Kitchen tip: Muffins 101 ... and a recipe

Simple tips to make great muffins in the kitchen

Muffins were one of the first things I ever baked growing up. And as simple and approachable as they may appear, even these cute little cakes gave me some problems the first time around. But muffins -- and cupcakes -- don't have to be difficult. In fact, they really are quite easy, as long as you keep a few tips in mind.

Follow the ingredients list as it is written, and make sure you measure carefully. Substituting ingredients (like using milk instead of water) can change the makeup of the batter, affecting the final product. Likewise, mismeasured ingredients can affect the chemistry of the recipe -- even a minor change can affect the outcome in a major way.

Don't overmix the batter. Unless the recipe states otherwise, mix the batter just until the ingredients are incorporated. Overmixing can affect the texture of the muffins, causing them to toughen and/or have large holes.

To evenly portion the muffins, fill the muffin cups using an ice cream scoop. (Ice cream scoops are great for portioning many doughs, including cookies.)

While it may be tempting to fill each muffin cup to the rim, be sure to give the batter enough room to expand while it bakes. Fill each muffin cup no more than two-thirds to three-fourths full, or as directed in the recipe. This will keep the muffins from spilling over the sides as they bake.

If you've used all your batter but still have empty cups remaining in the tin, fill each empty cup with a few tablespoons of water. This will promote even baking, and can help keep the tin from warping as the muffins bake.

Muffin tins come in all sorts of sizes. Generally, there's no problem converting your standard muffin recipe to fit jumbo or miniature muffin cups -- it's usually just a matter of adjusting the total time (bake longer for larger muffins, less for smaller). But keep in mind that results can vary depending on the oven, the size (and thickness and color) of your muffin tin, and the consistency of the batter; do a "test batch," if you can, to iron out any kinks before baking the whole recipe.

Always place your muffin tins on the center rack of the oven for even heating. Ovens often have hot spots, and heat differently toward the top or bottom and side walls. Baking in the center ensures consistency. Some recipes also recommend rotating the baking tin partially through the baking time; this also ensures even baking.

Many muffin tins come with a very dark coating. Because a darker tin will absorb heat more quickly, you will probably need to reduce the baking time. (Depending on the recipe, the tin and your oven, you may also want to reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees to compensate).

Not all muffin tins are created equal, and no two ovens heat exactly the same way -- all of which can affect your baking time. Regardless of the total time a recipe may give, be sure to give the muffins a quick look halfway through baking just to check on their progress and make sure everything is going OK (muffins aren't browning too quickly, nothing has spilled over, etc.). This way you can adjust the temperature and/or timing as needed to make sure they come out right.

If your fruit or nuts sink to the bottom of the muffins, chances are they are too large and heavy, or the batter is too thin to support them. Double-check to make sure you measured the ingredients properly, and if so, use smaller fruit or nuts (or chop them smaller) so the batter can support them as they bake.

Freeze any leftovers. Ever whip up a batch of muffins and have too many to share at one time? Muffins freeze well, and will keep, tightly wrapped, for up to a few months. Simply set them out for a few hours to thaw.

Continue reading below for the recipe for one of my favorite muffins, the coffee doughnut muffins from Sweet Butter in Sherman Oaks. The recipe was one of our top 10 recipes of the year last year.

Cooking is fun — at least it should be! No matter how long you’ve been in the kitchen, there is always something new to learn, whether it’s a simple twist on an old technique, or a handy tip to save time and energy. In this series of short videos, I demonstrate a variety of kitchen tips, including how to hold a chef’s knife for maximum control and how to use a spoon to peel fresh ginger. If you have any gadgets, kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.


Total time: 1 hour | Makes 2 dozen muffins

    4 cups (17 ounces) flour
    1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 to 3 tablespoons espresso powder, divided
    3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons prepared coffee
    1/2 cup buttermilk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) softened butter, plus 3/4 to 1 cup (1 1/2 to 2 sticks) melted butter, divided

    3 1/2 cups (24 1/2 ounces) sugar, divided
    4 eggs

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 (12-cup) muffin pans or tins.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and 1 tablespoon espresso powder. In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the coffee, buttermilk and vanilla. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together 1 1/2 cups softened butter with 2 cups (14 ounces) sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each egg is fully incorporated before adding another.

4. Gently beat the flour and coffee mixtures into the butter mixture, alternating between wet and dry, one-third of each at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure all of the ingredients are properly mixed.

5. Divide the batter among each of the greased muffin cups, filling each approximately two-thirds to three-fourths of the way full. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the muffins have risen and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through for even baking. Remove the muffins and cool completely.

6. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar and 1 to 2 tablespoons espresso powder. Brush the cooled muffins on all sides with the melted butter, then roll in the sugar/espresso powder mixture. Serve immediately.

Each muffin: Calories 364; Protein 4 grams; Carbohydrates 46 grams; Fiber 1 gram; Fat 19 grams; Saturated fat 12 grams; Cholesterol 80 mg; Sugar 30 grams; Sodium 199 mg

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