Kitchen Hacks

A Bakery Hack for Sky-High Muffins

Repeat after us: No more flat muffins. No more!

August 26, 2021
Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

There’s an infinite number of ways to achieve a perfectly perky muffin, from not overmixing batter to using jumbo molds or fancy industrial ovens. But as a former professional baker, I’m here to share one more trick that helps muffins rise to the occasion. And it all has to do with how you fill—scratch that—how you don’t fill the muffin tin.

I learned this clever practice when I worked at Levain Bakery in New York City. Instead of filling every cavity, like most recipes tell you to, use every other cavity. At the bakery, we’d generously spray the pans with Pam, add fat plops of batter, and be rewarded with super-domed muffins. Kind of like an Alice in Wonderland toadstool, only made of tender cake and studded with jammy blueberries.

Though I never got access to Levain’s top-secret cookie recipe, learning this muffin trick was the next best thing. It’s missing from most cookbooks I’ve read—have you seen this anywhere before? Let me know in the comments—but with enough digging, I found a couple mentions from sources who take their muffins very seriously.

“Alternate the filled muffin openings with the empty ones as much as possible to allow space for the tops of the muffins to spread,” writes cookbook author and pastry chef Elinor Klivans in her big-top corn muffins recipe featured in Fearless Baking: Over 100 Recipes That Anyone Can Make.

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Top Comment:
“I saved a tip on my pinterest board from thekitchenwhisper.net on bakery style muffins/how to achieve. Hope its okay to copy/paste. I was planning on trying her tip and I'll incorporate yours but wanted your thoughts too! Adapted from her website - Make from scratch batter and Cover your batter tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (can go overnight as well). Preheat your oven to 425F. (Ignore the typical 350) and place muffins in top 1/3 of oven. Spray the top of your muffin pan with non-stick spray. Line the pan with cupcake/muffin liners. The batter will be thick, gently stir but don't overmix or deflate. Fill the muffin papers and leave about 1/8". If you have empty cavities in your muffin tin (not enough batter), remove the liner and add 1/2 cup water in each. Bake 6-9 minutes at 425. She says the high heat will cause the batter to have great oven spring or rapid rise for first few minutes. The muffins should be about a 1/4″-1/2″ above the paper. That’s the sign the heat can be turned down. Reduce heat to 350 but do not open door and bake for 6-10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out barely clean (crumbs are OK). *Note: this will depend on your actual recipe. Remove from oven and cool on rack a couple of minutes then remove from pan and cool on rack. This will prevent the sides from becoming soggy. ”
— Dionne
Comment

In Good to the Grain, Kim Boyce details using the skip-a-space strategy at Campanile in Los Angeles under the helm of esteemed chef and baker Nancy Silverton. “We’d alternate the cups, filling every second cup and leaving the others empty. This meant that there was enough room for the muffins to have rounded tops and crusty edges without crowding into each other.” Boyce goes on to explain that due to better air circulation, all the muffins baked evenly.


A few more helpful tips for reaching new muffin heights

Rest the batter

In her recipe for Levain Bakery Blueberry Muffins, Michelle Lopez lets the batter sit at room temperature for 1 hour. At the bakery, we’d chill it overnight. Either way, “the starch molecules [in the flour] are absorbing the moisture, so the batter becomes more thick and viscous. You’ll notice after you rest and scoop, it holds its shape much better,” Lopez explained when I reached out about the mechanics of Levain’s muffins and her reverse-engineered version. What’s more? Resting allows for two more reactions in the batter: The gluten relaxes and the leavening agents stretch their rising abilities. The result is a mountainous exterior with a sleeping-on-a-cloud interior.

Use a big scoop

Forget what you’ve been told about filling each muffin hole two-thirds of the way. Instead, imagine the most perfectly round scoop of ice cream perched atop a wafer cone. The bakery tool to achieve that is a 4-ounce disher scoop, like this one. The batter should mound slightly above the lip—if your intuition tells you the cavity is overfilled, don’t listen!

Start the oven on high

Bake your muffins at 400°F for the first 5 minutes, then drop the temperature to the more standard 350°F for the remainder of the bake time. This method sparks the leavening agents (especially baking powder) in the batter to react quicker, creating that gorgeously risen top.

Granted, by using these pro tips, you will produce a smaller yield than what a recipe states (instead of a dozen, you’ll probably get nine.) But riddle me this: Would you rather have 12 meh muffins or nine stud muffins?

Perfect Blueberry Streusel Muffins

Whole Grain Sweet Potato Muffins

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Chocolate Chunk Muffins

Apple Muffins

What kind of muffins are you going to test this bakery hack on? Let us know in the comments!
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  • FrugalCat
    FrugalCat
  • Dionne
    Dionne
  • Cake Mama
    Cake Mama
  • Jen Hydrick
    Jen Hydrick
  • chrishel
    chrishel
Food writer, late-night baker, year-round iced coffee drinker.

23 Comments

FrugalCat September 10, 2021
Another muffin trick- toss you blueberries (or raisins, chips, any mix-ins) in a little flour before adding to the batter so they don't sink to the bottom.
 
Author Comment
Justine L. September 12, 2021
agreed!
 
Dionne September 10, 2021
I saved a tip on my pinterest board from thekitchenwhisper.net on bakery style muffins/how to achieve. Hope its okay to copy/paste. I was planning on trying her tip and I'll incorporate yours but wanted your thoughts too!
Adapted from her website -
Make from scratch batter and Cover your batter tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (can go overnight as well). Preheat your oven to 425F. (Ignore the typical 350) and place muffins in top 1/3 of oven. Spray the top of your muffin pan with non-stick spray. Line the pan with cupcake/muffin liners. The batter will be thick, gently stir but don't overmix or deflate. Fill the muffin papers and leave about 1/8". If you have empty cavities in your muffin tin (not enough batter), remove the liner and add 1/2 cup water in each. Bake 6-9 minutes at 425. She says the high heat will cause the batter to have great oven spring or rapid rise for first few minutes. The muffins should be about a 1/4″-1/2″ above the paper. That’s the sign the heat can be turned down. Reduce heat to 350 but do not open door and bake for 6-10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out barely clean (crumbs are OK). *Note: this will depend on your actual recipe. Remove from oven and cool on rack a couple of minutes then remove from pan and cool on rack. This will prevent the sides from becoming soggy.
 
Author Comment
Justine L. September 10, 2021
Neat, thank you for sharing this!!
 
Cake M. September 10, 2021
I also put a bit of water in the empty spaces in between.
 
Jen H. September 10, 2021
Oh wow, interesting! I'd been taught ages ago to *not* let a batter leavened by baking soda or powder sit between mixing and baking. The reasoning being that the chemical reaction that results in leavening only has so much zing and you want it to be doing it's thing in the oven, not on the counter. Did this turn out to be a myth? Like not salting your dry beans when soaking?
 
Author Comment
Justine L. September 10, 2021
Glad you bring that up, Jen. Most baking sodas available are "double-acting" so the leavening reaction happens the second you start mixing and again when you bake. If a recipe contains baking soda and baking soda alone, it's maybe not the best idea to rest it as doing so might peter out the lifting powers. For this hack, use a recipe with baking soda AND powder!
 
chrishel September 9, 2021
My mom fills every other cup for her legendary popovers. But with muffins, you can get the same effect if they are overmixed. The tell tale sign is if there are large tunnel like bubbles in the muffins when you split them. I always avoid muffins at bakeries that look like this because I think they don't know how to bake correctly.
 
Lisa September 9, 2021
Who knew! Dang!
 
Maurine H. September 9, 2021
Bless you for sharing these tips, Justine. I actually just noticed that starting with a higher temp gives my muffins a boost, so I'm excited to try out Levain's little secret!
 
Author Comment
Justine L. September 9, 2021
Always happy to help!!
 
Allison September 10, 2021
I began to use the high temperature method when the basic King Arthur recipe became my go to. They, however, preheat the oven to 500 degrees, then once the pan(s) are in, immediately drop the temp to 400.
 
judy September 10, 2021
I have not been able to use this high heat option as my building code does not allow us to go over 400F. So I still heat and bake at 350F most of the time. Other variables of smaller pan size and higher fill make a logical difference without the addition of higher heat. But for me the best difference is letting quick batters rest BEFORE baking. And my Fat Daddio's...Enjoy
 
iamann September 2, 2021
Right after reading your trick to leave every other muffin tin empty, I clicked on your video of the recipe for Zucchini muffins. Well, you filled every single cup. I guess it's a matter of "do as I say, not as I do".
 
Author Comment
Justine L. September 2, 2021
Good catch, iamann. The zucchini muffins were developed before we discovered this hack but it's shared here since we know it would work great updated, bakery-style. Definitely give it a try!
 
kidpeace September 12, 2021
Good grief! Please be kinder.
 
kidpeace September 12, 2021
This is to iaammm.
 
AngelaK828 August 26, 2021
I’m interested to try this with my favorite banana nut muffins recipe!
 
Author Comment
Justine L. September 11, 2021
yumm!
 
judy August 26, 2021
I started seeing references to letting quick batters sit for a while before putting them in a hot oven about 2 years ago. I have been doing the with my brownies and cakes since then, and even without the additional batter or in a smaller pan, they rise better, and the crumb is better. Traditionally, we have been taught (since early Joy of Cooking days in the 60's for me, to get quick batters in the oven quickly). But I now let them all sit and they come out much better. I have not thought too much about putting in more batter in a smaller pan, or in this case, fewer muffin cups, but certainly that would make for a higher rise as well. Another post here a while back also suggested using deeper pans, 3" for a better rise on cakes. I do not have any round pans, as I prefer square pieces of dessert. But my favorite size is actually 7x11"x3" for a 9x13 pan. Brownies are to die for. I currently do not have a mu fin tin, either, but have been making muffins in my 8x8x3" square pan. They come out like coffee cake. I had not thought too much about the pan size, or the volume/per pan. I am sure that this contributes to an overall better product. But you are right, one certainly does not get as many servings, or on the obverse, one can just cut them smaller to get roughly the same volume per serving, even though the actual size may appear to be a little smaller, the depth would make up for the low dimensions. I'll stat paying more attention t volume and pan size. I just know that my baked goods are much better for letting the batter sit. Oh, by the way, I have converted all my baking pans to Fat Daddies. They are amazing: many sizes and shapes available (less since pandemic--but still a bunch). Non-stick WITHOUT any coating, perfectly square and clean edges inside and out, release like a dream, clean-up is a breeze, with little scrubbing after a few minutes soak, and work equally well for baking and savory cookery. They do stain a little, but that is all....wonderful pans. I even get beautiful piecrust bottoms--no more soggy bottoms.....so much improvement in my overall baking without much change in technique, that I think these pans alone have contributed a lot to my improvement in the last year. As well as hacks like those mentioned in this article. thank you.
 
Author Comment
Justine L. August 27, 2021
thanks judy! I can also vouch for how great Fat Daddio's bakeware is :)
 
Marden September 2, 2021
I appreciate your tip-filled comment Judy! I’m intrigued by baking muffins in 8x8x3! Couple questions…do you fill pan to 2/3, what temp and for how long? Thank you.
 
judy September 10, 2021
HI Marden: I use 8x8x3 for a standard recipe that would fill 12 standard muffins. I have not really paid attention, as I just make the recipe and fill the pan. by the way, with my Fat Daddio pan I do use a unbleached parchment--only because I want less clean up. I bake at 350F about 25-35 minutes then test, if almost clean I take out and let rest for a minute or two until the baked goods pull way from the side of the pan. The reality is that I do not remove from pan, but serve in it. I am in a very small studio apartment and simply do not have the space. I love baking and have been experimenting for decades. Lost of hit or miss. give it a go. Each ovens different and ingredients vary in temp, actual volume (I am still primarily a measuring cup baker) dryness of flour, humidity, etc all affect outcomes. But I have been happy with the changes I have made over the years. I currently do my baking in a countertop oven, so am having to relearn for that oven. Each change in variable changes outcomes and causes a new learning curve. Be bold, enjoy the process, even the "failures" can teach a lot.