Muffin Basics

Baking, Cook, Learn, Tips & Techniques

This post comes courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Culinary Expert Natasha Gandhi-Rue.

 

If the thought of baking conjures up hours of mixing and kneading, rolling and rising, then you haven’t discovered the magic of making muffins.

 

Whipping up a batch of fresh-baked muffins in the morning is surprisingly simple. Now that springtime berries are coming into season, there’s no better time to head to the kitchen and start baking.

 

Muffins, which can be savory or sweet, are easy to prepare because they rely on chemical leaveners (baking powder or baking soda), rather than yeast.

 

Understanding leaveners — Both baking powder and baking soda create carbon dioxide, causing the muffin batter to rise, but there are some important differences to keep in mind.

  • Baking powder: Nearly all baking powder sold today is “double acting,” which means that it contains two acids that react at different times. The first dissolves more quickly than the second, releasing some gas as soon as it is mixed with the liquid in a recipe. The second dissolves more slowly and reacts later, when the batter is exposed to heat. This second reaction makes double-acting baking powder a reliable leavener.
  • Baking soda: When a recipe calls for baking soda alone, rather than baking soda and baking powder, an acidic ingredient must also be present in the batter. Because baking soda is single, rather than double acting, wet and dry ingredients for batters should be mixed separately. As soon as the two mixtures are combined, the batter must go directly into a pan and immediately into a preheated oven.

 

Store both types of leaveners in a cool, dry place. They can lose potency over time and should be replaced after 4 to 6 months.

 

Mixing muffin batter — In the fast-and-easy muffin method, dry and wet ingredients are mixed separately before being combined. Sometimes a well is made in the center of the dry ingredients, and all of the wet ingredients are added to the well. The mixture is then beaten until smooth. In other recipes, the dry ingredients are added to the wet ingredients. Whatever the instructions, it is important not to overmix the batter, or the muffins will be tough and often crumbly, with large irregular patterns of holes.

 

Mixing Muffin Batter - Step 1Mixing dry ingredientsIn a bowl, stir together the flour, leavening and other dry ingredients so that the leavening is evenly distributed.
Mixing Muffin Batter - Step 2Combining wet and dry ingredientsIn another bowl or in a glass measuring cup, whisk together the wet ingredients until smooth and blended, then add to the dry ingredients. Mix quickly to activate the gluten in the flour only slightly, until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Any lumps will vanish during baking. Finally, gently stir in fruits, nuts or other additions.
Mixing Muffin Batter- Step 3Filling the pansSpoon the batter into greased muffin cups, filling them three-fourths full or even with the rim of the cup, according to the directions in your recipe.
Mixing Muffin Batter - Step 4Adding a toppingIf the recipe calls for a topping, sprinkle it over the batter, dividing it evenly among the muffins.

Baking and cooling — Muffins are done when golden brown around the edges and springy to the touch on top. A toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin should come out clean.

 

Most muffins should be cooled in their pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes or more; this allows the heat to dissipate and helps set the tender texture. Then they are turned out of the pans and placed on the rack to continue cooling. If allowed to cool completely in their pans, the muffins can be difficult to unmold and the bottoms can easily turn soggy.

 

Try these delicious Williams-Sonoma muffin recipes:

 

About the author: A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, Natasha is the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Expert for the Wichita, Kansas store. She is the mastermind behind the in-store technique and cooking classes and is often on the road training other Williams-Sonoma Culinary Experts.

12 comments about “Muffin Basics

  1. Katherine

    I’ve been trying to find a good strawberry muffin recipe forever — well, since my college boyfriend’s mom made some fabulous ones for Easter. I’ve tried many but none have been fabulous. Recommendation?

    Reply
  2. Audrey's Mom

    Thanks for the tips! Audrey and I are baking muffins this summer for the Great American Bake Sale. Hoping to raise money to help end childhood hunger. We will keep these tips in mind. We might just also head with Audrey’s daddy to McConnell for his weekends so we can get tips in person.

    Reply
  3. Gail Hedsgtrom

    Peaches and cream~ made with real peaches and filled with creamcheese.

    Reply
  4. Natasha Gandhi-Rue Post author

    In regards to the request for the Strawberry muffin – unfortunately I do not have a specific recipe that I can share with you BUT my best practice for all types of fruit muffins is simply use my favorite fruit muffin recipe (in my case the Blueberry muffin recipe we’ve shared with you) and replace the fruit with the other fruit option.

    Reply
  5. Natasha Gandhi-Rue Post author

    To Audrey’s mom – Awesome that you’re baking for the Great American Bake Sale this summer. Its an amazing cause and one that is so much fun to support. You should certainly come by the store, we always try to provide great tips and we do daily demonstrations at 11 am Tuesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday.

    Reply
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