We baked dozens and dozens of apple muffins that were good but not great before we stepped back and rethought our approach. What, exactly, were we looking for? And why wasn’t a classic muffin batter fitting the bill?
We were after jammy apple hunks, a cozy whiff of cinnamon, over-the-top tops. But also a plush-meets-grainy texture, with a nubby heartiness that keeps you full until lunch and helps you seize! The! Day! As soon as we nailed down this vision, I thought back to a muffin I tried a decade-ish ago, at Joanne Chang’s inimitable Flour Bakery in Boston. It was cherry, not apple, but its oaty-wheaty texture, its tender crumb, its not-too-sweet flavor—that was the vibe we craved.
Lucky for us, Joanne Chang isn’t just a chef and restaurateur; she’s also a cookbook author. So I tracked down her recipe for Brown Sugar–Oat Cherry Muffins in Flour, Too and used that as a launching pad. We switched up the fruit, used Greek yogurt instead of crème fraîche for increased breakfast-iness, lowered the sugar for the same reason, browned the butter for nuttiness, swapped from standard to white whole-wheat flour for its more delicate flavor (yes, you can use standard if it’s all you can find), and threw in ground ginger to spice things up.
We also changed the muffin pan size, which is worth highlighting in its own right. Think of a standard muffin pan (what many home baking recipes call for) as a clementine, and a jumbo muffin pan size (what most bakeries and cafés rely on) as an orange. Both are delicious. But by using a jumbo pan, your results effortlessly feel more professional, even though the amount of work was the same. If you don’t have a jumbo pan (or really don’t want to buy one), you can certainly adapt this recipe to use a standard pan. The yield will increase to 18 to 24, depending on how much you fill each cup—err on the side of more-is-more for that classic muffin top—and the bake will decrease to about 30 minutes.
Like any muffin, these are best the day they’re made. If you have any leftovers, you can refresh in a low-temperature oven or a microwave until just warm, or freeze, thaw, and then refresh in the same way. —Emma Laperruque
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