We all have our gifts, and here are mine: I write very good thank you notes. I grow really beautiful lettuce. And I can bake any kind of muffin.
I cracked the muffin code in 1987, when I was a graduate student in theoretical linguistics. Some time in January, I figured out that I really, really did NOT want to be a linguist when I grew up. Yet I needed to finish out the academic year at UC Santa Cruz. So I pondered what unique, life-enriching experiences I could have in my four or five remaining months on California's Central Coast. And looking around me, I decided that what was truly exceptional about that place at that time was the quality of the muffins. They had fabulous muffins in Santa Cruz, and I set out to learn how to make them. I baked muffins every day.
I found a willing set of taste-testers in my fellow graduate students: graduate students will eat anything. I'm pretty sure that a quarter century later, this is still true.
Over the years, the master recipe has changed very little, although I have made hundreds of variations. These muffins are fast--I can go from muffin concept to loaded oven in 12 minutes and 43 seconds (but who's counting?). And they are pretty healthy: these days I make them exclusively with whole-grain flour and canola oil, and I usually load them up with fruit and nuts. Yes, there's some sugar in there. But I think you should relax about that.
Here is the Master Muffin Recipe:
2 cups flour (I like white whole wheat or whole-grain pastry flour; but any kind will do)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup dairy (buttermilk, yogurt, or milk soured with 1 tsp. vinegar)
1/3 cup oil or melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Whatever else you want to add: dried fruit, diced fresh fruit, nuts, bananas, pumpkin, chocolate chips
- Combine the dry ingredients
- Combine the wet ingredients
- Gently mix the wet and dry ingredients together until they are just barely combined
- Fold in whatever fruit, nuts, etc. strike your fancy
- Spoon batter into greased or lined muffin cups, and bake until done (usually 22-25 minutes)
Thousands of muffins later, here are some suggestions:
- Dried buttermilk is awesome: if you use it, then add 4 Tbsp. to the dry ingredients, and use water instead of other dairy in the wet ingredients.
- Feel free to add other spices to the dry ingredients: cinnamon is the obvious choice; ground ginger and nutmeg are also lovely, or you could get a little edgy and add cayenne pepper.
- If you want to add in a fruit or vegetable puree (mashed bananas, a can of pumpkin, grated carrots, grated zucchini), then mix it in with the wet ingredients and decrease the liquid to 3/4 cup.
- You can swap 1 cup of rolled oats for 1/2 cup of the flour.
- You can substitute a little lemon or orange juice for some of the liquid. Be sure to add a little grated peel as well.
- If you make banana muffins, then increase the salt to 1/2 tsp. I don't know why it makes those muffins sing, but it does
- You can use frozen berries straight from the freezer; no need to defrost them first. But you will need to increase your baking time a little bit.
Some of my favorite variations: chopped plums and walnuts; peaches and pecans; pears, nuts and crystallized ginger; blueberry lemon; oatmeal and mixed berries; cranberry orange; raspberry chocolate chip; banana walnut chocolate chip (with a little extra salt--trust me!); jalapeno cornmeal; and the current household favorite, pumpkin chocolate chip:
It is October, so today's muffins will be apple cinnamon, maybe with some walnuts. They will be ready around 9:00. Bring your own coffee.