I am developing a line of muffins to sell at a local farmers' market and possibly for distribution in a few regional stores. I have a lot of flavor ideas but my issue is developing a recipe that is 100% my own. To give a little background, I am a pastry school graduate. I currently sell muffins, among other items, at a local farmers market. The recipes I use for my farmers market muffins are either directly from a cookbook or I take the base cookbook recipe and change the flavors (e.g., a cookbook recipe for a raspberry muffin becomes a blueberry muffin).
I want to have recipes that are my own but at the same time I wonder if I am just reinventing the wheel if I spend time trying to figure out ratios and measurements (specifically those for flour, sugar, butter/oil, leaveners). Anyone have tips on how to approach this issue?
Baking is a tricky thing to reinvent (unlike, say, a stew) as the basic proportions of flour, liquid & fat need to stay within a pretty narrow range to get an edible finished product.
What I would do if I were you is find a good basic recipe you're comfortable with and experiment with flavorings and add-ins like extracts, fruits and nuts to create something unique. Make a batch, try it, and add/subtract those fringe elements until you've developed your own style.
For example - I like very tart jam, so I've made my own following a standard recipe but adding extra lemon juice and some liqueur. The result is tasty but nothing quite like what you can buy commercially (especially as commercial jam can't have booze in it if it's up for unrestricted sale).
Do you ever watch "Cupcake Wars" on Food Network? They always start with a basic cupcake recipe, but then add to it to make a unique cupcake. That is all you are doing and all that the rest of us ever do. We take a tried and true recipe and then modify it to make it our own. Just last week I made Rhum Cake cupcakes with Caramelized Pineapple filling and Coconut Milk Sabayon frosting. I took established recipes and changed and combined them to make something unique. You will do the same thing with your muffins. ;-)
I would say to take a handful of reliable recipes for a basic muffin, compare the ratios between them, and use one of those as your starting point. I suspect that you'll find that the ratios for flour/sugar/egg/fat/raising agents all fall within a fairly narrow range of values, otherwise you wouldn't really have a muffin - it would be a pancake, or a cupcake or a cookie or something else.
Then using that as a starting point, you can adapt it to your local conditions and the fillings and flavours you want to use, as well as nutritional requirements (butter vs oil vs margarine, for example), and make each recipe multiple times - different weather or ambient temperatures, difference sized muffin tins, buying your fruit from a different supplier - to make sure that your recipe is robust.
But when it comes to developing personal version of recipes, I don't think anyone really goes to deriving muffins from first principles.
This book helps you understand what makes a muffin or quick bread different (or similar ) from a cake, biscuit, or pancake.
Some variables when making muffins:
- cake method or muffin method
- leavening - straight baking powder, or baking soda and acid.
- degree of sweetness (largely a matter of taste
)- type of fat (or fat substitute). With the cake method, butter is the main choice, but with the muffin method, it can be any liquid fat or oil. The amount of fat can also vary. Generally more fat means a muffin that is more 'moist' and remains fresh longer. Irish soda bread is a quick bread with little to no fat.
- fruit or vegetable puree (adds both flavor and acts as a fat substitute)
- grain mix; all white flour for a light cake like texture; increasing amounts of whole wheat and other flours and ground nuts for a heartier bread.
- spices - lots of room for variation; includes molasses.
- chunky add ins (dried fruit, nuts, candies, etc)
So even if you stick with standard ratios of flour(s), eggs, fat, water, and baking soda, there is a lot of room to vary the other ingredients.
I would bet that no matter what you put together as ratios for "flour, sugar, butter/oil, leaveners" you could search cookbooks and online and find at least half a dozen recipes that were exactly the same...so would you be copying them? The final outcome, when everything goes together, is your product. If you steal it all from someone else that is one thing, but there are few recipes for muffins that haven't been tried.
Someone mentioned on another thread, and I agree, that technique means so much more to the final outcome than the list of ingredients and measurements. It's not to say that you shouldn't tweak a recipe to make it your own (and only you can know if you tweaked it enough to satisfy your conscience), but to echo both babette's and Max's sentiments, I think you find a general set of measurements that works for you, tweak it to include delicious and unique flavor combinations that you can call your own, and, most importantly, get to the point that you can consistently produce a great muffin.
Two different people can make vastly different muffins from the same recipe. I think if you just focus on arriving at recipes that work really well for you and hone your craft so much that you consistently produce a great product, you'll have more than paid your dues for any partial replication of an existing recipe.
Good luck to you!
IMO, before trying to re-invent the wheel, learn to make 1, 2, 3 stand-out basic muffin recipe that you will _never_ _ever_ miss whatever happens;
After that, you will need to experiment with using different "taste" filler, do they affect the dough humidity ? how does that impact the cooking time or cooking temperature ?
Once you can do that and sell them, learn to integrate new and different ingredients that you want to use, how does the flavour work, not just when tasting each ingredient raw, but mixed in the dough and cooked.
If that works, then you are on the road to muffin glory.
Remember you are making muffins, not cakes or cupecakes or pastries; they still have to be at "healthy" as possible.
100% your own is going to be difficult. I think we all start with a base recipe somewhere and tweak it and those tweaks evolve. There are so many ways you can personalize a cookbook muffin recipe besides just changing the fruit. Change the spices, swap brown sugar for white, add in different grains or flours - oat, ww, cornmeal - add or subtract nuts or chocolate, put a different topping on it, use melted butter instead of oil. So maybe the straightforward raspberry muffin becomes a blueberry cornmeal muffin with ginger almond streusel. I'd eat that!