Thursday, August 16, 2007

Beth: Quick Breads - Blueberry Muffins

My oven is on the blink. More precisely, it's on the not-blink. As in the electronics are dead, the lights don't blink and the oven doesn't heat. The poor thing died about ten days ago and I am still doing research on its replacement — leaving me ovenless. Not to mention in baking withdrawal. As some people might say, I am in my dark place.

Note to readers: if you have suggestions for a reasonable replacement, please comment. If you happen to work for a place that makes awesome stoves and would like me to test one and report, drop me a note.

As luck would have it, however, my oven blinked yesterday. Briefly. Just long enough for me to bake a batch of muffins for this article.

Click to enlarge

Not knowing how much of a window I had before the touchpad decided to be untouchable again, I decided to try several variations on my usual muffin recipe all at once. I knew going in that this might not be such a great idea — heck, I am a geek and know to my bones that you only change one variable at a time because otherwise you don't know which change created a particular effect. Sort of blows the point of experimenting.

With this firmly out of mind, I decided to try a new take on my trusty blueberry muffin recipe. I have long wanted a blueberry muffin that is somehow more enticing than what you usually encounter. My favorite description of my food is 'complex' and most blueberry muffins are anything but. The idea was to create a muffin that was a step towards cake, but just a single step, while adding some depth to the flavor. Here are the individual changes and my thoughts on each of them:
  • Beaten egg whites: Taking a suggestion from Bittman's How to Cook Everything, I hoped the additional loft of stiffly beaten egg whites would lighten the bread. Not so much. While the whites looked good going in to the batter, there was no discernable effect on the finished product. Conclusion — extra effort for no reason.

  • Resting the batter after portioning: This old trick, often found in cornbread recipes, gives the leavening time to form itty-bitty bubbles in the batter. When the muffins are put in the oven, these holes expand from the hot air and result in a higher crown. Sadly, this also gives the berries time to sink to the bottom of the muffin tins. Conclusion — save this for quick breads without such extra ingredients.

  • Silicone muffin pan: What a mess! Everything stuck to the bottom and they came apart in pieces when I tried to remove them after baking. Conclusion — What the heck was I thinking?

  • Lavender: Blueberries and lavender go together like bread and butter, maybe better. Conclusion — this is the only keeper from my experimentation.

The oven? It's back on the blink. But at least I have fresh blueberry muffins to console myself with.
kitchenMage's everMorphing blueberryMuffins
Makes one dozen normal muffins (or 6 huge ones)

sugar 1/2 cup | 120 ml | 3 1/2 ounces | 100 grams
lavender buds (fresh) 1 teaspoon | 5 ml |1/8 ounce | 5 grams
egg 1
butter melted and cooled 3 tablespoons | 1 1/2 ounces | 42 grams
low-fat sour cream 1 1/4 cups | 295 ml | 10 3/4 ounces | 300 grams
all-purpose flour 1 3/4 cups | 415 ml | 7 7/8 ounces | 220 grams
baking powder 2 teaspoons | 10 ml | 1/8 ounce | 7 grams
baking soda 1 teaspoon | 5 ml | 1/16 ounce | 5 grams
salt 1/8 teaspoon | ~1 ml
blueberries 1 1/4 cups | 295 ml | 5 5/8 ounces | 160 grams (if fresh simply wash; if frozen leave them in the freezer until you are ready to use them)
optional butter and cinnamon sugar for topping after baking

Preheat oven to 375°. Have all ingredients, except frozen blueberries, at room temperature. Prepare muffin pan with paper cup liners.

Berries for Muffins

When selecting blueberries for muffins, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Smaller berries are better. There is a relationship between the proximity of berries to each other and how muffins bake. Large berries sink to the bottom of the batter more quickly resulting in a layer of berries touching each other with not much batter in between and thus a much wetter muffin bottom than is desirable.

Less is more. It is tempting to put 'just another handful' of berries in your batter but resist. Too many berries will also leave you with wet muffins that bake unevenly.

Stay cool. If the berries are frozen, keep them that way until you put them in the batter. They are less likely to disintegrate and leave you with blue muffins.

Don't eat them all while picking. While it is tempting to stuff one fistful after another in your mouth while standing in the berry patch, you really should leave a few for the muffins. Or is this just me?

1. Grind the sugar and lavender in a blender briefly to chop the buds up. (use a little less lavender if you have dried buds)

2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg briefly with a wire whisk to lighten. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until you can no longer feel any resistance from undissolved sugar.

3. Add the butter to the bowl and mix briefly to combine, then add sour cream and whisk until mixture is smooth and homogenous. (You can whisk an additional minute or two at this point, if your wrist can take it, to aerate the batter, making the muffins a bit lighter.)

4. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly to mix and eliminate lumps. (I use a 6" handheld sieve — the muffins come together more easily if the flour is well aerated.)

Click to enlarge

5. Add the blueberries to the dry mixture and toss them gently for a few seconds to coat the berries.

6. Add liquid mixture to the flour mixture and combine with a few quick folds.

7. Scoop batter into muffin pan (a 4 oz scoop is about the right size).

8. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until tops are golden brown. Turn out on wire rack to cool.

9. If desired, brush still warm muffins with melted butter and sprinkle on a bit of cinnamon sugar.

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Blogger Susan said...

I bake up muffins all the time but I'll be damned if they ever taste as good to me as the huge bakery-bought ones do. I don't know if it's that I refuse to add in mounds of butter or artificial ingredients like some commercial places do (?) but I've just never found one that is *quite*as*good* as a bakery-bought. So having a new recipe from you to try out this weekend is just lovely - and lavender!!! What a fun experiment!

8/17/2007 1:09 PM  
Blogger kitchenmage said...


These are not as cakelike as the muffins they sell at the bakery - that was part of what I was experimenting with - but they are awfully good. The lavender is really wonderful in these, it's definitely present and yet ethereal. You can use full-fat sour cream and more sugar (3/4 cup) to make it more like that. Just don't bother with the other stuff I tried.

8/17/2007 3:26 PM  
Blogger Lady Laurie said...

I have been using a trusty little toaster oven to bake everything since we lost our home in Hurricane Katrina. We are still living in an rv while we are rebuilding. I bake everything from cakes to muffins to cobblers. I love to bake and I can't wait to have a real oven again. The only thing I don't make is bread, for that I am using a bread machine, not too bad, but still...

Best of luck on finding a replacement. I know about baking withdraw!!

8/18/2007 7:52 AM  
Blogger Jane said...

These look wonderful! Everything does. I can't wait for it to cool down here so I can start baking again.

8/19/2007 10:31 AM  
Blogger BreadBox said...

It sounds as if the touchpad for the oven may be where the problem is -- and if the oven is relatively new, it might be reasonably easy and not toooooooo expensive to replace the controls there as opposed to the whole stove. Do you have a local appliance repair shop that you trust?


8/22/2007 12:06 PM  

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