My last quarter of culinary school started on Monday with the first night of my Introduction to Baking class.  I wasn’t actually in attendance on Monday due to a work commitment, so my first day was Tuesday, April 12.

On the menu:  muffins

I make muffins a LOT.  They’re a nice little breakfast or mid-morning snack that carries me to lunchtime.  I occasionally try to inject some good nutrition by using a bit of whole wheat flour or oatmeal, but since the muffins I usually make are small, and I don’t eat them every day, I don’t get too anxious about it.

Good muffins make me happy.   Am I alone in this feeling?  I didn’t think so.

There are 2 ways to make muffins.  One way is the muffin method.  It sounds like it should be a song or nursery rhyme, doesn’t it?  It’s a simple technique with 3 completely uncomplicated steps:


The muffins and quick bread that Mavis and I made. Rhubarb-pistachio muffins with a cinnamon sugar topping, and cranberry ginger loaf with oatmeal streusel.

  1. Combine your wet ingredients:  melted butter or oil, vanilla, milk, eggs
  2. Combine your dry ingredients:  flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar (whisk ‘em up real good so they’re well mixed, or sift them together if you wish).  And here’s a little trick I learned from Dorie Greenspan.  If you’re using citrus zest, mix it into your sugar with your fingers before combining it with all the other ingredients.  The oils from the zest release into the sugar and it’s like a double-hit of citrus-y goodness.
  3. Combine your wet and dry ingredients, mixing just until there aren’t any dry flour streaks. This should only take a minute or 2.  Lumps are OK.  In fact, lumps are good.

If you mix too long, you’re doing 2 things to your batter that will make your muffins tough.

  1. You’re working air into your batter.  You need a little air, because that’s part of what makes them rise (in addition to the baking powder), but not too much or they’ll collapse as they cool on your rack and form these weird little tunnels on the inside that makes it look like small worms invaded your baked goods. Muffins are supposed to make you happy.  If they collapse or look like they’re a home for worms, you won’t be happy, and you’ve defeated the purpose of making muffins.
  2. You’re activating the gluten in the flour.  Gluten is the protein that gives bread its structure.  Gluten is good in bread.  Not so much in muffins.  Your end result will be a tougher texture and a larger crumb.  You won’t want to eat them, and you won’t be happy.

The second method for muffins is the creaming method.  You use the creaming method when you make cookies, layer cakes, and a host of other yummy treats.   And sure enough, if you use the creaming method to make muffins, and do it right, you’ve got yourself little cakes to munch on.  It helps to use pastry flour if you really want that cakey texture.

The creaming method is also simple, but generally involves more equipment (which generally means more dishes, so I don’t usually go this route, but it’s good to know just the same):

  1. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, and any dried herbs or spices you’re using. Set aside.
  2. Mix your softened butter and sugar in a stand mixer for a few minutes until it’s well combined.  It will be kind of fluffy and pale, and you’ll notice that the sugar has begun to dissolve in the butter.  If you want to soften your butter quickly, stick in in the microwave for a minute at 10% power.  You can also just cube the butter, stick it in the mixer and run it at fairly high speed until it warms slightly.  But if you melt the butter, you’re screwed.  Switch to the muffin method if that happens.
  3. Scrape the sides of your bowl, and add your eggs one at a time until just combined. Scrape down the bowl after each addition.
  4. Add your flour and milk, and mix at low speed until combined.  Again, small lumps are good, but definitely make sure the batter is all together and uniform.

Once the batter is mixed in either method, you can add whatever you want to your muffins:  dried and/or fresh fruit, nuts, candy, chocolate, coconut, etc.

Rick's muffins

Ricks muffins. Dark chocolate orange, with a hint of chile. Sweet, but not too sweet, and delectable. Arent they pretty?

I was doubly happy last night, because not only were we making muffins, but I was reunited with my cooking partner, Mavis.  We didn’t have classes together last quarter, and I missed her laugh and fun spirit in the kitchen.

We decided to make rhubarb pistachio muffins with cinnamon sugar topping.  In our second batch, using the muffin method, we made cranberry ginger mini-loaves.  They both turned out rustically beautiful, and they were scrumptious.

Classmates came up with equally mouth-watering combinations including chocolate peanut-butter, oreo cookie, currant-orange, and more.

Our other fine partner in kitchen crime, Rick, made muffins with one of my favorite flavor combos: dark chocolate and orange.

Lovely, happy muffins.