There are two types of Muffins, English and American.
The English Muffin which predates the American muffin is a disk shaped bread leavened by yeast. They are traditionally toasted, served with butter and preservatives and eaten for breakfast with coffee or tea.
I’ll be focusing more on the American Muffin, as that is what we are baking for Muffin Mondays.
The perfect American Muffin – which can be sweet or savory – is one that is light, moist and tender, doubled in size during baking and has a symmetrical domed top. As for taste, the American Muffins can be further broken down into two parts; one that uses more butter and sugar is ‘cake-like’, and one that uses less butter and sugar and tastes ‘bread-like’.
There are also two different methods that are used to bake cake and bread-like muffins. The more common ‘Muffin Method’ is a is simple batter prepared with a mix of dry ingredients in a bowl and a mix of the wet in the other are combined together right before baking and is used to bake ‘bread like’ muffins. While a ‘cake like’ muffin calls for the regular creaming of butter and sugar, adding eggs and alternating the wet and dry ingredients. Owing to the fat content, the cake-like muffins reduce the development of gluten and produce a richer and softer muffin whereas the Muffin Method produces coarser, more elastic and textured muffin.
The basic batter of an American muffin contains: flour or whole grains, sugar, baking powder or soda, milk (can be substituted by buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt) and the flavoring. Of course, your imagination is the limit – it could be nuts, fruits, extracts, spices, preservatives, oats, anything really.
What separates muffins from cupcakes?
There are quite a few differentiatiers but I’m focusing on the 3 that are easily identifiable:
- The main difference is the method, ‘the muffin method’ is more often used to bake muffins
- Ingredients and spices such as zucchini, ginger, nutmeg, bacon or cinnamon would not be typically used in cupcakes
- In appearance it is the frosting. A muffin doesn’t have a frosting but a crumb/ streusel or a glaze is used to add flavor and make it more special.
Muffins are baked in pans made of carbon steel, aluminum, non-stick coated cast iron and silicon rubber. The depressions in these tins are lined with round cups made of paper or foil. This has three advantages: It shapes the muffins, are easy to clean, and simple to remove from the pan. However, silicon cups do not require liners.
Type of Pans:
- Standard pans available with 6, 12, or 24 cups that are 2 3/4? in diameter and 1 1/8? in depth hold a 1/2 cup batter
- Jumbo pans usually available in 6 cups that are 3’ in diameter and 1 ½’ in depth will easily hold a cup of batter
- Mini Muffin pans available with either 12 or 24 cups that are around 13/4’ in diameter and 7/8’ inches in depth hold around 2 tablespoons of batter
- Shiny aluminum pans always prevent the muffins from becoming too dark around the sides
- You could also get muffin top pans that are 3 inches in diameter, 1/2 inch in depth and hold 3 tablespoons of batter
A muffin liner should not be more than 1/2 to 1/3rd full to give it enough space to double in size. Over filling can cause an uneven shape or ‘flying saucer’ tops.
Muffin Mixing Methods:
1. Muffin Method
A basic batter made using two bowls. One bowl to to mix the dry ingredients and a second one for the wet ones. The fat usually is liquid, like melted butter or oil. Once mixed individually, they are then combined.
Mixing is the most important part and has a big effect on the final product. If the ratio of the liquid to flour is high, you will tend to over-mix the batter. It is perfectly acceptable for the batter to be a little lumpy as traces of flour disappear while baking.
Over-mixing leads to:
- Over-development of gluten in the flour resulting in muffins with a compact texture
- The batter becoming stringy, forming long strands and making it hard for the baking powder or soda to work. This would result in muffins with tunnels
- Apart from not rising earlier while baking, the muffins will have a lighter slick crust and top which will be misshapen and have peaks. It’ll also look dull. Anywhere between 8 to 12 strokes should do the trick while mixing
2. Cake- Like Method
As the name suggests, the method is similar to baking a cake.
Cream the butter and sugar till its light and fluffy. Add eggs to combine. Alternate the dry and the wet ingredients and voila… you’re done. The fat content in these muffins are usually higher tenderizing it to produce richer and softer muffins.
A few more pointers to baking muffins:
- Always preheat the oven and let it reach the desired temperature before you put your muffins in
- Place the tray in the center of the preheated oven
- Resist opening the oven door during baking
- Ensure all your ingredients are measured accurately
- Don’t add more baking powder, thinking the muffins will rise more. Too much can cause them to over-rise and then collapse as muffins are top-heavy
- Don’t over-mix the ingredients as this will cause the muffins to be tough and the texture compact
- Once the dry and wet ingredients have been mixed, bake immediately as the baking powder starts to work by relaxing the dough and allowing it to rise.
- Don’t over-bake. Resulting muffins will be dry
- If using a dark colored pan, reduce the temperature by 20 degrees as they absorb more energy and transmit heat faster
- If there are unused cups, fill them half with water to prevent over-browning muffins or warping the pan
- The best test to determine the ‘doneness’ is to insert a wooden toothpick in the centre and if the toothpick comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. This is a sign that the muffin is ready
- After taking out the pan from the oven, do not leave them in the muffin pan. Instead let the muffins sit on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes.
- If your muffins stick to the pan, try placing the pan on a wet tea towel for 5-10 minutes allowing it to loosen the muffins
- When baking more than one pan of muffins, ensure you allow enough room around and in-between each pan for heat to circulate. Also you will need to rotate the pans during baking
- If you want your muffins to have crusts, avoid paper tins and grease or lightly wet the bottom of the depressions in your cooking pan with cooking spray
- Chopped nuts, fruit and other small ingredients may be combined with the dry ingredients or folded gently into the batter near the end of mixing
- For muffins of consistent sizes, use either a gravy ladle, measuring cup or an ice cream scoop to spoon the batter into cups.
Muffins store very well. After cooling you can put them in an airtight container at room temperature. However, refrigerate them if they contain perishable items.
You can refresh your day-old muffins by either heating it in the microwave at 50% power until they are warm or wrap them in a foil loosely and bake in a preheated 325F oven. Muffins will harden if overheated, so keep a close eye.
You can also freeze them for 2-3 months by using plastic wrap tightly and using an airtight freezer bag. They can be thawed in their wrapping and then unwrapped and baked loosely in a foil in a preheated oven at 225F for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the muffin. They’ll be as fresh as new!