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Why am I so muffin-challenged?!

I have made no fewer than 10 different muffin recipes over the last week and none even come close to replicating what I consider a real bakery style muffin. I'm looking for something that has a moist, tight crumb (almost creamy, if that makes any sense) and a top that explodes out of the cup with an impressive flourish.

The recipes I've tested range from all oil to oil and butter mixtures; milk to buttermilk to heavy cream; mix by hand to mix with mixer; baking at 350F to 400F but I just can't hit on the right combination. What I end up with is a puny product that is more like a cupcake than a muffin with utterly lackluster flavor.

My next test was going to involve sour cream and/or yogurt, but I'm getting sick of wasting ingredients and, quite frankly, the squirrels in my backyard are verging on obese.

Does anyone have an idiot-proof muffin recipe they are willing to share? Ideally, it would be a great base recipe with the ability to add in different zests, fruits and nuts.

Thanks!

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  1. Awhile ago a CH member challenged those on the homecooking board to put forth their best muffin recipes and this thread was born:
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/276895

    It's got recipes, results and some good tips. I am also not so hot at muffin baking (but i don't care for them so I haven't lost any sleep over it) so I don't have any tips or advice from personal experience. I also believe that Alton Brown did a muffin episode of Good Eats that included some tips on the muffin method.

    1. Wasn't there a recent thread about making overflowing muffins? I remember suggesting overfilling the cups, but don't recall what others suggested. Other than that, I suspect your problems have more to do with expectations than technique.

      Flavor should be the easiest thing to fix. I find many commercial muffins to be overly sweet, preferring instead a moist, full flavor. Fruit puree and molasses contribute flavor and moisture. You can easily add spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg etc to taste. Dried fruit and nuts can also be added to taste - though large proportions will affect texture.

      paulj

      1. LA - thanks for posting that thread! I am going to go through it in detail today.

        paulj - I agree with the sweetness factor of commercial muffins. As long as I can find a base recipe that's moist and easy to alter with different flavors, fruits and nuts, all will be right in the world.

        1. The biggest mistake most people make while making muffins is over-beating the batter. When combining wet and dry ingredients 4-5 turns with the spatula or spoon should be sufficient. You want to see dry lumps in with the wet. Work quickly and deftly and get those things in the oven.

          12 Replies
          1. re: Candy

            Good point. Oddly enough, the only recipe (before seeing the thread LA attached above) I tried that even came close to the texture I was looking for called for the dry and wet ingredients to be added alternately to the creamed fat/sugar mix. The recipes that used the "normal" muffin mixing method (like you describe above) were the ones that ended up with a cornbread like texture. I'll definitely try using a lighter hand next time to see if that helps.

            1. re: punkin712

              It sounds as if you want a muffin with the texture of cake (something many commercial muffins seem to have, in my experience), and that's why the recipe that came nearest to your expectations used a cake-mixing technique versus a quick bread technique. Nevertheless, a light hand is definitely key in avoiding dense muffins.

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                Hmmm...I guess you're right. My idea of the ideal muffin texture does sort of mirror the texture of a really good pound cake.

                1. re: punkin712

                  Have you tried the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins? They have a poundcake like consistency if you use melted butter.

                  http://patti-cakes.blogspot.com/2006/...

                  I've seen the recipe w/ vegetable oil, too--it turns out lighter and moisture but the butter one is firmer and cakier.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I made one called the Jordan Marsh from this link and it tasted like a store-bought muffin exactly. My husband didn't like them because of it.

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/279414

                    1. re: Janine

                      I'll have to try that recipe, much different from the one I posted above. That also tasted like the Jordan Marsh muffins. Maybe it's good just because it reminds me of the past. My sister also agreed that it was just like the store muffins.

                  2. re: punkin712

                    Maybe you want to find a pound cake recipe and bake it in cups! It's not a totally ridiculous idea, and you could play with it to add nuts, zest, and other ingredients. There are lots of good muffin tips in this thread, but evidently what you're looking for isn't the classic idea of what makes a proper muffin.

                    1. re: Kagey

                      I thought about trying my pound cake recipe in muffin cups, but never did. Might be worth a shot.

                      What is the "classic idea" of a muffin? It's quite possible I've never had a proper one :)

                      1. re: punkin712

                        A classic muffin falls into the "quick bread" category like biscuits, scones etc. The are light, often quite buttery and best served fresh and slightly warm

                        1. re: Candy

                          Yes, and the crumb is supposed to be very tender, not dense.

                        2. re: punkin712

                          According to the wiki article, the classic muffin (going back nearly a 1000 years) was a small, homemade baked good that went stale quickly, and thus was not usually made and sold by bakeries. What you've been making (cornbread like) is probably closer to the version from 100 years ago than to the modern bakery items.

                          The article discusses the evolution of the large mushroom shaped muffins, including a reference to a Seinfeld episode (muffin tops).
                          paulj

                  3. re: punkin712

                    Cornbread and muffins are often in the same chapter of a cookbook, and the basic recipes are similar:
                    dry ingredients:flour, other grain, sugar, salt, bp, bs
                    wet: egg, liquid fat, water or milk
                    combine and bake
                    paulj

                2. The Joy of Cooking has a good muffin section. I've found that adding a cup of plain, sugar-free applesauce to the batter and only using butter helps a lot with moistness. It's also a good idea not to over-beat the batter and to fill the muffin cups only 2/3 full.