Our test kitchen 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
- Prep time 1 hour
- Cook time 40 minutes
- Makes 10 jumbo muffins (or 18 to 24 standard; see Author Notes)
3 1/2 cups
(347 grams) rolled oats, plus more for topping
1 1/4 cups
(288 grams) whole-milk Greek yogurt
(227 grams) whole milk
(1 stick / 113 grams) unsalted butter
(141 grams) dark brown sugar
(132 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups
(150 grams) white whole-wheat flour
(8-ounce / 227-gram) apple, such as Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Pink Lady, and Jonagold, peeled and diced (about ½-inch)
- Combine the rolled oats, yogurt, and milk in a big mixing bowl. Leave this to soak while you tend to the rest of the ingredients.
- Add the butter to a small saucepan and set on the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it browns and smells very nutty, 5 to 10 minutes. Pour into a heatproof mixing bowl, then immediately add 1 tablespoon water to the saucepan. Swirl it around to deglaze the browned bits at the bottom, then add this to the mixing bowl (it will sputter a bit).
- Add the sugars to the brown butter and whisk until smooth. Crack in the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each. Add all the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and ginger, and mix until most of the dry streaks are gone. Transfer this mixture to the soaked oats (or the soaks oats to this mixture), along with the apple chunks, and fold to combine.
- Cover and transfer the batter to the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours. (This gives the flour a chance to hydrate.)
- When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 350°F. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Spray, grease, or line 10 cups in jumbo muffin pans. (See the Author Note for directions about a standard muffin pan.)
- Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cups. Sprinkle the spiced sugar on top, followed by oats (figure 1 teaspoon per muffin, but this is flexible).
- Bake the muffins for about 40 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the tops are bouncy to the touch and a cake tester or small, sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool until you can comfortably handle them, then transfer from the pans to a wire rack. These are at their best slightly warm, the day they’re made. You can keep them at room temperature for a couple days (or wrapped in the freezer for a few weeks). Just toast or microwave before digging in.