The Right Mix: Key to Making Good Classic Muffins Is All in the Wrist
Proper mixing is the key to making good classic muffins. If the batter has not been overmixed, the finished muffins will have rounded tops with cauliflowerlike surfaces, interiors free of tunnels and a light, moist, even grained texture.
Begin muffin preparation by thoroughly blending the dry ingredients--flour, sugar, baking powder and salt--in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center of this mixture and set the bowl aside. Then in a smaller bowl, mix the liquid ingredients--egg, milk, melted fat or oil and other seasonings--until well-combined.
Pour the liquid ingredients all at once into the well in the dry ingredients (Step 1) and stir just enough to moisten the flour mixture--12 to 15 circular stirs with a spoon or rubber spatula. The batter should still be lumpy (Step 2), but not have any areas with dry flour.
How to Shape Them Up
Scoop or spoon the batter into greased or paper-lined muffins cups (Step 3), filling 2/3 to 3/4 full, unless directed otherwise in the recipe. To eliminate misshapen or lopsided muffins, a single scoop or spoonful of batter should be used for each muffin, rather than adding batter a bit at a time. Fill any empty muffin cups with water to prevent the pan from warping during baking.
Oven temperatures of 400 to 425 degrees permit the muffins to bake through to the center quickly, before the outside burns or dries out. Remove from the oven when the muffins are golden brown, spring back when pressed lightly or when a wood pick inserted in the middle comes out clean (Step 4).
Muffins are meant to be served immediately; they do not retain their freshness very long. If they must be stored, remove from the pan and cool, then wrap carefully and freeze. Reheat frozen muffins, wrapped in foil, at 350 degrees 15 to 20 minutes, or until heated through.
Overmixing Leads to Toughness
If classic muffins are overmixed, their texture changes from bread to cakelike and becomes tough. Tops are smooth and peaked and interiors are full of tunnels. Certain muffins, however, are intended to be rich and have a texture like cake. These are high in sugar and shortening and are prepared by another mixing method similar to cakes. Such batters can withstand more mixing and need to be baked at lower temperatures--350 to 375 degrees.
Any muffin recipe may be baked in the now-popular oversized form. The larger-size muffin pans are available in many houseware departments and cookware stores. Some recipes may need an adjustment in baking time, but this recipe for Lemon Muffins was developed using a muffin pan with depressions 3 1/4 inches in diameter.
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup oil
Combine flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt in medium mixing bowl. Beat egg lightly in small bowl. Stir in milk, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, lemon juice and oil.
Add liquid to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full.
Combine remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest. Sprinkle over tops of muffins.
Bake at 400 degrees 20 minutes. Makes about 6 large muffins.
Note: If desired, 3 tablespoons decorator sugar may be substituted for granulated sugar in topping. Decorator sugar is coarser in texture and may be purchased at cake-decorating supply stores.
Suggestions for column topics may be sent to Back to Basics, Food section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.