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Blueberry Muffins…et tu?

Blueberry muffins with a sugar top

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

INGREDIENTS

 

  • 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).

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin and line the tin with papers.
  2. Beat together the oil and sugar until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time.  
  4. Add the vanilla.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt.
  6. Combine wet and dry ingredients; fold in the blueberries. DON’T OVERMIX.
  7. Scoop the batter into the tins; knock the muffin pan to eliminate air pockets.
  8. Sprinkle sparkling sugar on top.  Use a lot, it’s worth it.
  9. 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).
  10. Remove the muffins from the oven, and let them cool for five minutes in the tin.
  11. Yield: 12 muffins.

2017 The Year in Food December – Family

I love making frittatas since they feel like baking more than cooking even though they really are a traditional breakfast cooked-dish.   I love bacon, cheese and sautéed onions (and if I have them, scallions, shallots, red peppers or yesterday’s asparagus or broccoli).  When people are staying at my house, I always make a 10-egg frittata that can basically stay warm on the stove until people wake up.

January   |  February  | March  |  April  |  May  |  June

July  |  August  | September  |  October  |  NovemberDecember

2017 The Year in Food August – Scale

Gratefully, I have naturally started to get requests on a larger scale than previously. So instead of “Yeah, bring something” it’s more like “We’re having a party and…”   I have liked the challenge of trying to understand the audience and plan for meeting their needs for baked goods.   Sometimes there are requests (weddings, funerals, other celebrations); sometimes the event’s theme dictates the structure, i.e. religious holiday and sometimes I am sharing duties with another baker or chef and so coordinating flavors, tastes, etc. becomes something that needs to be done.    Hitting up the restaurant supply store has been great for my imagination, because they have all the things that young up and coming bakers need to plate, carry and deploy the product.   Above, two sets of identical setups for the holiday.

January   |  February  | March  |  April  |  May  |  June

July  |  August  | September  |  October  |  NovemberDecember

Hard Lemonade: The Best Tequila Drink for Non-Tequila Drinkers

Tequila, Beer and Lemon Drop Ingredients for this fantastic new cocktail

A tequila-beer cocktail for people who don’t like tequila or beer, made with only three ingredients.

#MARGARITAFAIL.

If you’ve ever had the pressure-filled situation of having twenty limes, a bottle of good tequila and a group of assembled guests waiting for delicious margaritas to come out of your kitchen (or bar) then the post is for you.

Because that’s happened to me. A lot.  And no matter what I do, I can’t get it right. The recipes I have tried, whether in books or web sites, fail to produce the same kind of yummy-give-me-more Margaritas that I have experienced at even the worst Mexican-themed bar or restaurant.

One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was that through knowing people who run restaurants, I gradually understood that in many cases, you COULD NOT produce results like you had in the restaurants.  This is because you weren’t using the same ingredients: they knew secrets about ingredients that make things retain their color (Chinese restaurants use sugar on their greens); had access to certain things you don’t (who’s got a vat of MSG, for instance?), and they use things you wouldn’t think of (I was surprised to find out steakhouses generously coat their steaks with butter to finish them…is that why they’re so good?).

But I had a great experience with a tequila drink at Hungry Mother in Cambridge.   The drink is no longer on the menu, but at the time it was called a #57. It was so spectacular that I couldn’t stop thinking about it days after I had it.   Even when I knew the ingredients, I couldn’t replicate it, so I wrote to them asking for the recipe. To their great credit, they sent it to me, but even after following their instructions, it wasn’t as good as it was there.   Atmosphere to blame, perhaps?

The original recipe was in ounces and called for 3/4 oz of Becherovka, which is a mysterious drink you are unlikely to have in your liquor cabinet; it comes from the Czech Republic is green and has a flavor that is hard to describe.  Ultimately, I couldn’t make my drink taste that good with it, so I dropped it out, and you know what?   I found that by removing the Becherovka, I got it the way I wanted it.  A great tasting,  Hard Lemonade flavored and simple (three ingredients) drink loved by people who don’t like either tequila or beer! (I can provide references if you doubt me).

Robert’s #57

Over ice, pour the following.

  • 2 oz Patron Silver Tequila
  • 5 oz Stirrings Lemon Drop
  • Top with Harpoon UFO White

Mix vigorously and serve.  Now, you might want to play with the ratios to get it the way you like it, and certainly if you are going to make a pitcher, math will be involved.  But I promise you, you will be asked to make it over and over again!