Thursday, August 15, 2013

Alton Brown's Blueberry Muffins


As I mentioned in a recent post, the niece recently visited foggy California from muggy Illinois, and kid loves her blueberry muffins.  Thus, we decided to have a taste test of two different blueberry muffins.  This time around, we tried Alton Brown's method.

Now Alton Brown, Food Network star, is a master of the science of cooking for a popular audience.  Further, his approach is often humorous, and his written voice is quite distinct and quite funny.  I recommend his cookbooks for their science and their irreverence.  A fine combination.




The husband, admittedly, made these; I did not.  He woke up early one morning before the niece and I were awake.  He padded around the kitchen, mixing and measuring. He reported that the recipe was a snap and that he followed it basically to a t.  He did have to make a decision regarding the amount of blueberries to include, given that Brown suggests 1-2 cups of the "extras."  The husband chose 1.5 cups, and we believe he chose wisely.

According to Brown, a true muffin should have a coarse crumb (or texture) rather than a tender cake texture.  There should be an unevenness to that very texture, and the bubbles created by your leavening agents (in this case the baking powder and baking soda) should be haphazard and varied in size.  However, if you over mix, you get tunnels in your muffins, and who wants that?  I mean, really.  But how do you know if you have over mixed?  Alton Brown suggests you stop mixing 10 seconds before you think you should.  You want there to be small lumps in the batter and even little streaks of flour.  These are all aspects of the muffin I can get behind, especially when the husband is the one doing the mixing.


Finally, given that this was a taste test, you may be interested in the results.  The niece and I both preferred this blueberry muffin to the Cook's Illustrated (which is actually America's Test Kitchen, who are the editors of Cook's Illustrated) version.  We found that version to be a little bit dry and not sweet enough.  Despite having a full 1/2 cup less sugar, Alton Brown's version seemed sweeter to us.  Perhaps it was the use of yogurt instead of sour cream?  And these seemed much more moist.  I am going to attribute that to the extra egg yolk, but I may be just making stuff up now.  Or as my father-in-law calls it: floating one of my bogus theories (of which I have many).  I just don't know why these tasted better, but they did.  Maybe it was the cook.
Sempervirens Falls

Our campsite





Anyway, these muffins came with us on a camping trip with the niece to Big Basin, a wonderful state park about two hours away (with a long, windy road not conducive to those (like the husband) who get a little car sick).  I love the quiet of this redwood park, even though it is well-used and you certainly will never feel fully alone.  Generally, though, you can find some secluded campsites in Wastahi and Huckleberry, and those fellow campers around us were super friendly, including our campsite neighbor who offered to loan us his little red wagon to carry in our supplies.  



We settled into our campsite, ringed by massive redwoods, and spent three days sitting by the fire, taking afternoon naps, reading good books.  During the second day, we took an easy hike along Shadowbrook Trail to see Sempervirens Falls.  As we were walking on the trail, we could hear the water, and we slipped ourselves down some stairs to a solid platform overlooking this little basin. Oh, the falls were lovely, with its sparse July trickle of water coming down.  Many others swear by the Berry Creek Falls trail, which is indeed a beautiful 10-mile hike; however, this time around, we wanted a simple hiking experience.  I recommend this trail for those who are more interested in lounging their afternoons away around a too-early-in-the-day fire (which would be me).  Indeed, we got back to camp well in time for a snack of blueberry muffins and Honey Nut Cheerios (I don't judge the niece's snack combinations and neither should you) and a good hour of reading.


And at night, we ate smores and laughed.  And laughed and laughed.  So much so that in the middle of the first night while tightly rolled in our separate sleeping bags, the niece, the husband and I were gasping for breath in the pitch dark, trying not to disturb our camp neighbors.  It was good, so good to laugh so hard.   

I think it's clear that I miss the niece, who is safely ensconced back in Illinois and about to start 8th grade.  Luckily, I now know which blueberry muffin recipe I prefer, thanks to her love of the blueberry muffin and our willingness to indulge in a little taste test.

Winner:  Alton Brown


One Year Ago: Zuni Fideus with Wild Mushrooms and Peas
Two Years Ago: Devil's Food Cake
Three Years Ago: Peach Cobbler

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Blueberry Muffins
Adapted from  I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking

Yield:
12 Muffins

Ingredients:  
Dry Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar (or 3 3/4 ounces)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 cups blueberries


Wet Ingredients
2 1/4 cup flour (or 11 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder (or 1/4 ounce)
1 teaspoon baking soda (or less than 1/4 ounce)
Pinch of salt

Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Prepare a muffin tin by using non-stick spray and set aside.  (Brown recommends Baker's Joy or AB's Kustom Kitchen Lube (his own recipe).  We use Pam, but it's made by ConAgra, so there's that.)

3.  Assemble the dry ingredients by pulsing them together in a food processor for 5 seconds.  (You want to sift these ingredients because during storage, the dry ingredients compact.  You want your dry ingredients to be aerated to assist in the leavening process.)  Add the blueberries to the dry ingredients.

4.  Whisk together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

5.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until the batter comes together.  Do not mix smooth.

6.  Spoon the batter into the prepared tins.  The cups should be full.

7.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted all the way to the bottom of the muffin comes out clean.

8.  Remove the muffins from the oven and immediately turn the muffins on their sides so that steam can escape the pan.  (This prevents your muffins from becoming soggy and heavy at the bottom.)




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