There are thousands of different ways to create a muffin. A perfect muffin. Your own muffin. You can start by experimenting with flours, then step further into sweetness oasis, pick fat of your own, and finally end up with the uncountable number of various additives. Fruits, berries, nuts and chocolate - that's just a very beginning of the beginning. The further you go the more magical flavor combinations you find. Fragrant herbs, sharp-noted cheese, deeply-flavored coffee, magical spices, tea leaves, sweet and savory vegetables - the whole list is far from ending, each time bringing you to the finish line with something just perfect to fulfill all your momentary cravings.
However, despite this army of choices you can make, there are only two basic techniques you can use to create that superfine muffin of yours. And the main question actually dwells on fat: butter or oil? creaming or melting?. By making a decision on this, you are not only choosing the fat and how to deal with it, but you are also picking the desirable texture of your forthcoming goodie. So, be wise!
If you are aiming at cake-y muffins favored with a very soft and smooth crumb, you should use the same technique as you do when making a cake. That is, take room temperature butter (and only butter) and cream it together with sugar. Then beat in the eggs and alternately add all the remaining wet and dry ingredients. Creaming ensures a good rise whereas the sugar creates some air pockets that allow for the leavening gasses to expand. Without good creaming, you might end up with a poorly-risen muffin marked with uneven air holes. Besides, the higher sugar and fat (butter) content the richer and softer your muffins will be. The increased fat also minimizes the development of gluten which again helps to produce a muffin with a softer crumb.
But if you are a bread-y muffin person, looking for a very moist and rather wet muffin, you should stick to the "quick-bread method". There you'll need two bowls (more washing, unfortunately) and fat in liquid form (oil or melted butter). The first bowl should be used for combining dry ingredients, the second one - for wet. Once wet and dry mixtures have been mixed together separately, carefully incorporate them into each other. And now comes the mixing part which is so far the most important stage in using quick-bread technique. Due to the high liquid to flour ratio, there is a risk to overmix the batter, which might lead to overdevelopment of gluten causing a tough muffin with quite big tunnels and a very tight texture. Consequently, what you are looking for here is a still lumpy batter with a few traces of flour that will disappear during the baking process. A sign that the batter has been overmixed is when it becomes very stringy and tough, since overmixing causes long strands of gluten to form which makes it hard for the leavening agents to work.
I've been experimenting with muffins for quite a while, until I finally found the ones I love best. The perfect ones that never let me down and always turn out just the way I want them to be.
At this point I prefer the second, the quick-bread, method. Some people say that creaming the butter gives a way better rise, but as soon as you figure out the folding part and know just when you need to stop mixing the batter, all the worries about the rise will fade away instantly. Your muffins will rise. The will. I promise. And they will not only rise, but they will become beautifully tender, moist and fluffy.
Commonly, I reach for oil than for butter. Olive oil, avocado oil, hazelnut oil, grape-seed oil, peanut oil, coconut oil or any other oil I might have on hand and think it fits here and there at the moment. As a matter of fact, all the previous muffin recipes I posted on my blog calls for oil (the links below). But there are also some rare times when I seek after that milky fat flavor only butter can provide. So I go for it. Just like I went for these lemon curd marble muffins adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "River Cottage Every Day". Together with lemon curd, butter here creates as much richness and creaminess as you could possible think of; and that is pretty great! Though, if you are not up to this challenge, don't be afraid to substitute the curd with your favorite jam, mashed bananas, chocolate spread or almond paste. You can also replace half of the regular flour with almond meal or coconut flour. It would end up equally great, I'm telling you!
Lemon Curd Marble Muffins
from River Cottage
8 oz (225 g) all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3,5 oz (100 g) light brown sugar
1 medium egg
4,4 oz (125 g) plain natural yogurt
4,4 oz (125 g) whole milk
2,6 oz (75 g) butter, melted and slightly chilled
~3,5 oz (~100 g) lemon curd
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180C) temperature.
To make muffins, put the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl and whisk lightly to combine.
In another bowl, mix together the egg, yogurt, milk and melted butter. Pour wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix lightly, but do not over mix. It's okay if there still are some small lumps.
Spoon some batter into each muffin case, about 1 tablespoon. With the back of the spoon make a small holes and pour some lemon curd (~ 1/2 tsp) into them (if you don't make holes, lemon curd will run over). Top with another tablespoon of batter to encase the lemon curd while filling a little bit more than three quarters of each case.
Bake for about 30 minutes. When done, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Pumpkin Muffins
- Chocolate Muffins with Red Wine
- Rye Strawberry Muffins
- Whole-grain Muffins with Sorrel, Parmesan and Sun-dried Tomatoes