Prepare for planting, but bake now

Signs of spring are beginning to appear. A few days ago, I received my first gardening catalog from Starks Bro's, a nursery specializing in fruit trees. The company is in Louisiana, Mo., on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Stark Bro's has a rich history; it actually started in 1816 and has been producing the highest quality fruit trees, berries and garden plants for nearly 200 years. As the nursery became known for its quality and excellence, famed horticulturist Luther Burbank chose Stark Bro's to carry on his work and willed more than 750 varieties to the company.

Thinking about the double-dwarf peach tree I purchased from them and planted in rich Missouri soil still brings a flood of happy memories. Carefully planted, watered and tenderly cared for, my tree grew about five feet high. The second year, it was covered with lovely blossoms and my excitement grew. But the payoff came in late July when I harvested a half bushel of tree-ripened peaches.

The images of ripe juicy peaches and round plump apples in the catalog caused my winter doldrums to vanish and unleashed a desire to bake something sweet, fragrant and delicious.

My solution: Apple Streusel Cupcakes. I think you might enjoy them, too.

Apple Streusel Cupcakes

3 cups flour

4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4teaspoon nutmeg

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2cup oil

3 cups chopped apples (Granny Smith preferred)

Streusel topping:

1/2cup sugar

1/2brown sugar

1/2cup flour

4 tablespoons butter

1/3cup chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Caramel drizzle:

20 caramels, unwrapped

3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl or 2-cup measure, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the milk and oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients; stirring just until blended. Then fold in the raw apples, stirring to combine ingredients.

Scoop into paper-lined muffin tins, filling 3/4 full.

To make the streusel topping: Mix together all the streusel ingredients. Sprinkle streusel over the top of the cupcakes, dividing equally. Bake at 400 degrees 20 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

To make drizzle: Microwave caramels and milk in microwaveable bowl on high 1 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. Set aside and cool for 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Drizzle over cupcakes. Makes about 16.

The Wichita Eagle—03/02/11