North Coast Journal

FOOD - MAY 1995


by Betty Thompson

Hot breads are always a hit and muffins are one of the easiest to make. They are more quickly and easily made than biscuits and no kneading, rolling or cutting is required.

They can be a savory, last minute dinner muffin or a sweet delicious breakfast muffin. Made using whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, bran, honey, fruits and nuts they can be very nutritious. But like the healthy granola craze which turned into candy bars, muffins also can quickly turn into cupcakes.

Eating cupcakes for breakfast is your choice, but donÕt tell yourself you are eating healthy breakfast muffins. A recent magazine article revealed some muffins available in New York delicatessens were claimed to be low fat, but actually contained up to 23 grams of fat. ThatÕs more fat than two Egg McMuffins.

What is the difference between muffins and cupcakes? Some say cupcakes have frosting. A basic formula for muffins is 2 cups flour, 2-4 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, 1/4 cup oil, shortening or butter, 1 cup milk. When the fat, sugar and egg ratio in a recipe reaches double or more than this, you have reached the cake level.

Another technical difference between cake and muffin is the mixing method. The muffin method is by far the fastest and easiest. Flour, sugar, baking powder and salt (all the dry ingredients) are mixed together. This is where the leavening can be uniformly dispersed into the flour. Sugar is mixed with the flour to prevent the flour from lumping when combined with the wet ingredients.

In a separate bowl, oil (or melted butter) and egg are beaten together to form an emulsion to disperse the fat more uniformly. Then the milk is stirred in. This much mixing can be done ahead and held. The two are combined just before baking.

To combine, cut and fold liquid into the dry ingredients. Mix only to combine. Batter will be lumpy but no pockets of dry ingredients should remain. The general rule is only 12 strokes.

Bake as soon as it is mixed. When filling cups, do not mix batter between scoops. Excessive mixing causes loss of leavening. .

Sometimes muffins are mixed using the cake method, i.e. cream the fat and sugar, add eggs, add the dry ingredients and milk alternately. This is more time consuming but produces a lighter, more tender, cake-like muffin.

A «four-star» muffin has a thin brown crust, a slightly rounded top with a pebbled appearance and a moist, even interior. There should be no peaks, no tunnels which are usually caused by excessive mixing and too much liquid (muffin batter should not be fluid).

More leavening is not better. Just because a recipe is in print does not mean that it is in balance. A guide for leavening 2 cups of flour in a recipe is either 2 1/2 teaspoons double acting baking powder, or 4 teaspoons fast acting baking powder, or 1/2 teaspoon soda plus 1 cup buttermilk (for the acid) and 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder. Excess baking powder and soda taste bitter.

Here are a few tips for altering recipes. Substitute two egg whites for one egg in the recipe. If these are stiffly beaten and folded in at the end it will produce a lighter muffin with less fat.

Use nonfat milk in place of whole milk, use salad oil in place of butter. In place of the fat in the recipe, use one-fourth of the oil and replace the other three-fourths with fruit purée such as applesauce. Jars of baby food fruits provide a quick choice of purées other than apple. Adding non-gluten grain products (bran, germ, oatmeal, corn meal) for part of the flour makes a more tender muffin.

Create your own taste sensations. Begin with the basic formula and change 1/2 cup of the flour to corn meal, bran, wheat germ, rye, oatmeal or leftover cooked cereal. Add 1/2 to one cup chopped apple, dates, prunes, raisins, apricots, figs, blueberries, cranberries, cheese, nuts.

Make your favorite muffin mixes by measuring the dry ingredients twice (or more ) into two separate bowls. Use one and package one with the list of wet ingredients to be added when mixing at a later date.

The goal for this monthÕs recipes was to bake a delicious muffin which did not fall into the cake category.



Maple Pecan Muffins

This is a great way to eat oatmeal in the morning or anytime. Add one finely chopped pear for a delicious variation.

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 teaspoon maple extract

1 egg (2 egg whites)

1/4 cup corn oil (2 tablespoons oil plus 2 tablespoons fruit purée)

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped pecans (2 tablespoons)

Topping: 1 tablespoon maple syrup and 1/4 cup chopped pecans

Combine oats, buttermilk, maple extract, egg and oil. Beat well with a spoon to combine.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, soda, baking powder, brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Cut and fold wet ingredients into the dry. Spoon into greased muffin pans or papers.

Top each muffin with 1/4 teaspoon maple syrup and a sprinkle of chopped pecans. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Yield: 12 muffins.



Marmalade Muffins

A surprise center of orange marmalade intensifies the orange flavor, or try the lemon-apricot variation.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup bran flakes

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

rind of 1 orange, grated

1/4 cup corn oil (2 tablespoonss oil plus 3 tablespoons fruit purée)

1 egg, beaten (2 egg whites)

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup nonfat milk

2-3 tablespoons orange marmalade

In a large bowl combine flour, bran, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt and grated orange peel. In a separate bowl, beat egg and corn oil well with a fork to form an emulsion. Add orange juice and milk. Add wet to dry ingredients.

Quickly cut and fold together. Spoon into greased muffin cups or papers about half full, top with 1/2 teaspoon marmalade. Add one more spoonful of batter to the top of each.

Bake at 400° for about 25 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins.

Variation: Substitute lemonade for the orange juice; 1 teaspoon lemon peel for the orange peel and fill each with 1/2 teaspoon apricot jam.



Fruit Bran Muffins

A hearty breakfast muffin, adapted from an old Sunset magazine recipe, made with unprocessed bran at 20 cents a pound in place of bran cereals at $3.50 a pound.

Vary them by changing the honey to molasses and substituting other dried fruits such as dates, prunes and apricots for the apples and raisins. These keep well for several days.

To plump and soften raisins, soak in hot water for 10 minutes, drain and pat dry.

1 1/2 cups unprocessed bran

1/4 cup wheat germ or oat bran

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (2 tablespoons)

1 cup grated carrots

1 cup diced apple

1/2 cup raisins, plumped

1 egg or( 2 egg whites)

1/4 cup vegetable oil (2 tablespoons oil plus 2 tablespoons fruit purée)

1/2 cup honey or molasses

3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

In a large bowl, combine brans, flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Add nuts, carrots, apple and raisins.

In another bowl, beat egg and oil together, add honey and buttermilk and mix well. Pour wet ingredients into the dry and cut and fold just to moisten. Spoon into greased or paper-lined muffin pans, filling them 3/4 full.

Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes. Yield 18 muffins.

Betty Thompson has taught cooking classes locally since 1974.