How do I make muffin tops with a regular muffin tin?
Save your money. I have a muffin top pan and it doesn't quite achieve the same crispy exterior that you're looking for. I too, love muffin tops and thought that these pans might be great, but was disappointed. The aluminum can idea sounds like a bit of work, but it might actually turn out. I know Williams Sonoma sometimes sells a crown muffin pan where the muffin cavity is smaller & graduated to allow for a larger crispy crust. Let us know if you find something that works.
Don't know how large your muffin tin is but here's a thought. If you can fit a beer can inside the tin cavities you could cut off an aluminum beer can to the height you want (muffin ten depth minus the depth you want the batter to be) and invert them in the tin (bottoms up) then pour your batter on top. I'd preheat the tin before adding the batter though (kinda like an Aebelskiver process but without the flipping) to get the crispness on the outside overall however.
Then again, if you can buy a specialized muffin tin to do the job for under twenty bucks it's probably not worth the effort to apply creative license.
Its the opposite, use more batter not less. Not sure how less batter would yield more top. If you overfill the cups, the batter will expand over the top more and would result in larger tops. Not sure how it would affect the baking time though.
I wonder what would happen if you pour muffin batter on a greased cookie sheet. I doubt its thick enough not to just run all over the place. Maybe you can buy metal ring molds and use those ontop of the cookie sheet to replicate a muffin top pan?
Originally, muffin tops are just that . . . the tops are cut off of the muffins.
So you used more batter and overfilled the cup so it spilled over as it rose.
It was not a special pan, but check the area between the cups of your regular muffin tin because as the batter heats and expands and overflows onto that area, it makes a nice crispy underside and larger top area to cut off the muffin. But, then you have the bottom part (usually not as crispy).
Now there are special pans to make muffin tops. See, http://www.preparedpantry.com/muffin-...
From the looks of them, you might just be able to use your standard muffin tins and use less batter. Recipes would differ a little also because you would not have as much "rise" from the soda as needed in a cut-off top of muffin.
Also, baking temps are adjusted. Starting out high and turned lower during baking, the high heat at first, helps with a good "rise" on a regular muffin, yielding a good top to cut off.
But, with the new "muffin top" pans, you might be instructed differently.
What I like about muffin tops (cut from the entire muffin) is that there is a crispy texture on just one side and the underside is tender and moist. Don't know that you can get that dual texture with a muffin top pan or using less batter in a regular muffin tin because it cooks through the middle and you lose the most tender and moist part.
So, maybe I am not the best to answer you wanting to make just the top. I prefer the original form. But, you can try just using less batter and see if you like the entire texture. (I believe it would be a tougher texture overall as it would cook through faster before you get a good crisp)
If you do want to make them with the overflow method and cut the tops off, you can use the remaining part of the muffin in a trifle. Add a layer of muffin pieces, add a layer of custard or chocolate poudding or something, add shavings of chocolate or fresh fruit and repeat layering with muffin, custard, fruit a few times.