How to Bake: Muffins (with recipes)
Muffins are a mainstay around our house. They are as nourishing as they are good to eat. They are quicker and easier to make than cookies and usually contain much less sugar and fat. We usually eat them for breakfast but like them with any meal. (For Easter, we served cranberry nut muffins with a ham dinner.) They work well for snacks and desserts as well. Extras can be frozen and heated in the microwave for hot muffins anytime.
Today we will make muffins using the “muffin method”. (Just as there are two major makeup methods for quick breads, there are two methods for muffins—the muffin method and the creaming method.) In the muffin method, the liquids and the dry ingredients are mixed separately and then stirred together until just combined. We will include tips and instructions to make the perfect muffin and some streusel and topping recipes to crown your creations with.
To make muffins using the muffin method, choose a favorite muffin recipe that does not call for the creaming of sugar into the fat. (Look for a recipe that calls for oil or melted butter.)
In preparation, grease the muffin tins. We like the spray oils from an aerosol can to reach the corners of the tins. Be sure to cover the top edges where the muffins will flow when baking. (You can use paper liners but since the batter adheres slightly to the paper, you will have slightly less volume to the muffins.)
Set the oven to preheat. Temperature is one of the secrets to those nicely domed muffins that you find in the better bake shops. Commercial ovens use precise heat settings and timers. In the kitchen, we can approximate those results by:
• Making sure that the oven is completely heated before baking. We like to let the oven sit at full temperature for at least ten minutes before baking so that the heat is well-absorbed into the structure of the oven.
• Closing the door as quickly as possible to keep the heat trapped.
• Setting the temperature at a higher initial setting and lowering the temperature later. The higher heat creates a burst of steam that lifts the batter.
• Placing the muffins in the upper third of the oven where it tends to be hotter and more constant.
Always measure flour precisely using a scale if you have one. Muffin recipes are sensitive to the ratio of flour to liquid. Too much flour and the muffin will not rise properly and will be dry. Too little flour and the muffin will flow over the edges of the muffin cup rather than dome nicely. If you need to fine tune your favorite recipe, change the flour by a tablespoon or two.
To make cake-like muffins, use a lower protein flour—cake or pastry flour. Higher protein all purpose or bread flours will make a muffin that is chewier and more bread-like.
Back to the mixing:
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl to make sure that the baking powder and other ingredients are well combined. Set aside.
Whisk the egg in a separate bowl with a French whip or fork. Add the other liquids and whisk again. (Some recipes will instruct you to stir the sugar and salt into the liquids, rather than add them to the dry ingredients, to make sure that they dissolve completely and are evenly dispersed. We prefer to do this with all muffin recipes that are not creamed.)
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the liquid all at once. Stir with a spatula until mixed well and moistened—some lumps will remain. Do not over stir—stirring too much will develop the gluten in the flour and the muffin will not be tender and crumbly. To avoid over stirring, we prefer a spatula to an electric mixer.
If you are using fruit in your muffins, fold them in gently at the end of your mixing with a minimum number of folds. Fruit crushes easily in the thick batter and the juice will stain the batter.
Fill the muffin tins with a large spoon or ice cream scoop. Make sure that the muffin tins are evenly filled so that they bake evenly. Most recipes direct that the muffin tins be filled 2/3's full to allow room for expansion. If your batter is at the right consistency, you can fill the tins for a nice dome on the muffins.
Bake the muffins until they are a light golden brown. The muffin top should spring back when gently pressed with the finger and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Over-baked muffins will be dry and tough. Under baked muffins may be moist and heavy.
It is easy to tear apart hot muffins trying to lift them from the tins. Instead, let the muffins sit for a few minutes and you should be able to easily lift them out intact. Place them on wire racks to continue cooling.
Muffins are best served hot and do not keep well beyond the first day. Freeze any extras.
Now for those streusel recipes that we promised:
Brown Sugar and Nut Streusel Topping
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cold butter
1. Chop the walnuts into small pieces.
2. Stir the walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon together.
3. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry knife or two table knives.
4. Spoon the streusel mixture over the muffin batter evenly before baking.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon good quality cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a bowl. When you remove the muffins from the tins, dip the still hot muffins in the butter and then roll the tops in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
Dennis Weaver is the general manager at The Prepared Pantry (http://www.preparedpantry.com) with recipes, ideas, and the best selection of mixes and ingredients. Visit the free Bakers' Library for more articles like this, free baking guides, and tested recipes.