Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fine, Fluffy Muffins: build your own, as healthy as you like!

Muffins have a lot of history, and a lot more chemistry going on! And this is only my second batch, so I'm sure there are improvements to make, but this balance of the basic "muffin making" ingredients has done beautifully in the chemistry of rising a fine, fluffy muffin. There are a lot of substitution options included below, in part because one thing I really hate is a recipe with a long list of ingredients, and lacking one. Or what I hate even more, going and spending a bunch of money just to complete a recipe. Screw that. Substitute!

The build-your-own ingredients are at the bottom so that you can have as healthy (or not) a variety as you choose! Do leave me notes with what works (or not) for you! Muffins are tricky little (sweet) bastards, so I welcome any chance to improve!

Made 16 medium sized muffins in a silicone pan

Note: Read the optional ingredients before starting! I noted where to add them for each one!
Dry ingredients:
2 cups, or 240g flour in total, which you can divide into white and whole wheat (or any other variety) as you like
~ I have this nice country mix at the moment, which already has a light enough consistency to bake on its own, so I used very little white flour, but if you have straight up whole wheat, I would go half and half with white, unless you like that dense wheaty flavor of heavy whole wheat! (I do!)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs cinnamon
*plus the optional dry ingredients of your choice. See below.

Wet ingredients:
70g, or 1/3 cup butter
between 1/2 and 1c or between 100 and 200g crystal sugar (white, or "raw" brown sugar)
~I used less, about 60g, and it was still quite yummy. In fact, with the sugar sprinkled and baked on top, you can make the recipe a lot less sugary and it still has a great sweet taste!

50g, or about 1/3c apple sauce
little less than 1c honey, or 1/2 cup brown sugar (of the American variety)
about 1 cup yogurt or buttermilk (I had some goat cheese half way through processing and no yogurt or buttermilk, so I threw it in and it worked quite well! ...leading me to the belief that most fermented goods, perhaps even milk? will work well.)

Brown sugar for sprinkling on top (notice this is not in the optional category. In fact, its Mandatory!)

Build your own options:
(I suggest all of them, except the egg, which really just didn't seem necessary!)
1. 1/2 - 3/4c, or about 50g oats, stirred into the dry ingredients
2. a handful of almond powder in the dry ingredients (makes everything better)
3. 1 egg whipped into the wet mixture after the sugar
4. nuts, stirred into the dry ingredients, about 1 cup, or a good handful. I suggest walnuts!
5. up to 2 apples, cubed, stirred into the dry ingredients. Big chunks give a great texture!!
6. replace the butter with vegetable oil or apple sauce
7. honey can be replaced with white (or brown?) sugar. Come to think of it, the three are interchangeable.

1. Take out the butter, cut it into little cubes, and leave it out for 30 minutes before cooking with it. (not yet sure if this is really necessary, but all my french cookbooks call for it)

2.Mix the dry ingredients

3. Preheat oven to 450ºF, or 230ºC

4. Cream the butter with the sugar. Meaning, whip till creamy. (whip in your egg here, if you're using it)

5. Stir in honey, applesauce, (or the optional vegetable oil) until homogeneous.

6. Pour all the wet ingredients into the dry and fold in. This means stir gently with a wooden spoon, fork, etc., just until all is incorporated. Overstirring is the easiest way to kill your fluffy muffins (poor things) and have them turn into tough, bready chunks. Instead, stop just as soon as there are not huge wads of dry flour left. Its even okay if there are a couple dry spots in the dough, they get moistened in the baking.

7. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar, wiping off any that spills onto the pan between muffins. That sugar will burn and you will panic thinking you've ruined your muffins, pulling them out prematurely. Sad. DONT SKIP THIS STEP if you are a pastry loving fool, or even feel a slight affection for your muffins.

8. Transfer to your muffin molds. I have an oval shaped silicone muffin pan, which works great because there is no buttering needed. But if you are using a traditional pan, definitely butter them. Even if you are using paper cups, I've read online baking sites tests that say buttering the paper cups is good... I suggest a quality silicone (make sure it can go as high as 280ºC/530ºF or it is cheap silicone that supposedly seeps toxins into your otherwise beautiful muffins)

9. Bake at 450ºF/230ºC for 10 to 12 minutes, then turn the heat down to 400ºF/205ºC for another 5. You know they're done when a toothpick poked in the middle comes out dry.

10. Cool a few minutes in the try, then till cool on a wire rack (I use the tray from my oven... pulled out before its hot, of course)

Random tips:
*stirring fruit into the floured dry mix coats them and keeps them from sinking to the bottom of your baked goods. This recipe is so thick, and stays in the oven such a short period of time, it won't really matter, but this is especially helpful for cakes, etc. where the dough is much thinner.

**Why both baking soda AND baking powder?
In french baking powder is called "chemical leavener," and in researching the difference, I found a wonderful site on the history of baking cakes, and another on the history of muffins in the US and England. SO: it seems that baking soda (bicarbonate) and eggs have been the leavener of choice for a whole lot longer, and baking POWDER was a product of the industrial revolutions ("oooh, look at all the cool things these new chemicals can do!"). With the advent of the baking powder, cakes and muffins became higher, fluffier, and generally more deserty and delicate as we know them. Technically, just substituting baking soda would do the same leavening, but it is very basic, and die-hard bakers believe you should always maintain a very strict balance between acid and basic in recipes... meh. I've read you can simply mix baking soda with cream of tartar

***Why the dry ingredients and the wet? aka: Why should I stir it so little?
For muffins, pancakes, and... I dont actually know what else, one of the best ways to ruin them is to overmix the bater, which gives it a "kneaded" consistency. Kneading is meant to help develop the gluten strands, giving it that stretchy, firm texture which then holds in the gas created by the yeast. This is not what we want in these delicate baked goods. So STIR THESE PASTRIES AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Just until there is not too much dry flour floating around. (even that is not so bad, it will get mixed in as it cooks.

****Why cream the butter with the sugar?
In that same history of baking cakes, I learned that early cakes were made fluffy by vigorously whipping the butter with the crystal sugar, which cut little holes in the butter! These little holes filled with air and expanded with baking, making it all lighter and fluffier. All these little details seem to combine for finer baking, though I've skipped one or two of the details in any given recipe and it still seems to do okay.

Good Science of Baking reads:

On the history of Cake Baking

Honestly, just google "history muffins" and you get some awesome quick histories about the movement of muffins from England, where they were breads, to America where they became "quick breads" with leaveners

Other great muffins - many of which inspired this one (especially the first)

I am in love with this woman. This recipe is basically an altered version of her Whole Wheat Apple Muffins, which I chose because I like her simplicity. She requires muffin recipes to require no more than 2 bowls!

Vegan Dad bakes beautifully with no animal products, and has wonderful spicing and substituting ideas!

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