Monday, May 18, 2009

The Muffin Quandary

A year or two ago I attended and enjoyed a taping of the The Martha Stewart Show. Before the taping I got a short tour of the kitchen and the set. One of the guests was chef Tom Colicchio and Annie Lennox was there to sing a song off of her new album. After the show taped Martha took a few questions from the audience. One woman asked for a picture with Martha, a request that was politely nixed. Another asked how Martha kept in such good shape. The last one was from a lovely and slightly fragile looking woman from New Jersey. She wore a skirt and pearls and looked to be in her mid-30s. Her question was earnest and her voice was hopeful; finally she’d be getting the answer to her pressing domestic question: “How do I keep muffins fresh and delicious for a day or two after I bake them?”

Martha stammered about following the recipe, saying you really should just eat them right away and rambled on a bit more, about what I don’t remember. Overall, it was a lame answer, muddled and slightly impatient.

I’ve often thought about that woman from New Jersey and how disappointed she must have been in Martha’s answer. In my musings, the woman was a devoted Martha follower who is now confusingly disillusioned with her idol. If Martha couldn’t speak clearly about how to keep muffins fresh then what did that say about Martha?!

But, the thing is, Martha was right. She just should have been clearer about it. Muffins really should be eaten the day they’re baked, preferably within a half-hour after they come out of the oven. And that’s just the way it is. Wait much longer and they'll lose their enticing warmth, crisp top and tender interior texture.

But the good news is that while the muffins should be baked just before serving, the batter can easily be mixed the night before and stored in a container in the fridge. I do this all the time for blueberry muffins, stirring in the fruit just before I bake.

I also have a favorite muffin recipe from my mother (via Susan Berkey, a neighbor in Logan, Utah circa 1980) that claims the batter, enough for two-dozen muffins, can be kept in the refrigerator for five weeks. That seems like a long time to me. But, I do feel comfortable keeping the batter for several days, and I did just that last week. I prepped the batter Friday afternoon, baked a dozen muffins on Saturday morning and then baked the other dozen before work on Wednesday. If I’d wanted I could have baked four muffins a day for three days or any other combination I desired.

I still eat one or two-day old muffins, of course. But it’s nice to know how easy it is to have fresh, warm, healthful muffins any day of the week.

Here is Susan’s recipe with a few tweaks:

Raisin Bran Muffins (originally called Refrigerator Bran Muffins for obvious reasons)

3 cups whole bran cereal (like All-Bran)
1 cup boiling water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup raisins
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour

1. In a large bowl pour the boiling water over the cereal. Stir to moisten evenly, and allow to cool for a few minutes.
2. Add the eggs, molasses, buttermilk, canola oil, and raisins to the cereal. Stir to combine.
3. In a medium bowl stir together the baking soda, salt, sugar, all-purpose flour, and whole wheat flour.
4. Add flour mixture to cereal mixture and stir until just combined.
5. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.
6. When ready to bake, spoon the batter into greased or papered muffin cups and bake in a 425º oven for 20 minutes.

Yield: 24 standard-sized muffins


Anonymous said...

I love that recipe. It is so good.LH

Cate said...

yummy recipe. here's what we do to keep our muffins delicious for a couple of extra days... put them in a plastic ziploc bag and seal. then, when we're ready to eat them, we warm them in the oven. the bag makes them super moist, and the oven evaporates just enough moisture to make them taste freshly baked.

and, my goodness, i'm so surprised to hear that martha was off her game. love to the new jersey girl!

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