March Madness—More Like Muffin Madness!

March 26, 2018

I always thought March Madness—the annual collegiate basketball tournament—sounded sort of silly. How mad could it really get? And then I moved to North Carolina. Specifically, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, the hub for NC State, UNC, and Duke. My first year living there, my fiancé and I went to a bar to watch one of the games, and it was, well, madness.

And it was fun. But I’m not a basketball fan. While others watch (and cheer on and scream at) sports competitions, you’ll find me doing the same with baking competitions. Which means, it was only a matter of time before I started wondering, what if March Madness weren’t basketball-themed, but breakfast-themed? What if it weren’t March Madness, but Muffin Madness?

Meet our Sweet Sixteen. For each round, we brought together two neck and neck recipes—the ultimate showdown! Think UNC vs. Duke or Yankees vs. Mets. Who will win? You tell us. Make a bracket. Grab a beer. Host a face-off in your kitchen. Though, for what it’s worth, the way we see it, there are no losers here. (Uh, we mean, may be the best muffin win! Tear ’em apart! Madness! Argh!)

Bran vs. Bran. Our creative director, Kristen Miglore, describes Nancy Silverton’s slam dunk as “somehow both more wholesome and more delicious than the rest.” It has brown sugar and buttermilk, raisins and orange zest. Posie’s all-star team turns to molasses and whole milk, raisins and nuts and coconut.

Morning Glory vs. Morning Glory. Vegan recipe developer Gena Hamshaw brings on “the ultimate healthy breakfast muffin.” And the crowd goes wild! In addition to the classic grated carrot and apple, raisins, and walnuts, there is whole-wheat pastry flour, soy or almond milk, date paste, and hydrated flax meal instead of eggs. Meanwhile, contributor coach Caroline Lange says anything goes: pear, sweet potato, squash, parsnips, beets, zucchini, pecans, pepitas, sunflower seeds!

Lemon vs. Lemon. Our editors reviewed this classic lemon-poppy as “extra-lemony.” Sour cream keeps the cake delightfully rich and moist, while a just-juiced glaze doubles down on citrusy brightness. Meanwhile, Posie’s muffins lose the poppy seeds and bring in an unexpected player from the bench: minced rosemary. Instead of sour cream, there’s slightly less tangy crème fraîche. And check out these lemons’ orangey uniform: Meyers!

Ginger vs. Ginger. Fierce competitor Ms. T’s game plan includes fresh and ground ginger, plus diced pears and chopped walnuts. Fans can’t say enough: “So delicious! They go on my ‘favourite’ list,” says one. “Absolutely amazing. Ginger and pear is a wonderful combination!” says another. Meanwhile, across the court, legend Marion Cunningham isn’t holding back. She brings lots of fresh ginger, lemon zest, and buttermilk, for all the brightness and tang.

Savory vs. Savory. These cheesy, herbed corn muffins are revved up and ready to play—look at them go! Cornmeal and feta. Parsley, rosemary, and thyme. “Basically just a savory muffin free-for-all,” writes recipe developer Posie Harwood. But is its offense strong enough for battle? Scrambled egg muffins are an all-in-one breakfast: cornmeal and fresh corn, ham and cheddar, poblano and black pepper for kick! Hey, no kicking allowed! yells the ref.

Streusel vs. Streusel. With the ball, we have a brown sugar banana bread, subtly spiced with cinnamon and ginger, covered in a chocolate chip streusel. These fans are a rowdy bunch. But up-and-coming team Rhubarb Lavender is here to shake things up. Greek yogurt and lemon zest complement the puckery rhubarb, while brown sugar streusel steals the ball, shoots, and scores!

Blueberry vs. Blueberry. Food52 co-founder Merrill Stubbs has an ultra-wholesome lineup: whole-wheat flour, oats, flax meal, and buttermilk. Even olive oil can get in the game. Meanwhile, co-founder Amanda Hesser’s sister writes about their mom’s post-blueberry-picking signature. The recipe keeps things classic, for the most part, but throws in toasted coconut to keep the other team on its toes.

Maybe-Muffin vs. Maybe-Muffin. These teams don’t play by the rules. Some naysayers even scream from outside the stadium: They aren’t really muffins! And yet, they’re in the tournament. Sheet-pan muffins ditch the cups and spread out across the court. You say ball, they’re already there. Meanwhile, contributor Erin McDowell gets English—ditching the baking powder and soda for yeast, and goes freeform with her shaping. The referees are at a total loss: “I’ve never seen a game like this!” one remarks. “It’s total madness.”

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.