Saturday, September 08, 2007

Blueberry Muffins ...

You can tell fall is on its way: I'm inspired to bake again.

It was a lovely, cool morning, so I went for a walk to Starbucks for some coffee and a low-fat blueberry muffin. And then, on the walk home, I strolled through the farmers' market and saw lovely boxes of blueberries. I couldn't pass them up. I bought a box, thinking I'd put them in oatmeal. But then, with the pleasant memory of my blueberry muffin fresh in my mind, I decided to make blueberry muffins and share them with my neighbors.

Once home, I pulled a couple cookbooks off my shelves. My first instinct was to check Baking with Julia. Surely I'd find a winning recipe in there. Julia baked with the most amazing chefs in that series. Sure enough, there was a recipe for blueberry muffins. But the recipe called for ingredients I didn't have on hand – cake flour, sour cream – and I'd have to haul out my stand mixer. Too much effort. And the picture of the muffin was forlorn. The recipe stated that the muffins, when baked, would be flat-topped. Well, who wants a flat-topped muffin? It didn't even look like a muffin. It looked like a failure of a muffin.

Harumph. No thank you.

I checked some other baking books and was surprised by the dearth of blueberry muffin recipes. And then I remembered Mostly Muffins, a little, unassuming square book, one of a three-book set I bought years ago, along with Completely Cookies and Simply Scones. Surely Mostly Muffins would have a blueberry muffin recipe. Blueberry muffins are the gold standard of muffins. Sure enough. Page 10. The third muffin recipe. (The sections are arranged alphabetically, otherwise I'm sure blueberry would be up front.)

I read through the ingredients list. Yup, I had everything on hand. But walnut pieces? Yeah, I have walnuts in my house. I always have walnuts in my freezer. But who puts walnuts in a blueberry muffin? I don't, and I put walnuts in just about everything. Plenty of recipes don't call for walnuts but I add 'em anyway. But a blueberry muffin should be unsullied by nuts of any stripe. The only thing I want to find inside my blueberry muffin is more blueberries.

So I got down to business. I was shy a few muffin liners, but I spritzed the unlined cups in my muffin tin with some Pam and forged ahead.

One useful tip out of Julia's book is to coat the blueberries with a bit of flour before stirring them into the batter, to help them stay suspended in the muffins. Left alone, they sink to the bottom. So once I measured the flour for the recipe into a bowl, I removed two tablespoons and added that to the bowl of blueberries and tossed them gently. (Note: I washed the blueberries gently in a strainer then turned them out onto a clean kitchen towel to dry them gently. [Yes, "gently" is the key when handling blueberries.] That also gave me the opportunity to check for smooshed berries and discard them.)

If you're not usually a muffin maker, a key to making muffins is not to overmix the batter. Don't beat it vigorously until it's perfectly smooth. Just mix the wet and dry ingredients until they're almost combined, then add the blueberries and gently (see?) fold those in. Then stop! Resist the urge to keep mixing.

Blueberry Muffins
(From Mostly Muffins, Published by St. Martin's Press, 1984)

2 C. all-purpose flour
1 C. plus 1 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 C. milk
1/2 C. lightly salted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 t. vanilla
2 C. fresh blueberries
1/2 C. walnut pieces (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 12 3 x 1 1/4-inch (3 1/2- to 4-ounce) muffin cups. [I used a standard muffin tin.]

In a large bowl, stir together flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, stir together milk, butter, egg, and vanilla until blended. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients; add milk mixture and stir just to combine. [I didn't do the next step, but I'm including it because I'm copying the recipe exactly as written. I didn't want blue muffins.] Mash 1/4 cup blueberries and stir into batter with a few quick strokes. Stir in remaining blueberries and walnuts (if desired). [NOTE: I measure the flour out into the mixing bowl, then remove two tablespoons of flour to another bowl, into which I've placed the washed blueberries. Then I toss the berries gently with the flour to coat. This step helps the berries stay suspended in the muffins, instead of sinking to the bottom.]

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of one muffin comes out clean.

Remove muffin tin or tins to wire rack. Cool 5 minutes before removing muffins from cups; finish cooling on rack. Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

These muffins freeze well.

Makes 12 muffins

Update: I figured out why I was short a few muffin liners. I went to the store last night and bought another package of 32 liners. Who's the genius who thought to put 32 muffin liners in a package when most people bake muffins in multiples of 12? Oh, and I should also mention that while these muffins are delightful while still warm, they're right tasty later, once the flavors have a chance to further meld. As I said to my mom last night, "Damn, that's a good muffin!" If you have any baking tendency whatsoever, try these babies. They're easy and delicious and they go together in no time, so you can whip these up for breakfast whenever the mood strikes. And you'll knock the socks off guests if you offer warm blueberry muffins in the morning!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you can clear up a problem I've always had with muffins. When storing muffins (or quick breads for that matter) can you recommend a method for keeping that crispy-top they have fresh from the oven? Your recipe says to cool completely and store in an airtight container. I've tried the airtight container and the paper bag methods, but the tops still get "sticky", even if I leave them out to cool first for hours. Any ideas?

3:53 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Yup, it's a conundrum. Some say to store baked goods in an airtight container, others say not to, lest you get the sticky-top phenomenon. A plain paper bag might be a good compromise, letting some air circulate but not so much that the muffins dry out completely. Then again, as many point out, who has muffins around long enough to dry out?!

I took some to my neighbor on a plate loosely covered with waxed paper. But I think anything that restricts the air will cause the tops to get sticky.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Hi Beth, I found your blog when trying to learn if one can freeze blueberry muffins. I don't think you said if they can or not, but I'm going to do it anyway, as my hubby can't eat 12 fast enough, and I don't really like muffins...LOVE scones and cookies, so I'm going to look for the books you mentioned. Anyway, my blueberry recipe was from the Food Network, and are different than the mixes in that they have more texture and are not as cake like. I don't know if that's a plus or not, but hubby prefers the cake texture, so this recipe won't be used again. It did call for buttermilk, but I would think that would make it more moist, not less...have any ideas about that? And I want to support your advice to GENTLY wash and dry the blueberries, and only mix til they are moistened...very that I think about it, I may have mixed that batter too much...maybe I'll try it again another time, just to find out, but for now, I'm going to use your recipe...looks delicious!

I'm on a blogging break, and not checking my blog much at all, so if you leave a comment, I may not reply for a long time...had to stop blogging and do some serious decluttering and organizing around my home before total chaos set in. Looking foreward to more recipes from your delightful blog...take care and God bless!


10:02 AM  

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