Americans love muffins—they seemed to become de rigueur in the 80’s and then dropped back in popularity. But they’ve made a comeback—and fortunately, they’re much healthier and lower in calories and fat then previously. You see, muffins really don’t need a lot of fat to be tender, moist, and flavorful. Substituting fruit purees and other liquid ingredients like low-fat buttermilk and liquid sweeteners such as honey or molasses add the needed tenderness and moisture.
These were popular in the late 19thand early 20th centuries and were known as gems. Even the baking pans were called gem pans. Then in mid 20th century, the standardized muffin pan came into being—larger than gems but smaller than the mammoth muffins we find served in many restaurants and bakeries today. Calorie count aside, the smaller size muffins are just the right amount for meals and snacks.
Muffins are ridiculously easy to make but there are a few rules to follow to insure great results every time. Sift the dry ingredients together; set aside. Combine liquid ingredients and add all at once to the dry. Stir only enough to moisten the dry ingredients. Extra mixing will result in tough, tunnel-filled muffins. Fill muffin cups about three-quarters full and bake at a relatively high temperature—usually 375-425. Be sure to watch the time and err on the shorter time as over-baking muffins with less fat results in dry muffins.
A few muffins are made by the cake method, which is to cream the shortening and sugar, adding eggs; then dry ingredients alternately with liquid. The bran muffin recipe that follows uses this method.
I always line metal muffin tins with paper liners, lightly sprayed with Pam. I do own a stoneware muffin pan that does not need to be lined, and is especially good for baking savory muffins with a browned, crispy crust such as corn muffins.
The muffin I made most often for the coffee baskets is well known to many of you—it is a bran muffin that can be mixed and stored in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks, thereby allowing us to bake the muffins fresh every morning without having to start from scratch. Guests requested this recipe all the time—I think it is the best of the bran muffins that I have tried and it really doesn’t have much fat at all.
Lynette’s Buttermilk Bran Muffins
Pour boiling water over bran cereal. In electric mixer bowl, cream sugar and shortening. Add eggs and beat well. Mix in sifted flour, soda and salt, adding alternately with buttermilk. Add raisins and bran cereal. Mix on low speed, just until mixture is blended. Spoon (I use a small spring-style scoop) into well-greased or paper-lined and sprayed muffin tins ¾ full. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes. If you are making mini muffins, bake 13 minutes.
Muffins are almost a perfect breakfast food; they’re portable for when you’re dashing out the door and they usually contain the basics: whole grains, fruit, protein, and some fat. Here’s a muffin that the kids will love, but so will the grown-ups. We now have a keeper.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins (adapted from Cooking Light Nov. 07)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat made by both King Arthur and Bob’s Mill)
¼ cup granulated sugar (can use raw)
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ cup milk
¾ cup low-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup peanut butter (not natural style)
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup strawberry jam (or the jelly or jam of your choice)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, sugars, baking powder, soda and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture. Combine milk and next 4 ingredients (through vanilla); add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray (or paper liners sprayed with cooking spray). Fill each cup ½ full with batter. Spoon 1 tsp. jam into each cup. Spoon remaining batter on top to cover jam. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Let cool in pan 5 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool on a wire rack. Yield: 1 dozen (serving size: 1 muffin)
Another Delicious Healthy Muffin: Grape Nuts Muffins
1-1/4 cups Grape Nuts Cereal
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp, vanilla
3 ½ Tbsp. butter, melted
½ cup applesauce
1 large egg
½ cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup white all-purpose flour
¾ cup white whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. cinnamon
½ cup brown sugar
Oven temperature: 400 deg. F. Line with paper muffin liners a 12 place muffin tin. Mix buttermilk and cereal; set aside. Mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt. To cereal mixture, add egg and beat; stir in applesauce, vanilla, melted butter and nuts-stir. Add liquids to dry ingredients. Fold only till moist and no white streaks show. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups—fill to the top. Bake 20-22 minutes until testing done. Do not overbake.