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Muffin Tips from a Baker Who Has Made Thousands (+3 Recipes)

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I was the muffin and scone maker at my first bakery job, at age 17. I would pull into the parking lot around 2:30 a.m. each morning and get baking, so there would be fresh items ready when the bakery opened a few hours later. I baked thousands of muffins, and I figured out what makes a great one (at least to me)! If you want to ace your own homemade muffin game, here’s what you need to know.

What makes a perfect muffin?

Like so many baked goods, what makes a perfect muffin is likely to depend on the eater’s personal preferences. I identify a good muffin by its crispy top, moist interior, and plenty of inclusions. (I once attempted to exchange a muffin at a bakery because I could only spot a single, lone blueberry.) There are a few rules to keep in mind—most importantly, not overmixing the batter. The more you mix, the more the batter will develop gluten—those dangerous protein strands which are desirable for bread baking but can make a muffin unnecessarily tough. Mix just until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and homogenous, then move on.

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Gluten development, in a picture
Gluten development, in a picture Photo by James Ransom

Cake vs. Muffin

What’s in a name? Often, just a lot of mental associations; for example, muffins and breakfast. I think just it’s a way we’ve collectively decided to eat dessert for breakfast. After all, a lot of muffin recipes are dangerously close in ratio to recipes for cake. Think about it: A muffin has light, airy crumbs and a moist interior, just like cake. The primary difference is with the surface. Domed cakes are often a no-no, but domed muffins are ten kinds of great. I’ve found the key difference to be that a muffin is acceptable to eat for breakfast, but cake is not. (No judgment to all you cake-for-breakfast eaters out there, though—I feel you.)

Make them big

When it comes to muffins, bigger really is better. A bigger muffin means more surface area at the top, plus a longer bake time, which means more time for that top surface to get crisp and awesome, in true muffin top form. To get a bakery-style, big ol' muffins, I use freestanding paper baking cups. You can buy them at baking supply stores or online (here are my favorites). They don’t need to be put in muffin pans, and can simply stand alone on a baking sheet—so there’s no need for a special size pan to get massive muffins of greatness! Fill your muffin cups about 2/3 way full—this ensures a nice dome on top.

No muffin tray necessary.
No muffin tray necessary. Photo by James Ransom

Inclusions

This is where a muffin goes from good to GREAT. Don’t skimp on inclusions—they should speckle the batter enough that you get some in every bite. When adding fresh fruit, it’s best to toss them in a portion of the flour (about 1/4 cup to every 2 cups of fruit)—this helps keep them suspended in the batter during baking. It’s also important to mix very carefully if you’re adding delicate fruit (like raspberries), or they’ll break down a lot during mixing. Dried fruit and nuts can be added—leave them in big chunks so they add texture to the batter, or chop them up nice and fine to distribute them more evenly—whatever you like. You can also swirl things like jam, peanut butter, Nutella, or caramel into the batter. If you can dream it, you can make it into a muffin.

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Flour the fruit before adding to muffin batter.
Flour the fruit before adding to muffin batter. Photo by James Ransom
Don't overmix!
Don't overmix! Photo by James Ransom

Toppings

I like all of my muffins to have some kind of topping, whether it’s a sprinkling of coarse sugar, a crumbly streusel, or a flavorful glaze. Apply the toppings to the surfaces of the muffins just before baking. If you’re using a glaze (like for my Apricot Oat Muffins), it can be nice to apply it both before and after baking. It adds so much flavor, plus a nice little glisten to the surface.

How do I even pick between the three?
How do I even pick between the three? Photo by James Ransom

Baking

Don’t overbake your muffins! This can dry them out and make the surface too dark. Bake them just until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs.

D02e4f11 3c9e 4632 a7b0 a4da92196bd5  apricot muffins

Apricot Oat Muffins

0fecd8f8 6ef1 4649 9f57 83bf4668f3d0  3572 Erin McDowell
22 Save Go To Recipe
Makes 8 large muffins

Maple Butter Glaze

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons good maple syrup
  • pinch salt

Muffins

  • 2 1/4 cups (301 g) all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (74 g) old fashioned oats
  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slighly
  • 1 cup (198 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large (113 g) eggs, at room temperasture
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (226 g) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped dried apricots
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4af9eb4e 53c2 450d b0b8 851de1b4ca33  blueberry muffins

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

0fecd8f8 6ef1 4649 9f57 83bf4668f3d0  3572 Erin McDowell
23 Save Go To Recipe
Makes 8 large muffins
  • 2 cups (340 g) blueberries
  • 2 1/2 cups (301 g) all purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 cup (198 g) granulated sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 large (113 g) eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (226 g) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • Turbinado sugar, for finishing
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70f13264 ab9d 4aa1 b0b5 bb140c218c3a  streusel

Chocolate Raspberry Streusel Muffins

0fecd8f8 6ef1 4649 9f57 83bf4668f3d0  3572 Erin McDowell
19 Save Go To Recipe
Makes 8 large muffins

Struesel

  • 1/2 cup (60 g) all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (33 g) old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup (53 g) dark brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 5 tablespoons (70 g) cold unsalted butter, but into 1/2 inch cubes

Muffins

  • 2 cups (340 g) raspberries
  • 2 1/4 cups (269 g) all purpose flour, divided
  • 1/4 cup (22 g) good qaulity cocoa powder (such as Valrhona)
  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 cup (198 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large (113 g) eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (226 g) buttermilk, at room temperature
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Tags: muffins, breakfast sweets