In between a brand new school 16 hours away from home, overwhelming research papers, and difficult classes, I was looking for something lately that provided a little comfort. Baking almost always does the trick, but I didn’t exactly have a ton of time to whip out some croissants…
What’s better in the morning than a freshly baked muffin? I mean, c’mon, most muffins are kind of an excuse to eat dessert for breakfast. Who doesn’t like that? Muffins are also really easy to prep ahead of time so that you can be the perfect host. These muffins are less sweet with a bit of zing from added lemon zest.
The secret to the perfect muffin is setting up the perfect structure.
Starch: Starch, a bunch of glucose (simple sugar) molecules linked together, is a large component in carbohydrates and contributes to sweetness and softness. When water and heat is added, the starch swells and increases the consistency of the batter.
Protein: Protein, in this case, gluten, is responsible for the base structure of the muffin. The high heat disrupts the protein structure and causes fragments to bond elsewhere and create a strong network. Air, from the baking powder (or another leavening agent in other recipes such as baking soda) creates the air pockets in the baked good and causes the entire network to rise up.
Add these two (+1/2 with the leavening agent) components together, and you get the beginning basics of the magic behind baked goods.
Adapted from The Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen Cookbook
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
½ cup butter, melted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from one small to medium lemon
- Preheat oven to 400⁰F and prepare a 12-cup muffin pan.
- Combine the dry ingredients and lemon zest in one bowl, and beat the wet ingredients in another. Add the liquid ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Be sure not to over-mix. (over-mixing causes the starch and protein to break up which sacrifices the structure of the muffin)
- Spoon batter into muffin pan and split evenly among the 12 cups. Sprinkle the tops with large-grain sugar to make them a bit sweeter. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, turning the pan halfway through to prevent uneven browning. Immediately remove muffins from pan when done to ensure the end of the baking process.
- Serve muffins warm, or cool on wire rack and freeze up to one month.
I like to prepare muffin batter and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Doing this achieves two things. First, the lemon flavor is really nice when it “marinates” throughout the batter. Second, the baking process is slightly more foolproof when the ingredients are allowed to hydrate overnight. The flour takes on more water making it harder for the muffin to dry out during baking.
These muffins are super basic. I would encourage spicing them up with 1 cup of chocolate chips, nuts, or dried fruit. Another excellent muffin is using jam or other preserves as a filling. Fill the muffin cups 1/3 of the way, top with a teaspoon of jam, and fill the muffin cup the rest of the way. The lemon can also be replaced with orange zest for a different flavor background.