Thursday, March 16, 2006

the quest for a better muffin


This is my first muffin post since the inception of Bribe Me with a Muffin.

It is difficult to explain why we like the muffin, just as it is difficult to explain why we like long, hot showers or, say, George Clooney. We just know we do, and, rather than deconstruct the reasons, I prefer not to spoil the magic and just live it.

Twenty-four years in Boston have led me to some pretty good muffin finds throughout the city.
Petsi Pies's blackberry peach crumb muffin is superb (Petsi Pies is on the Cambridge/Somerville border). Sorelle Bakery & Cafe in Charlestown also does a nice job (I prefer the quaint location on Monument Ave.), as does Appleton Bakery Cafe in the South End (banana chocolate chip). And of course, I must mention Haley House's unique line of all natural and wholesome muffins. My personal choice is the pumpkin bran, topped with organic pepitas. While I am at it, I will also note that one of my most memorable muffins of all time was this piece of work from a cafe in the Upper East Side in NY (the name of this place escapes me at the moment - it was the type of place that had a serious thing for stainless steel). Memorable, partially because the muffin was indeed tasty, but more so because it set me back $4. Oh, New York.

Anyhow, I digress. There are thousands - maybe millions - of muffin recipes out there, many of them bad. I've been through my share of dispiriting let-downs. There's always something wrong - too cakey, too dense, too dry...I have high standards for muffins, and I always have my eye out for something better.

Joanne Chang, a personal heroine of mine, runs Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston's South End. Joanne Chang is my heroine, because she is a Harvard applied math/ec major turned management consultant turned pastry chef/ restaurant owner. Flour is both hip and cozy and turns out excellent baked goods (not to mention a highly satisfying curried tuna sandwich). Food and Wine featured Flour as the Best New Bakery in Boston in 2001.

Fine Cooking recently printed Joanne Chang's muffin recipe. I adapted it for mixed berry muffins. This one's a keeper.

Mixed Berry Muffins
(makes 12)

3 1/2 c flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 c granulated sugar
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 c. whole milk
1 c. whole milk yogurt or sour cream, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 c. mixed berries, fresh or frozen (blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)

Put rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease top of standard 12-cup muffin tin and line with paper or foil baking cups.

In a large bowl, sift the first four ingredients and mix well. In a medium bowl, whisk sugar, butter, milk, yogurt/sour cream, eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon zest.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold gently with rubber spatula until dry ingredients are mostly moistened (a few lumps and streaks of flour are ok). Fold in berries.

Use an ice cream scoop or ladle to scoop the batter into the muffin cups. The batter should mound higher than the rims of the cups by about 3/4 inch.

Bake until the muffins are golden brown and spring back when you press the middle, about 20-30 minutes. Let the tin cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes.

The result is a worthy example of what is perhaps one of the most versatile and pleasing baked goods to ever come out of the American kitchen.


Law Student # 96981349825 said...

mad props on subject -- i love all discussion about muffins! a $4 muffin! i think it's worth it! i should introduce you to a $4 croissant -- it is heavenly!

Marilyn said...

Muffins are tricky things, indeed. Looks great! I like the muffin recipe from the Cook's Illustrated team (via the Best Recipe, America's Test Kitchen, etc) for an indulgence. I'd also like to find a quasi-healthy one that isn't as solid as a rock.

Kate said...

Mmmm. I recently did a berry muffin post too--with jam filling! you should try them =)

great picture!

sha said...

thanks for passing by at my page...hard to find these kind of berries here...


vanessa said...

lovely muffins.
and i agree on heroines who've made such a life change. my favorite pastry chef in town is a former AT&T corporate chick who fled for FCI hasn't looked back. And she keeps so many people happy. She makes cupcakes, though :)

Amy said...

I love Fine Cooking magazine. Your muffins look perfect.

But is it really so hard to explain why we like George Clooney?? hahaha

shaz said...

hi there genevieve
thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment. Hope to see you around more. cheers!

mg said...

There's one muffin i always buy (yes buy - i've never tried baking them yet but i might just try this recipe) and it's blueberry muffin from Marks & Spencers. They are gorgeous. Is it really easy to bake muffins?

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