Perfect Blueberry Muffins: What’s The Secret?
Here’s my rant: Muffins today are way too close to cupcakes. Cupcakes are nice, they’re adorable, but they are for birthdays, while muffins are for breakfast. They are supposed to be different in more ways than just the presence of frosting. In addition, the muffins you get at most cafes are ludicrously bloated. At the rate muffins are growing, you’ll soon be able to order danishes that are the actual size of Denmark.
So now that we’ve assessed what’s wrong with muffins, let’s establish what is right. More specifically, how you can bake scratch muffins that are moist, flavorful, and toothsome. And of course, it being August, we will specifically address blueberry muffins: they’re in season, and they’re exquisite.
The experts say it comes down to three things:
For one thing, there’s your leavening. Baking powder goes bad quickly — not bad like barfing but bad, like it doesn’t rise as well. (I first heard about this in a novel, possibly White Oleander: the secret was, allegedly, to buy new baking powder every time you baked. Guess that’s why the cans are so petite.)
You should also use fresh lemon zest, and there’s a bit of a debate over fresh v. frozen blueberries; apparently some prefer the frozen variety because they have less of a tendency to “melt” and turn the batter blue.
Proper (Lack Of) Handling:
This is key. And it’s really hard to convince yourself that it’s right, but lumpy batter is required. My mom’s copy of Joy of Cooking from 1953 is very, very stern on this subject: “Stir the liquid quickly into the dry ingredients. Do this in only 10 to 15 strokes. Make no attempt to stir or beat out the lumps. Ignore them. Unnecessary handling of the batter results in tough muffins.”
I would go so far as to say that you should add the blueberries after the 8th stir so, you don’t sneak in extra stirs folding them in afterwards. (The reason for this, by the by, is apparently the moment when the gluten in your flour meets the liquid, the more they mix and the tougher it gets.)
In addition, you should dust the blueberries in flour to discourage sinking; some folks won’t even fold them in at all, dropping them on top instead. And some folks like to make the batter in the evening, let it sit in the fridge overnight, and bake in the morning. Apparently you can get improved fluffiness this way.
The Right Recipe:
Speaking of Joy of Cooking, a scandalized friend told me that the original recipe was perfect, and that when it was revised, the authors doubled the sugar. I verified this via my mom’s beautifully battered 1953 edition, which indeed recommends only 1/3 of a cup of sugar for 2 cups of flour; the 2006 edition ups it to 2/3 of a cup. Sure enough, our classic Blueberry Muffin recipe has the same proportion. This only reinforces my opinion, learned at my mother’s knee, that you can halve the sugar in just about any modern recipe and you’ll only improve things.
Personally, I require the slightly tangy flavor of yogurt or sour cream in my muffins. So my preference would be this other recipe for Blueberry Muffins, but with half the sugar, 2 tablespoons of zest, and maybe 2 teaspoons of nutmeg. (And I can’t be bothered with that extra egg yolk. Ninja, please.)
Did we miss any secrets? (I know, you’re going to say you cream the sugar and butter together rather than melting the butter. Again, I can’t be bothered.)
Psst! What’s the secret?
Find out with all our What’s the Secret articles!