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.

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2017 The Year in Food November- New Takes

If I feel certain about anything, it’s that my apple cake recipe is a winner. However, as people who know me know, just because something is good doesn’t mean it’s good enough.  For this reason, I must continue to try and innovate as much as I can.  In this case, it was a recipe that caught my eye called “Apple Cider Donut Cake” that I thought I absolutely had to try.  Unlike my other apple cake, it doesn’t use whole fruit, favoring apples cooked in apple cider (I use the boiled cider extract) and then pureed and added to the dry ingredients.  For the final step, a shower of cinnamon sugar.   I really loved the overall feeling of the cake, even if I found it wasn’t at all donut-like and lacked OOMPH.  It was still a hit at parties.

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2017 The Year in Food October- Seasonal Treats

October is time for Halloween and that means making things for special occasions.  For the most part I don’t want to do that since mostly the holiday is about candy, and I don’t want to compete with candy.  That said you can only eat so much candy before you want something substantial and non-chocolate or non-candy bar for dessert.  And so, the creation of orange-filled (but not flavored) Oreo-style sandwich cookies and meringues in the model of the candy corn.   These didn’t work out ideally as candy corns, partially because getting the shape right was a challenge that I couldn’t solve the first time around, instead creating a lot of BB8 looking things.  Overall they were both a hit.

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2017 The Year in Food September – Savory

I continue to experiment with savory items, not content to just serve up the final act in a meal’s performance.   Above potato knishes, made in response to having a surplus of mashed potatoes made with onions and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat).  Growing up in NY knishes were available everywhere–whether from the venerable old deli or an umbrella-carted kiosk.   They were available in round and square versions, with the round having a very delicate and thin baked skin where the square ones had a thicker, fried outside, more akin to a dimpled egg roll in look, if not taste.

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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.

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2017 Year in Food July – Copycat Recipes

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I love to do the ‘copycat’ recipes.  In fact, the reason I started really baking in the first place was to make things for my kids that would be less harmful (if only slightly) than the supermarket brands of the same thing.  I never wanted to say ‘don’t eat twinkles!’  I just wanted to say “the corporations make bad decisions regarding what goes into twinkles, and so I will show you we can make them without artificial flavors or colors or unnecessary preservatives.”  Of course, mine will go bad within three days and theirs will still be edible after the zombie apocalypse has subsided (see Zombieland for details). Above, I was not content to use anything bottled, so I made the marshmallow creme filling, the ganache and icing for the squiggle on top for these Hostess-lookalikes. This is the ‘piping the marshmallow creme’ stage, which was a lot of fun, but somewhat challenging to fill the cupcakes without breaking them open.

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2017 The Year in Food June – Bread

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I really love making bread.  I don’t love it more than anything else, but it is a true exercise in faith.  You make it, and then go to bed.  When you get up in the morning, you expect the sun to rise and the bread to rise.   Having both makes the world seem like it might be OK.  It’s true that all the real estate advice talks about making chocolate chip cookies before an open house, because it creates a welcoming aroma second to none.  However, I have found that the wafting scent of baking bread causes a kind of drunken happiness that seems like a mix between coming home and the anticipation of a welcome sensory experience of a crunchy, soft, chewy repository for butter or jam that recalls a childhood zenith of satisfaction–even if it wasn’t necessarily your childhood.

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2017 Year in Food May – Food Color

IMG_2681Of course once you have a level of comfort with something, as I started to have with meringue cookies, then I wanted to do something more exciting with them (except for some of the flavors they are a rather boring off-white color).  For my friend Jill’s wedding, I wanted to create something that honored her but I realized quickly that color creation was a whole skill unto itself, that I wasn’t going to master in a few hours.  I did manage a pretty good green and purple, which were the colors of the logo of the first company we worked at together.  I created a rudimentary double-pastry bag from two small and one large zip-loc bag, and experimented with the shape, height and colors.   I think I got about 25 usable ones at the end.

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