Summer in Massachusetts means berries (it means other things but this is a baking blog). Because strawberries aren’t great for casual baking (except for Strawberry Rhubarb pie, which is how all of this got started) it’s all about Blueberries. Blueberry Muffins are so common that I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t excited about them. Your standard blueberry muffin at a Starbucks, Panera, etc. is basically a mechanism for the delivery of sugar. Even if the muffin (read: cake) is good, the blueberries themselves whether fresh or frozen, have all the taste profile of a winter tomato. Which is to say they are nothing but blue in color, gel in texture and zip in flavor. Some bakers avoid this by using frozen blueberries (picked at peak season) or wild Maine blueberries but it rarely makes an appreciable difference. For this reason if I have to eat a muffin I usually go for the corn or coffee cake.
But it’s July and there are incredible blueberries around and blueberry pie isn’t my favorite and blueberry pancakes are great but labor-intensive and a caloric car-crash (especially when you add the bacon and maple syrup) so it’s blueberry muffins. It’s a regional obligation. But how to avoid the problems of blueberry muffins of the past? Especially perhaps the New England legend of Jordan Marsh? The answer was found in another recipe, by Sally’s Baking Addiction. Starting with King Arthur’s Department Store recipe, I found ways to shore up its shortcomings with Sally’s. Neither of them in my opinion, used enough sugar (it’s more than a cup, but I’ll leave that to you– probably 1 and 1/4 cups) and each suggested milk where I think buttermilk is better. Of course I always use a tablespoon of vanilla where they call for a teaspoon and you can probably always go north on the salt. Lastly, I felt that lemon zest is a great addition to anything that might be ‘cloyingly’ sweet and a little bit of nutmeg should nearly always accompany cinnamon.
Three last things:
- CRISPY TOPS ARE AWESOME. Sally’s Baking Addiction had the world-rocking suggestion to bake the muffins at a higher temperature for a short period of time— this has a ‘searing’ effect, like in cooking meat. That plus the course sugar result in a crispy top– not the soft top that years of sprinkling a sugar-cinnamon topping have resulted in.
- TOSS YOUR BERRIES. I also made note that in an interview with Jordan Marsh’s muffin man WCVB anchor Maria Stephanos reported that you must toss the blueberries in flour so they don’t sink to the bottom. Her piece here.
- DON’T OVERMIX. Don’t overmix ever but especially after you’ve combined wet and dry ingredients and then you go to fold in the blueberries. Don’t overmix!
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8-1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1-1 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 1/2-3 cups blueberries (washed, dried and tossed thoroughly in flour)
- Sparkling sugar for topping (sparkling sugar is coarse and different from other sugars you might use in cooking– it looks like kosher salt. I have a rock-vanilla sugar and several colors that I picked up on sale but most commonly King Arthur and other fine baking supply companies have white coarse sugar that is excellent).
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin and line the tin with papers.
- Beat together the oil and sugar until well combined.
- Add the eggs one at a time.
- Add the vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt.
- Combine wet and dry ingredients; fold in the blueberries. DON’T OVERMIX.
- Scoop the batter into the tins; knock the muffin pan to eliminate air pockets.
- Sprinkle sparkling sugar on top. Use a lot, it’s worth it.
- Bake the muffins for 5 minutes at 425; then for 25 minutes at at 375, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean (of batter, it almost certainly will be blue).
- Remove the muffins from the oven, and let them cool for five minutes in the tin.
- Yield: 12 muffins.