At Christmas I made my brother-in-law George a certificate for a personalized “Sweet Treat of the Month Club,” promising him monthly deliveries of home-baked goodies. I found out that blueberries are his favorite fruit, so when my local market had organic blueberries from Mexico on super sale, I couldn’t resist jumping the season and making him some fresh blueberry muffins.
The problem with baking for George is that he has two growing and perpetually hungry boys, plus my sister-in-law who doesn’t mind a good baked treat either. But George loves fruit and the rest of his family doesn’t, so one month I made him oatmeal cranberry-raisin cookies, and I figured blueberry-loaded muffins might also discourage George’s eager family from eating too many of his Christmas presents.
Muffins get a bad rap for being an excuse to eat cake in the morning. This is true. But I think muffins have a real opportunity to expand beyond unhealthy breakfast food and become a cupcake with redeeming qualities. Cupcakes are usually terrible cakes that hide under a mountain of sick-sweet frosting. But muffins have to stand alone on the quality of their ingredients – which is why most of them fail. A good muffin can carry all kinds of choice ingredients – fruits, nuts, shredded veggies like carrot or zucchini – and serve them up irresistibly wrapped in a tender sweet crumb. A good muffin is a feat of great baking.
I still yearn for the late, great Suzanne’s Mufffins, which started in the Bay Area in 1986 and sadly closed in 2000. Suzanne’s are the only muffins I ever bought that I liked. And I loved them. In fact, I loved them so much I can’t even recall a favorite. I just remember all kinds of fantastic flavors – apple, cranberry, cinnamon, chocolate, coconut, pineapple, pumpkin, lemon – constantly changing and always enticing. At its peak, Suzanne’s Muffins had 10 stores and a strong mail-order business that even garnered a New York Times mention. But with a family and a growing business to manage, it apparently got to be too much for Suzanne. She closed up, leaving me to my own feeble muffin-making skills.
Of all the cookbooks in my kitchen, the ones I can always count on to deliver are the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. These muffins typically Ina – simple, generous, flavorful. They are heavy on the blueberry, the way I like them, and so delectable that my kids ask for them on birthdays instead of cupcakes.
Ready for my arm workout. Cream butter and sugar.
Gets easier when I start adding the eggs. One at a time, please.
Add plain yogurt (of course Ina uses sour cream) and vanilla.
Mix dry ingredients separately.
Add in batches to wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.
Add blueberries and fold in gently. You can use frozen blueberries, but they make the batter a little blue. Wait until the last minute to measure and add them; the more they thaw the more they bleed indigo. Also if you use frozen blueberries try to cook all the muffins at once – subsequent batches only get bluer.
I make small muffins and mini muffins. Big muffins in a household of little kids makes for a lot of half-eaten muffins. You do need the muffin liners – I’ve tried making them without and ended up with a lot of crumbs instead of whole muffins.
I gave George a dozen and a half muffins to take home. I think they had two left when they arrived (less than three miles away). My sister-in-law says if I wanted George to enjoy all of his Christmas subscription, I should have made it the “Vegetable of the Month Club.” An inspired idea for next year.
Blueberry Muffins (adapted from Ina Garten)
I love Ina Garten and her Barefoot Contessa cookbooks: fresh, well-tested recipes that really work. This one is adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style. The original recipe is also available on foodnetwork.com.
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt (or 1 1/4 cup plain yogurt and skip the milk)
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt (skip if using salted butter)
- 2 half-pints fresh blueberries, picked through for stems
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with paper liners.
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Add the vanilla, sour cream or yogurt, and milk (unless using plain yogurt; see recipe note above).
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Add the flour mixture to the batter in batches (approximately 1/3 at a time) and beat until just mixed.
- Fold in the blueberries with a spatula and be sure the batter is completely mixed.
- Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pans. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full for small muffins (flat top), or up to the top for large muffins with a domed top. Sprinkle coarse sugar on top if desired.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the muffins are lightly browned on top and a cake tester comes out clean.
Ina makes 16 large muffins. I make about 20 modest regular-size muffins and 24 mini muffins.
- If using frozen blueberries, don’t measure them out until you need them – the more they thaw, the more they bleed indigo juices into the batter.
- Lemon zest is also a really nice addition – mix in with the wet ingredients.
- Do use muffin liners – it’s very hard to get these muffins out of the pans intact without them.
Here’s the link to a printable version.