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For discerning palates

Times Staff Writer

Muffins are like a baker’s delicious shorthand. Mixed in minutes, baked in about the time it takes to make a pot of coffee, the rows of little cakes can come out of the oven and straight to the breakfast table. If only they were as good for you as they are good to eat, they’d be pretty nearly the perfect food.

Leave it to a mother who’s a former pastry chef to figure that one out. Kim Boyce used to run the pastry kitchen at Campanile; now she’s a stay-at-home mom running her own Silver Lake kitchen while she raises her two young daughters. And lately she’s become a little obsessed with baking muffins. Not just any muffins, but cakes healthful enough to give to her little girls every day, yet so sophisticated they suit her professional palate too.

“I have a really hard time differentiating between the mom in my head and the pastry chef in my head,” Boyce says.

And kids are the perfect taste testers. They love anything shaped like a cupcake, yet they’ll tell you in a second if something doesn’t taste right. Anyone who has ever tried urging kids to eat something because it’s good for them knows where that leads.

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With open canisters of whole-grain flours, jars of spices and a Wolf stove laden with gleaming pots, you can tell Boyce spends a lot of time in the kitchen (so does her husband, Spago chef de cuisine Thomas Boyce). And so do their kids, 3-year-old Lola and 1-year-old Sofia. They tumble in, trailing a tiny stroller filled with toys, hungry after a morning walk with their sitter.

Boyce hands them each a freshly baked muffin, golden cakes made with whole grains and laced with roasted yams and rich Medjool dates. The grains give them a nutty taste; the yams and dates provide sweetness and a fantastic texture. The kids gobble them up and take off again.

Whole grains give Boyce’s muffins a depth that balances out the other elements. She’ll add dates and velvety roasted yams to a whole-wheat batter, or mix sauteed apples, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg into a batter built with cooked oatmeal, oat and graham flour. The flavors intersect and balance, striking just the right notes.

Perfect balance

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Boyce says whole-grain flours add structure to a muffin and provide the perfect background for the flavors of fruits and nuts, even herbs and vegetables and cheeses. But you don’t want to go overboard. Too high a proportion of heavier flours and your muffins won’t get the loft and crumb you want. So pair the heavier flours with lighter all-purpose flour for the best balance.

To a savory muffin made from kamut flour and wheat germ, Boyce adds sauteed red chard and Cotswold cheese, an aged cheddar flecked with chives.

The muffins are deeply, intoxicatingly aromatic, and the flavors are fantastic, rich but well-balanced. It’s hard to stop eating them; then you think about what they’re made from, and you realize that you don’t have to. At least not right away.

As the girls gather again in the kitchen with neighborhood friends, Boyce loads a plate with more muffins. Warm from the oven, golden-domed and flecked with grains and pockets of fruit, they fit perfectly into the kids’ hands. Amid chatter and giggles and slurps of milk, the contents of the plate vanish quickly.

Scrambling from the table in pursuit of a new game, the kids are sated and smiling. And, as they nibble on muffins of their own, the children’s mothers are smiling too.

amy.scattergood@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Kamut and cheese muffins

Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Servings: 10 muffins

Note: From Kim Boyce. Cotswold cheese, which is studded with bits of chives and onion, is available at Gelson’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and the Cheese Store of Silverlake. You can substitute 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 2 teaspoon minced chives. Kamut flour is available at Whole Foods and health-food stores.

Vegetable oil spray for coating the tins

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 bunch red chard, washed, drained and middle vein removed

1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoon salt,

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divided

1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper,

divided

1 cup flour

1 cup kamut flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons wheat germ

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup light sour cream

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 Egg

1 1/2 cups grated Cotswold cheese (about 1/3 pound)

3/4 cup Parmesan, finely grated

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a muffin pan with vegetable oil.

2. In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the chard, seasoning it with one-eighth teaspoon each salt and pepper, for 3 to 5 minutes until wilted and softened. Remove from heat and cool the chard on paper towels. Blot if any liquid remains. Roughly chop the chard and set aside.

3. Into a medium mixing bowl, sift the flour, kamut flour, sugar, baking powder, the remaining salt, the remaining black pepper and the cayenne pepper into medium mixing bowl, then stir in the wheat germ.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, sour cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, melted butter and egg; stir in the cheeses and chopped chard. Gently fold in the dry ingredients until combined.

5. Using an ice cream scoop (about one-half cup capacity), scoop the mixture into prepared muffin tins, about one scoop per muffin. Bake for about 45 minutes. You can use a small offset spatula or knife to carefully lift a muffin from the tin and check to see that the bottom is dark golden brown. As soon as muffins come out of the oven run a knife around the edges for easy removal.

Each muffin: 289 calories; 12 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 16 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 55 mg. cholesterol; 564 mg. sodium.

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Whole-wheat sweet potato muffins

Total time: 1 1/2 hours

Servings: 10 muffins

Note: From Kim Boyce. Use the dark-skinned sweet potatoes commonly referred to as yams.

1/2 pound (about 2 small) sweet potatoes

Vegetable oil spray for coating the tins

1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter

3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 cup flour

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

12 Medjool dates, pitted and cut into 1/4 - to 1/2 -inch pieces

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and place on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Roast for 1 hour or until they are tender when pierced with a fork and are caramelizing. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then lightly mash with a fork. Set aside.

2. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Lightly spray the muffin tin with vegetable oil.

3. Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

4. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, whole-wheat flour, whole-grain pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, yogurt, egg and vanilla together.

5. Scrape down the sides of the butter bowl and alternately add the dry and wet ingredients; do not overmix. Gently fold in the sweet potatoes, then the dates.

6. Using an ice cream scoop (about one-half cup capacity), scoop the batter into each of 10 prepared muffin cups, about 1 scoop per muffin. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The muffins will be dark golden brown on the bottom.

Each muffin: 267 calories; 6 grams protein; 52 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 6 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 35 mg. cholesterol; 273 mg. sodium.

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Apple oatmeal muffins

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Servings: 1 dozen muffins

Note: From Kim Boyce. Graham flour is available at Whole Foods markets and health-food stores. Use any apple sauce containing only apples and water.

Vegetable oil spray for coating muffin tins

1 1/2 cups milk, divided

1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch of salt, divided

1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick oats)

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons white sugar, divided

2 medium apples, (a tart, crisp variety such as Braeburn or Granny Smith), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

1 cup flour

1/2 cup oat flour

1/2 cup graham flour

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup applesauce

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a muffin pan with vegetable oil.

2. In a small saucepan, bring one-half cup water, one-half cup of the milk and a pinch of salt to a boil. Add the oats, cover and simmer at medium-low heat until cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Most of the liquid will evaporate.

3. Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of the white sugar over medium-high heat until bubbling. Add the apples and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, toss, then allow to caramelize without stirring. Toss again, each time allowing the apples to color. Once finished cooking, the apples should have lost their edges and be caramelized, about 5 minutes.

4. Into a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, oat flour, graham flour, the remaining 2 tablespoons white sugar, the brown sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, the remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and one-half teaspoon salt. Add any remaining grain from the sifter and stir to combine.

5. Whisk the remaining 1 cup milk, the applesauce, the melted butter, the egg and the vanilla with the oatmeal in a separate bowl. Pour in the dry-ingredients mixture. Add the apples and fold until the mixture just comes together.

6. Using an ice cream scoop (about one-half cup capacity), scoop the mixture into each of 12 muffin cups, about 1 scoop per muffin. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The bottom of the muffins will be dark golden brown.

Each muffin: 195 calories; 4 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 7 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 32 mg. cholesterol; 252 mg. sodium.


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