer County of course grows wonderful mandarins, and even grocery stores carry the local fruit.

I wanted to put mandarins into something baked, and found a muffin recipe to adapt on the Placer growers’ site,
www.mountain . Most mandarin recipes out there, even fruit salads, are written for canned mandarin segments. But why use those when fresh is available? I was determined to figure this out.

I adjusted ingredients, since the original instructions were written for canned segments, though the recipe listed fresh. I also upped the spices in the batter and changed the topping to two options that are less messy. (The original involved dipping baked muffins in butter and then in cinnamon sugar.)

The result is a soft, spicy muffin that isn’t too sweet and has enough mandarin flavor. Satsumas or Clementines (often called Cuties) will work in this recipe. They’re mostly seedless, but not entirely, so watch for seeds when you chop up the segments.

I used some almond meal in my version here, but next time I might try more of a mix of flours, perhaps adding some fine cornmeal (which is always lovely with citrus) and some white whole wheat flour to the all-purpose flour.

A note about baking time: I don’t usually line the pan with paper cups when baking muffins, but I tried liners for half the batch. There’s a lot of liquid in hidden in the fruit pieces, so don’t take the muffins out too soon. They surprisingly firmed up faster in the paper cups than they did in the greased portion. If the tops of your muffins look done, pop one muffin out with a knife and check the bottom. If it seems too soft (and, if in greased cups, not brown enough), put the whole pan back in the oven for at least 5 minutes.

Watch for the few seeds that might be lurking.

Spiced fresh mandarin muffins

Makes 12


4 to 5 medium mandarin oranges, peeled and divided into segments
1  1/2 cups all-purpose flour, or 1 cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup almond meal
1  3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup solid shortening
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup milk or almond milk

Topping options:
Sparkly sugar for sprinkling

1/4 cup powdered sugar, to be mixed with 1-2 tablespoons reserved mandarin juice for glaze


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 12-cup muffin pan by lining with paper cups or greasing lightly.

Cut or chop mandarin segments into pieces (about 4 per segment), watching for and removing seeds. Also remove any larger stringy bits of pith, but don’t worry about removing all of it. You should have about 1-⅓ cups segment pieces. Drain off some of the excess juice, about 1 to 2 tablespoons. This can be used for glaze if desired.

Mix flour(s), baking powder, salt, nutmeg, allspice and sugar. Cut in the shortening using a pastry blender or two knives until it is evenly distributed through the flour.

Stir together the egg and milk, and add all at once to the flour mixture, mixing lightly. Gently stir in the orange segments, just until the mixture is evenly moist.

Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle on sparkly sugar if using. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown. (See baking time note above.)

The muffins in paper cups firmed up faster.
If glazing the muffins, stir together the reserved juice and the powdered sugar, and spoon a little over each hot muffin. Allow muffins to rest in pan on rack for 5 minutes before removing and serving.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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