The Secret to Perfect Muffins

I haven’t talked about cooking in a while, I have I? I haven’t been doing much of it. Cooking for one (though, yes, Dimples eats anything I put in front of him—but you can tell he’d really rather have Trader Joe’s frozen enchiladas than the fresh mozzarella and prosciutto pizza I made last night, then covered with arugula tossed with just a little balsamic vinegar and pepper) isn’t inspiring, and I’m trying so hard to whip this flabby body into shape. The cooking I feel like doing doesn’t go well with getting up the next day and running.

There’s buttermilk in the house, though, so muffins had to be made. And I know muffins. I learned from Dad and Dr. Weil that most muffins in this world are actually birthday cake, but I think I’ve mastered making them delicious, not just healthy. Here’s precisely what I do, and you can do it too. You really can.

The Basic Muffin Recipe
Shh. This is from allrecipes.com. There’s nothing wrong with that.

1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Now, listen carefully: That’s too much sugar. You don’t need that much sugar. And why would you use white flour? And there are no add-ins in this recipe.

Here’s the real recipe:

1 cup quick-cooking old-fashioned oats
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup all-purpose white whole wheat flour
2 T ground flaxseed (keep that in the fridge, people!)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 cup frozen wild blueberries

Now, listen. Technique is extremely important here. Go ahead and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Get yourself three bowls: small, medium, large. In the small bowl, combine the buttermilk (shake it up!) and the oatmeal. Then push this to the back of the counter and leave it alone.

Next, combine your flour, flaxseed, powder, salt, soda, cinnamon in the large bowl. Push that bowl aside.

Now put the sugar in the medium bowl and use a fork to break up the clumps. Add the egg, and start whisking with a fork. Keep going much longer than you think you should. It’ll become elastic and turn a nice chestnut color. Now add the oil and keep whisking. Don’t use butter. I know you think it’ll make the recipe taste better, but it really won’t. It’ll make the crumb strange and just add fat you don’t want (you know, the saturated kind). Whisk the hell out of this! You’re making science here, breaking up the oil and egg with the sugar crystals. This step is completely responsible for the texture of the finished muffins. When you’ve got something smooth that makes a nice ribbon when you lift up your fork, you can finally stop.

Add the buttermilk/oatmeal to the egg/sugar/oil. By now the former is basically a solid mass, and that’s what you were going for. Combine it really well. Don’t be scared.

Open the freezer and get your blueberries out. They have NOT been sitting on the counter this whole time. Measure out a cup and dump them in the flour mixture. Toss them so they’re coated. The fact that they’re still frozen and now coated in flour means they won’t turn your whole muffin blue.

Ok, dump the thick “liquid” (it’s not liquid—don’t think you’ve done something wrong; I just mean the non-flour bowl) into the flour mixture. Now take a wooden spoon and go GENTLY around the edges, folding, barely combining. Don’t mix this, don’t freak out because you can still see flour. That’s completely acceptable.

Put this by tablespoons into your muffin pan (crap! did you prepare it?!), and bake for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, press the top of the nearest muffin gently with your finger. If it seems delicate, set your timer for three more minutes. Do that as many times as you need to. Just once for me (so, a total of 18 minutes), but I don’t know anything about your oven.

Now, finally: let these things cool for at least 10 minutes before you eat them. I know it’s tempting, but they’re just not ready yet until you give them a break.