Here are some tips for baking muffins. If you bake them right, there's nothing like a fresh-baked muffin!
- The recipes included here use a 12–cup muffin pan, each cup having a capacity of about 1/3 cup. This has become a standard size for the new, non-stick muffin pans and most aluminum pans for sale. If your pan has larger or smaller cups, adjust the baking time by about five minutes more for the larger muffins, five minutes less for the smaller ones. If muffins in the small cups get too brown, reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.
- Most muffin recipes offer dire warnings: Don't overmix! Fill muffin cups only a fraction of the way—from 1/2 to 2/3. Ignore all this and use common sense. Don't be afraid to stir the ingredients together until they look like batter. Just remember not to use an electric mixer, since beating the batter will produce hockey pucks. And fill the cups as much as you want to. The idea is to bake some muffins, not worry about what fraction of space the batter should occupy. I confess that I spoon the batter around in my 12–cup pan as evenly as I can, usually filling each cup right up to the top, and the muffins come out fine.
- Depending on what ingredients you're using, the batter will range from runny (like thin cake batter) to very thick (like drop-cookie dough). As a general rule, the thinner the batter, the lighter the muffins will be when baked. But don't be afraid to bake thick, gloppy batter. It can yield moist muffins with extra keeping power.
- Buttermilk gives muffins a special moistness and flavor. You can buy it fresh in most supermarkets, or look for dry, powdered buttermilk, which will keep for weeks and is the next best thing. Add the powder to your dry ingredients, and add the amount of water needed to the wet ingredients. (Note: Whenever you add buttermilk to a recipe, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of buttermilk.)
- Keep your pantry stocked with imaginative additions for muffins: raisins, nuts, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, canned pumpkin or squash, applesauce, and pineapple tidbits. You can also add dry or cooked breakfast cereal, wheat germ, and granola to the batter.
- Grease muffin pans well before adding the batter. Save paper from sticks of butter for this, or use an oil spray. (After experimenting with paper baking cups and with greased pans, I've come to prefer the greased pans. Sometimes baking cups cause the bottoms of the muffins to get soggy, or the muffins will stick to them.)
- If you end up with too little batter in your batch for the number of cups in your pan, put a little water in the empties to keep the greased surfaces from scorching in the oven.
- For a special effect, before baking muffins, sprinkle them with sugar or cinnamon sugar. Or use this Crumb Topping: In a food processor, combine 1 cup flour, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup rolled oats or granola, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1 stick cold butter (cut into small bits). Pulse together until the mixture forms fine crumbs. Store in a covered jar in the freezer and use as needed.
- To jazz up leftover muffins, split them in half, butter each half, and place them under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Be careful reheating them in a microwave; they can quickly get soggy.