Monday, January 18, 2010

Muffin Ma'am

Janet here: We're kicking off this week's blogs with, appropriately, a breakfast item. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, why not make it something just a little special? I've been eating yogurt — usually Dannon's coffee flavor, although Stoneyfield's organic non-fat yogurt has been a staple since I did Weight Watchers — for decades. My husband and son S, meanwhile, are cereal eaters. All kinds of boring, don't you think? And that's the joy of muffins. Bake up a batch on the weekend, and you have instantly made breakfast a cheerier meal for the rest of the week.

Muffins' ability to bring cheer hit home with me last year after my mother-in-law died. My father-in-law was understandably bereft losing his help and soul mate after 56 years of marriage. She was also a good cook so the loss was a double whammy for a man who enjoys a good meal. So I started making these muffins. I made them week after week after week — so regularly, in fact, that he started calling me the Muffin Queen. We all got just a bit tired of them, but he didn't and so I kept baking, bringing just a bit of sunshine to a life that was all shades of gray.

This particular recipe is from one of my favorite culinary ladies, Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa. I have five of her cookbooks and I refer to them all the time. (Indeed there will be another recipe of hers featured later this week; stay tuned.) This one for triple berry muffins is from The Barefoot Contessa at Home. I amended it to just use blueberries and raspberries; I'm pretty sure Ina would approve. I also make my muffins in large tins rather than the regular size. Why scrimp when muffins are so special?

Triple Berry Muffins

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (the ingredient that really gives these pizazz I think)
1 1/4 cups milk
2 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup diced fresh strawberries
1 1/2 cups sugar


Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with liners.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in large bowl. (FYI, I don't sift. Ever.)Stir with your hand to make sure ingredients are combined. In another bowl combine milk, eggs and butter. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, pour wet ingredients into the well and stir until just combined. There will be some lumps; don't overmix the batter. Add the fruit and sugar and combine gently.
Use a 2 1/4 ice cream scoop to spoon the batter into the liners. Bake 20-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean and the tops are brown.

Rachel here: So, my partner and I are in the process of moving. We have the good fortune of having two apartments this month and, with that luck, the accompanying difficulty of remembering what is where at any given moment. Seriously, the only thing I own whose location I am positive of these days is my bed. Anyway, needless to say, this created some escapades this morning.

The plan was to spend the day at the new apartment, unpacking what we could and generally getting things going in the new space. So, after our coffee this morning, I dutifully packed up my cookbook, butter, a spatula, and other muffin making necessities, checking items off of the list I'd developed in my head. No sooner had I preheated the oven (oh, and what an oven it's an O'Keefe and Merrit a la photo number 6) then I realized I had brought no measuring spoons NOR did I have a single spoon in the house, I had fewer muffin/cupcake paper wrappers than I needed AND I had neglected to bring the paddle to my KitchenAid mixer. Grrr...

My partner was adamant I could still pull these muffins off. This optimism irritated me until I decided that, if not, it would at least make a good story and, most likely, a pretty yummy mess. And so, instead of creaming my butter and sugar into a wonderfully fluffy goo, I threw them in my Cuisinart (which, of course, I only had the sharp metal blade with me for) and turned them (along with the eggs, banana and yogurt...which I also didn't bring enough of) into an unpromising liquid. At this point I had strayed so far from the recipe's orders that I was convinced there was no way in hell these muffins wouldn't come out like little boulders. Instead, in some freak incident I'm sure (because if not following the rules always works this well than my entire world will be turned upside down), my muffins came out just fine. WEIRD. OK, they're not wonderful, but they are completely edible and definitely still better than their store-bought counterparts. Could they be fluffier? Absolutely. Will they all be eaten? Without a doubt.

The moral of my story is, I suppose, twofold: First, just because your partner thinks something can still work out doesn't mean he is trying to ruin your life with his optimism or that your general propensity toward skepticism need be re-evaluated; second, evidently muffins (and baking in general?!?) might not be the finicky princesses I had figured they were beforehand. Anyway, follow this recipe from The Best Recipe (I added some strawberries to the banana walnut variation) or just mix all of these ingredients together and cross your fingers. Either way, I'm pretty sure your breakfast tomorrow morning will be a little bit brighter.

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tspn. baking soda
1/2 tspn. salt (*Note: I always lean towards the generous side with salt during baking. I swear it brings out flavors.)
1/2 tspn. nutmeg
10 T. unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. plain low-fat yogurt
1 c. light brown sugar
1 1/2 c. finely diced banana
1/2 c. strawberries
3/4 c. walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in middle position. Whisk flour, baking powder, soda, salt and nutmeg in bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one. Add half of dry ingredients and incorporate. Beat in 1/3 of the yogurt. Continue alternating dries and yogurt until everything is incorporated. Fold in bananas, strawberries and walnuts.

Now, according to the official recipe you should scoop your batter into greased muffin tins. I used little cupcake paper wrappers, though, to cut down on clean-up (on account of the move). While the sides don't get quite as well cooked, I personally feel like there's nothing wrong with this approach. If I were making them for an event I wouldn't use the paper wrappers, but when it's just for home, the time I save on clean-up is worth the compromise to me! Anyway, enjoy!

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