The urban equivalent of eating seasonally is eating with the produce section of the 99 Cents Only. A big bag of pears for 99 cents was too good a deal to resist, with the result that I have a lot of pears waiting to be eaten or possibly used in still life paintings.
This situation called for pear muffins. The calorie count of muffins in turn called for tackling a little something from the Run Hundred Top Workout Songs for September list, which oddly included Carrie Underwood’s recent hit, “Blown Away.” The dark tone of the song goes with the darker and richer flavoring I want to achieve with this particular muffin, so I think we have a match.
The version on the workout song list is the original, but a quick survey of Youtube determines that there are remixes. Remixes! And remix-style covers! This requires investigation.
Preheat the oven to 425, grab a pear (or grow a pear), and let’s start with Underwood’s original version for reference.
That video is intense. I’m having a bit of an existential crisis about it as workout music, as “abusive family relationship meets meteorological revenge” doesn’t make me think “let’s work those abs.”
At the same time, many people have mentioned that Underwood’s gone in a more pop/rock direction with this album, and “Blown Away” does have a beat it’s possible to dance to, in a shake-your-booty-and-stomp-people’s-insteps way. Also, the major reason I listen to country music is not for the hot dudes singing about trucks, beer, and cowgirls, but for the women being very, very angry.
Carrie Underwood is on the sweet and gentle side. If it were Miranda Lambert telling this story, she wouldn’t wait for a tornado. She’d have a gun and be aiming it for her daddy’s balls. “Blown away,” indeed.
If that vision doesn’t inspire a girl to feats of domesticity, I don’t know what will. It’s time to invent a muffin. I want some density and darkness, so let’s start with 1/2 cup wheat flour and 1/2 cup white flour. We need some sweetness, so let’s go for a nub of light brown sugar. That looks like 1-1/2 tablespoons or thereabouts.
Lifting a cup of flour plus the planned pears should take about 1-1/4 teaspoons of baking soda. Also add a good shake of nutmeg and a really hefty shake of coriander. Mix all that up.
Add an egg, 1/4 cup of oil, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and the secret ingredient: 5 drops of anise extract. Then add the other secret ingredient, which was the result of discovering that my milk had gone bad: 1 cup of club soda. This is fairly old club soda, so I’m not entirely sure what my logic was, but it worked. Whether a dance remix of “Blown Away” works… well, let’s check one out.
This is the Miguel Lopez remix, which I found the most convincing of the ones I tried. Making the beat under the verses heavier is a common approach, and different remixers use different drum tracks.
Most of them stumble on the chorus, as there’s something about Underwood’s “blooooooowwwwwwn awaaaaaayyyyyy” that doesn’t quite sync with most standard beats. This remix goes the extra mile with major club-style synths under the chorus that do fall in line with Underwood’s vocals.
Also, the surrealism of watching her band play different instruments than one’s hearing is worth the price of admission. I don’t think I’m quite sold on remixing country this way, but I feel better for having learned that.
Anyway: pears. Peel them. Chunk them. They want to be gently and partially shredded in the food processor. What I got was about 50% pear purée and 50% unshredded pear bits that I roughly diced. You may instead want to put only half the peariness in the processor with a bit of liquid, if your pear is firm.
Fold the pears into the batter. There will be a lot of pear chunks in relation to batter, and this is a good thing. Be pre-peared for it.
The batter goes into a greased muffin tin. I love my olive-oil cooking-spray with a non-stick pan, as muffins get crisper around the bases than they do with muffin papers, but they pop right out. I like my muffins small, so the muffin receptacles are only about 3/4 full.
Into the oven they go for 15 minutes. They may want another couple of minutes more, but watch them. The idea is to have the tops be golden and crispy, while the innards are tender.
These turn out dense, faintly nutty from the wheat flour, and not too sweet. The anise flavoring is apparent, but mixed with the coriander and nutmeg, it doesn’t read as “licorice” so much as a generally earthy/spicy flavor. It is a mildly chthonic muffin (all my baked goods are chthonic lately). It is especially good with the bacon-flavored sausage that I also got at the 99 Cents Only.
If anything, the flavor profile reads like it might be a fusion of Mexican baking (which uses anise in all sorts of unlikely sweets) and traditional New England muffinry.
So this calls for a fusion cover. Pale dudes doing acoustic rock covers of R&B hits are such a staple of pop culture that Maura of the Village Voice got all cranky about why the fusion never seems to go the other way. Well. Meet Big Brandon Carter (Bandcamp), whose speciality is acoustic soul covers of non-soul songs, often with the lovely vocals of La’Rayne. The result is pretty and unsettling and eerie in its quiet rebelliousness. I rather like it.