9.29.14

Muffin Love: Blueberry Muffins Shirl

I grew up in Oklahoma, but I did not grow up with muffins. My mother always made cornbread. One grandma made biscuits and the other grandma made “light bread” every Friday before the Sabbath. Muffins, for me, lived in some faraway muffin fantasy world. I think I saw them one time in one of mother’s magazines: those big, beautiful, and voluptuous creations of baked goodness invented by some long-ago baker who envisioned those high domes like you might see in the cartoon sketch of a muffin.

 

It was when I became an assistant pastry chef (and later the pastry chef) at a country hotel in the Berkshires, responsible for breakfast pastries every morning for the guests, that I became obsessed with trying to develop great muffin recipes. One by one, my bookshelf filled up with little muffin books, as I tried more and more recipes and experimented more and more with the techniques of making muffins. I like everything about muffins, from the science of how to make them, to how cute and cuddly they look, to the romantic notions they elicit. I am constantly trying to bring to life in the bakeshop that romantic fantasy image of muffins, that image from the cover of Muffins. This is my quest. I admit it, I am obsessed. I love muffins!

 

One day, years later, while living in New York, I was walking through a bookstore and a small book with a beautiful, and in my mind romantic, illustration of muffins on the cover, reached out and grabbed my attention. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. They were my muffins from muffin fantasy world. I could not resist. That book became the first in my collection of muffin books: Muffins by Elizabeth Alston (1984). Ouch! That is thirty years ago. I now have no less than fifty books about muffins.

 

 

Muffins by Elizabeth Alston
Elizabeth Alston, in her iconic little book called Muffins, talks about coming to this country from England with the British idea of what muffins are supposed to be. She says “I knew what they were supposed to be like: round, flat, yeasty, and craggy on the inside.” Of course, she was talking about what we call English Muffins. She continues with: “Imagine my surprise, then, as a young adult 3,000 miles from the land of muffins, on a sunny Long Island porch, when I was served a basketful of what appeared to be warm, delectable, golden cupcakes but were introduced to me as muffins”. This book and its cover epitomize the romance of muffins. Except, in my romantic imagination, I am sitting on a sunny New England porch. The basket is definitely full of warm Blueberry Muffins.

 

Basket of "Blueberry Muffins Shirl": For the Porch

Basket of “Blueberry Muffins Shirl”: For the Porch

 

It was when I became an assistant pastry chef (and later the pastry chef) at a country hotel in the Berkshires (Western MA), responsible for breakfast pastries every morning for the guests, that I became obsessed with trying to develop great muffin recipes. One by one, my bookshelf filled up with little muffin books, as I tried more and more recipes and experimented more and more with the techniques of making muffins. I like everything about muffins, from the science of how to make them, to how cute and cuddly they look, to the romantic notions they elicit. I am constantly trying to bring to life in the bakeshop that romantic fantasy image of muffins, that image from the cover of Muffins. This is my quest. I admit it, I am obsessed. I love muffins!

 

 

Here’s how to bake that basket full of warm Blueberry Muffins: my attempt at bringing to life my fantasy vision. Also, there’s a little science story about the importance of the kind of leavening (baking powder not baking soda) you should use in Blueberry Muffins.

Note: all of the muffins shown in this post are large muffins except the muffins in the basket, which are standard-size. For the large size muffins, I use 6-inch diameter paper liners in a standard-size muffin pan. Notice that the 6-inch paper liners extend above the top of the muffin pan and create taller muffins. This is different from standard-size muffin papers which are 4 1/2-inch diameter, and come just to the top of the muffin pan, creating shorter muffins. It’s your choice; I like the taller muffins. Also, sometimes muffin papers are called cupcake liners.

 

 

 

A Soupçon of Science: Keeping Blueberries Purple

I know you’ve seen blueberry muffins in a bakery or supermarket where the blueberries are an unappetizing greenish black. When this happens, there is a good chance that the ingredient list contains baking soda. This always bothers me because it mars my vision of the perfect blueberry muffin: a golden brown muffin fresh out of the oven, mounded in a paper liner, studded with purplish plump blueberries and  topped off with a smattering of crunchy white sparkling sugar. Then, when you cut one open, you see random blobs of oozing liquid violet suspended in a creamy pale yellow crumb. In order to achieve this vision, the recipe cannot contain baking soda, because it makes the batter too alkaline.

To solve situations like greenish-black blueberries in muffins, I always check with Harold (Harold McGee). He explains this phenomenon in his book On Food and Cooking–The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (2004) (page 554): He says “Sometimes the solid ingredients folded into bread and muffin batters turn disconcerting colors: blueberries, carrots, and sunflower seeds may go green, and walnuts blue. This happens when the mix contains too much baking soda……. Because the anthocyaninm and related pigments in fruits, vegetables, and nuts are sensitive to pH, and their normal surroundings are acidic, alkaline batters cause their colors to change.” So, my policy is to always leaven baked goods containing blueberries with baking powder, (which already contains a small amount of soda but not enough to turn the blueberries green).

In addition to using baking powder in a muffin recipe, the inclusion of acidic dairy products like buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream also helps to make the batter more acidic. Sometimes, a touch of lemon juice is called for. To conclude, acidic batters not only keep the blueberries purple in baked muffins, but also make them taste great.

Shirl Gard 9/29/14

 

 

 

All that's left: the Blueberry Muffin paper. Notice the purple juices.

All that’s left: the Blueberry Muffin paper. Notice the purple juices.

 

 

Blueberry Muffins Shirl
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AUTHOR:
This muffin recipe has been tested, re-tested, and baked literally hundreds of times in the bakeshops where I was pastry chef. It's a keeper! SG

YIELD: 12 LARGE MUFFINS - 130g (4.5 OZ) EACH
INGREDIENTS

  • DRY INGREDIENTS:
  • 480 grams bleached all-purpose flour (3⅓ cups + 1½ T)
  • 200 grams granulated sugar (1 cup)
  • 20 grams baking powder (4 tsp)
  • 5 grams fine sea salt (1 tsp)

  • LIQUID INGREDIENTS:
  • 140 grams unsalted butter, melted (2/3 cup + 2 tsp)
  • 100 grams whole eggs (2 large )
  • 40 grams egg yolks (2 large)
  • 120 grams low-fat or whole milk plain yogurt (1/2 cup)
  • 120 grams sour cream (1/2 cup)
  • 100 grams buttermilk (1/3 cup + 1 T)
  • 10 grams vanilla extract (2 tsp)

  • BERRIES:
  • 275 grams blueberries (Fresh or IQF) (2 cups)
  • - If using IQF's, scale blueberries ahead and keep frozen / Use frozen

  • 1610 grams = Total 56 oz (3# 8 oz)

  • TOPPING:
  • 90 grams extra fresh blueberries (2/3 cup)
  • - To "Stud" the tops after the muffins are scooped
  • - Use fresh blueberries for the tops, because frozen ones bleed too much
  • Sanding sugar or sparkling sugar
  • - To sprinkle on the tops after adding extra blueberries

INSTRUCTIONS
  1. PRE-HEAT OVEN TO 450°F.
  2. MIXING METHOD: "MUFFIN" METHOD = WET + DRY
  3. PREP MUFFIN PANS: Place muffin pan on half sheet pan. Line muffin pans withlarge 6" diameter paper liners. Just before scooping the batter, spray with a non-stick spray with flour.
  4. TO MIX: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the DRY INGREDIENTS.
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the LIQUID INGREDIENTS.
  6. Pour liquid ingredients into the center of the flour mixture. Fold together with rubber spatula until flour is half absorbed. Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the top of the batter, then continue folding just until they are well incorporated and all the flour is moistened. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and fold in any loose flour.
  7. SCOOP MUFFIN BATTER: Use a #8 Gray Scoop - level. (1/2 cup).
  8. TOPPING: "STUD" the tops in a random fashion with the extra blueberries, then sprinkle generously with sanding sugar or sparkling sugar.
  9. TO BAKE: Pre-heat oven to 450°F
  10. Turn oven down to 425°F when the muffins go in and bake for 15 minutes.
  11. Rotate pan and turn oven down to 400°F to finish baking, another 15 - 17 M. Total baking time: 30 - 32 minutes. Bake until golden brown and a wooden skewer tests clean.
  12. To double-check doneness, use an instant thermometer to check the internal temperature, or use a digital thermometer with a probe, inserted into one of the muffins after about 20 minutes of baking when the crust if fully formed. Set the thermometer to beep @ 209°F.
  13. INTERNAL TEMPERATURE = 209° - 210° F.
  14. COOL: Let the muffins cool in the pans 5 -10 minutes only, then transfer to a cooling rack, or place them on top of the muffin pan to finish cooling. Make sure they sit flat and level to cool. Allowing them cool completely in the pan will cause them to sweat and stale faster.
Recipe Ancestry Notes:
This recipe was originally inspired by and adapted from a recipe in Cook's Illustrated Jan/Feb 1997. It was the first time I had ever seen yogurt used in a muffin recipe, but since then I have used it many times. However, I did change the original recipe to a blend of acidic dairy ingredients because I like the flavor complexity. Also, the leavening was converted to all baking powder from a combination of baking powder and baking soda, because soda creates an alkaline batter that tends to turn the blueberries a greenish-black color that I am not fond of.
 

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins Shirl

Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy!

Shirl