It was a grey afternoon around here, barely reaching into double degrees outside. Friends were coming over the next day, and the house needed a bit of oven action to take the edge off the chill. Perfect circumstances, I thought, for a go at a recipe for gingerbread muffins that I’d spied earlier in the week. I’m weak for ginger at the best of times: I love it in pfeffernüsse, spekulaas, lebkuchen, and gingernut biscuits (the last of these alternating with milk arrowroots as my pregnancy sustenance of choice – a great tip from a work colleague).

This, like most muffin recipes, was a nice straightforward stir-wet-into-dry kind of recipe. But the real bonus here is that this must be one of the fastest ways to get that fabulous spicy ginger aroma wafting around and warming up the house. Nigella puts these in the Christmas section of her book – and rightly so for the festiveness often associated with gingerbread – but how good’s a bit of out-of-season baking cheer among friends when the weather’s just perfect for it?

Gingerbread and date muffins
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

250g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 egg
100g muscovado sugar
150mL milk
1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar
6 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp each of golden syrup and molasses
3/4 cup roughly chopped dates (Nigella didn’t include these, but they’re good)

Preheat the oven to 200C, and line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases. If using, cover the dates with hot water to soften a little.

Combine the flour, bicarb soda, baking powder and spices in a large bowl and set aside.

In a large jug, whisk the egg with the sugar, breaking up any lumps. Add the milk and vinegar, then the oil and golden syrup and molasses. Whisk to combine, then add to the flour mixture.

Stir to just combine, and stir through the drained dates too at this point if you’re using them. Don’t worry if the mixture is still a bit lumpy. The batter will still be quite runny.

Pour or spoon the mixture into the cases, and bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are dry.

These muffins can keep in an airtight container for a few days, and perk up pretty well with a quick zap in the microwave too.

Yield: 12 muffins