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Muffin clinic: creating the best muffin recipe

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Dan Lepard Dan Lepard | 11:02 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

The ultimate in food is an utterly personal ideal and, to a large extent, selfish in the best possible way. It’s all about your desires, making sure that particular flavour combination or texture is brilliantly highlighted even if you’re alone in liking it. So if you like muffins, as I do, then what you need isn’t the “best muffin recipe” so much as tips on changes you can make to correct the bits you don’t like to create your own personal best.
American cake-type muffins, as opposed to the flat English hotplate variety, are interesting here because the best ones are typically home made and fairly low-tech, meaning that the methods to achieve the best result can usually be found in every home. If I go back to an old recipe from 1931, out of a book I have called “The Baker’s Weekly Recipes” there appear to be two key methods traditionally used:

Pumpkin and rosemary muffins


The all-in method: the liquid and eggs are beaten before the flour is folded through

The cake method: the butter and sugar and beaten, the eggs added, then the flour

Each type owes its final result to the proportion of fat, flour, liquid and sugar, and to some extent the individual characteristics of each ingredient. For example, the bleached all-purpose flour available from some of the bigger American millers (it’s not sold here by law) has the curious ability to hold more fat and sugar in suspension compared to out UK plain flour. The type of sugar you use can affect the way the muffin curves on top, as dark brown sugar can cause the muffin top to flatten. And if you use a cooking margarine rather than butter, you do get a lighter crumb from the emulsifiers it contains.

I asked Andrew Janjigian, associate editor at Cook's Illustrated Magazine, where they’re obsessed with finding the most foolproof way to bake everything, about the common mistake they see in muffins. “They’re either far too delicate and overly rich,” says Andrew, “or dry, crumbly and dense. People mistakenly think that since muffins are a breakfast food, they should be ultra-healthy, and then don't make them rich enough.” So it’s the middle ground you want in the best muffin, says Andrew, avoiding extremes but “closer to a quick bread than a cupcake”.
Getting that really lofty rise to your muffin is often just down to baking it right. “Just like with bread,” says Andrew, “the key to a high rise muffin is getting the mixture to spring upward in the oven. That means setting the oven temperature higher than you might otherwise, letting ingredients or the batter come to room temperature before baking, and even placing the muffin tin on a preheated pizza stone.”
One last big tip. Keep you flavour on the dry side and intense for the best flavour, use slightly more spices, flavourings and what factory bakers call “inclusions”, or “the bits you stir in” in plain English. So more chocolate chips, more blueberries…you get the idea. Instead of stirring the pieces of fruit or chocolate through the mixture, try alternating small spoonfuls of the mixture with pieces into the paper cases. This will control just where the pieces end up after baking.

Blueberry muffins by Paul Hollywood.

 When we made Paul Hollywood's blueberry muffins, all the berries went on top for show!

So here are my key tweaks for perfecting your muffins:

  • If the muffin top is too flat and smooth, try slightly reducing the sugar and fat in the recipe by 20% to see if that makes a difference.
  • If the crumb of the muffin is too dense, try slightly increasing the amount of egg (especially egg white), slightly decrease the flour, and for every 150g wheat flour replace two heaped teaspoons of flour with the same measure of cornflour. This helps to create a finer crumb structure.
  • If the crumb of the muffin is too coarse, try reducing the number of times you fold in the flour. As you fold in the flour, count 30 beats of the spatula through the mixture. You maw still see a few lumps when you spoon the batter into the paper case, but your muffin crumb will be more delicate.
  • If your muffin bakes a little dry, increase the oven temperature and decrease the baking time.

Do you have a favourite method for achieving the ultimate muffin? Let us know.

Muffin round-up:


  • Comment number 1.

    This is my kind of blog post. For years I've experimented with different muffin recipes, forever striving for the perfect one... and I'm still searching! I don't expect miracles and consider myself a reasonable baker, but can anyone enlightened me on how these cafe chains and businesses achieve the massive dome muffin tops? Because I've yet to work it out!

  • Comment number 2.

    i have made muffins for years now using the very good book by susan reimer called muffins fast and fantastic which i bought years ago from a well known kitchenware company. it has lots of tips and advice and different methods. i make mine using sunflower oil and achieve lovely dome tops. i mix the wet ingredients really well first then into the dry really quickly using a little whisk till no flour can be seen, dont over stir. i make a tray of 10, leaving the 2 central cups empty and have no problems with them rising. i like to make a few different flavours at a time cos they freeze really well and then take them out of the freezer for packed lunches. we like apricot and ginger, cranberry and orange and of course choc chip.

  • Comment number 3.

    pastries are just a universal favorite. I've been a muffin lover for a long time, I try to find time, at least, once a week to bake some and learn more about new recipes and techniques in making them. I also drop by some bakeries once in a while to buy some and taste test. That way, I don't stuck my opinions on what I make and I tend to get inspired if those muffins taste new or different. For the bakeries, I tend to check out a lot of them but for online recipes and tips, I mostly rely on gourmetrecipe: [Broken URL edited by Moderator]
    They have already enough and more plus Michelin chefs are also participating in it so it's where I often go.

  • Comment number 4.

    When I first made muffins I was told to only mix the ingredients as little as possible and to only grease the base of each tin (I don't use cases) as greasing the sides prevents rising. Every muffin I have made has been a great success!

  • Comment number 5.

    This is a terrific article that you have shared to us, most specially to us working mommies. Actually, my kids have a habit of eating muffins. I have my own version of muffin recipe that I wanted to share to your followers. I split my mixture and made cheese mini muffins with one half and banana mini muffins with the other ingredients. For my youngest daughter, I wanted to fill her lunchbox with healthier exciting treats. She loved the mini form of these, liked the banana flavor a little less (but please know she's a *very* fussy eater and this banana is in a new form for her). These muffins are whipped up quickly... I was uncertain which spices to use so added a little dash of cinnamon to the banana and the tiniest dash of cayenne to the cheese ones. This is definitely a recipe to "play" with and to add on to... I'm saving it to my handwritten cookbook and will be experimenting again soonest because the bacon and cheddar variation sounds yummy too! I always rely on nutritious recipes at and Right now, I really enjoy cooking in my kitchen with my family and friends with the help of these sites.


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