Mastering the Muffin: Tips & Recipes
Timing, that's the first trick for making muffins. Muffins are made for weekend mornings, when there's time to luxuriate over breakfast with cups of hot coffee, the morning papers and best of all, muffins hot from the oven and dripping with butter and smeared with jam.
First, let me share some of the ways to produce perfect muffins each and every time.
MUFFIN TIPS & TECHNIQUES
- QUICK BREAD Muffins fall into the category of breads we call "quick" breads. This doesn't mean that they're quick to make -- although they are! Quick breads are leavened not by yeast but by either baking powder or baking soda, sometimes both. (What's leavening? That's the agent that makes bread rise into something light and lovely. In contrast, an unleavened bread is flat and often crispy.)
- FRESHNESS MATTERS Baking powder, especially, loses its oomph over time. Anyone who bakes infrequently should mark the date on a package of baking powder, if it's more than six months old, it would be advisable to purchase a new container.
- MUFFIN SIZES Muffin tins come with three cup sizes, "regular" and "mini" and "jumbo." If you're dieting, mini muffins are a great way to create instant portion size control.
- GREASING THE PANS Muffin papers are convenient, especially if your muffins will be traveling. But they're an unnecessary expense. My favorite pan spray is Bakers Secret.
- FLOUR More and more, we see muffins made with whole-grain flours. If you have a favorite muffin recipe, to convert to whole-grain flour, start off by using half all-purpose flour and half whole-wheat flour. Many muffins can handle 100% whole wheat pastry flour too. Other bakers have luck with 100% white whole wheat flour, I did for awhile but then not and have learned to use it half and half. Be sure to store whole-grain flours in double bags in the freezer, otherwise they can go bad in short order.
- FLUFF TO AERATE The number one tip for better muffins? Fluff your flour, right in the flour bag or the canister, with a fork or even a spoon left in the canister. You'll feel the flour "lighten" as you do, then it's time to measure the flour by gently scooping it into a dry measuring cup (that's one without a pouring lip) without packing it in, then leveling the top with the flat side of a knife. Why fluff to aerate before measuring? Flour can't help but settle under its own weight, when you fluff it first, you'll use as much as 25% less flour, making all your baked goods lighter and more finely textured. Of course, you can also measure flour by weight, not volume, like the Europeans do. That way, no fluffing required!
- LIGHT TOUCH Have you even broken a muffin apart and noticed that it's full of big holes? That's a good thing in French baguettes but a bad idea in muffins! Holes are the result of over-mixing. To ensure your muffins don't develop holes, mix the wet ingredients (that's the oil or butter, the sugar, the eggs, any liquid flavorings like vanilla) really well. Separately, whisk together the dry ingredients, that means the flour, the salt, the spices and the baking powder or baking soda; you want these to be completely blended together before adding them into the wet ingredients. If you've had trouble with holes forming in muffins before, mix the dry ingredients in by hand using a wooden spoon. It's okay to have a little flour visible. This is what recipes mean when they read, "Mix until just combined." Pay attention, that's kitchen code that reminds us to use a light touch when mixing.
- NO MIXER REQUIRED In fact, muffins can be mixed without a mixer, so that makes them accessible for even a brand-new kitchen. If you have a hand mixer, great, but there is absolutely no reason to lust after a standing mixer like a KitchenAid just to make muffins. In fact, I often mix muffins by hand using just a whisk for the wet ingredients and a wooden spoon to stir in the dry ingredients.
- ADD A LITTLE FRUIT! I love to throw chopped fresh fruit or dried fruit into muffins. To make sure the fruit pieces don't sink to the bottom of the muffins, reserve a tablespoon or two of flour, toss the fruit in the flour to lightly coat before stirring them in.
- CALORIE-WATCHING A typical muffin recipe uses 1/2 cup of fat, that's the equivalent of a stick of butter, for a dozen regular-size muffins. If you're watching your weight, watch for recipes that use anything less than a half cup, it'll make a huge difference in the calorie count. Calories also come from all the add-ins -- think chocolate chips, nuts and even dried fruit but especially streusel toppings made from butter, flour, sugar and often times, chopped nuts.
Sarah Jio ~ Best Bran Muffins
"I had to post these muffins, because in 3 years, in 30 years, I want to remember this recipe. They're that good. If you like bran muffins, get ready to swoon!"
My Baking Adventures ~ Doughnut Muffins
"It it was the look of sheer, unmitigated joy on the kids’ faces when they saw the doughnuts that made my heart melt."
Treat a Week ~ Linzer Muffins
"These muffins take their inspiration from linzertorte, a traditional Austro-Hungarian specialty now popular throughout central Europe."
Three Many Cooks ~ Master Recipe for Sweet Tender Muffins
"I developed this recipe in the mid-nineties when I worked at Cook’s Illustrated. Tired of baking up inconsistent muffins, I wanted a formula that gave me consistently big, beautiful ones. After systematically testing my way down the ingredient list, the following recipe emerged."
Baking and Books ~ Traveler's Chocolate Muffins
"I call [these] Traveler’s Chocolate Muffins because I usually make them when I’m flying somewhere. Fluffy and sweet with chopped walnuts and an intense chocolate flavor, one of these goodies is just the sort of thing I’ll need mid-flight… assuming the muffin lasts that long."
NOT INTO BAKING?
That's okay. But just see what happens when your muffins (cupcakes?) get plastered onto billboards all over the UK. That's what's happened with Cook Sister!.
And you, what's your favorite muffin tip? Leave a tip or a recipe or a link to a recipe in the comments!
BlogHer food contributing editor Alanna Kellogg just this very minute decided she's not making muffins nearly enough! She needs more recipes like the one for Gingerbread Muffins.