The first thing you need to know is that it is pouring rain and terribly cold. Sydney is her least-lovely self about now. My wonderful housemate Camille landed just a few hours ago from London, and my brilliant friend G braved the weather on his bike for a long overdue cup of tea and hello, so it was really quite the occasion. I've also had a fairly obsessive interest with pumpkin of late, usually roasted, and was looking for a way to expand on the seasonal goodness in sweet form. I had some pecans I knew would go well, and of course nutmeg and ginger and brown sugar. So after much searching online and in battered cookbooks, I came up with the below plan of attack.

I have to say, the cream cheese was a revelation. I was worried it would dry-out in the baking, but it was nothing but sweet and moist and just the right amount of rich when you bit in. And the streusel was a lovely touch, made the pecan subtle and cosy and just overall amazing. A little bit of work, but well worth it in my book...


INGREDIENTS * 120g of cream cheese * ½ cup of icing sugar * 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence * ½ cup of wholemeal flour * ¼ cup of brown sugar * ¼ cup of pecans * 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter * 1½ cups of wholemeal flour * ½ teaspoon of nutmeg (or a whole, if you are anything like me) * ½ teaspoon of Dutch cinnamon * ½ teaspoon of ground cloves * 1teaspoon of ground ginger (I love ginger) * ½ teaspoon of baking soda * pinch of salt * 2 eggs * 1 cup of white sugar * 1 cup of pureed pumpkin * ¼ cup of vegetable oil * ½ teaspoon of vanilla essence

METHOD I steamed the pumpkin the night before, pureeing it till smooth in the blender. I also mixed the cream cheese, the icing sugar and some vanilla to make a thick paste. I put plastic wrap down on the counter and rolled the cream cheese mix into a 7 inch long piece to store in the freezer overnight.

This morning I pre-heated the oven to 180 or so, and greased and lined a muffin tray. I made the streusel first in a small bowl by combining the flour, brown sugar, pecans, butter and cinnamon till they made a nice crumbly mess. I tend to use a box-grater to grate the cold butter straight in - this helps with any kind of biscuit base or crumble as it mixes so easily.

I then whisked together the rest of the flour, spices, baking soda and salt in a larger bowl and set it aside. In my Kitchen Aid, I mixed the white sugar, pumpkin, eggs and oil (go easy with the oil and only add what you think it needs), and a little vanilla. I then combined it with the dry ingredients and slowly stirred by hand, folding it through till the batter was thick and a beautiful speckled-orange.

I filled each muffin paper about half way, then added a teaspoon of the frozen cream cheese mixture (which stays quite soft and easy to work) and filled with another tablespoon or so of batter, covering the cheese. I added the streusel crumble last, patted it down a little to set, then threw them in the oven and hoped for the best. They took about half an hour and came out all golden and warm, with about the best just-baked smell I’ve ever known. Seriously. The house smells like Christmas in story books and they taste like warm-wintry heaven - spicy and sweet and a lovely dense filling. I ate three and could have gone further (but was trying to be 'polite' and 'a good host').

I got 12 out of this batch, but think I'd double the amounts next time and aim for about 18 much bigger muffins. They only just reached the top of the papers and I think they'd be best with a bit more volume, spilling out all that sugary streusel.