January 30, 2006

The Taste of Blueberry Failure

It’s been a bad few days for baking in the Burke household.

First, I experimented with a special pound cake recipe that (I believe) had the wrong amount of shortening. This cause the pound cake to kind of fry on the outside. Gah. Eventually I was able to make a decent pound cake, but my confidence was getting low on baked goods.

This weekend I tried Alton Brown’s fudge cake recipe. It was supposed to be similar to a hostess cupcake, so I went with the cupcake variation. My food processor didn’t quite measure up to the task of pulverizing the baker’s chocolate into dust. After plenty of processing there were thousands of little table salt-sized specks of chocolate among the dust. No matter how I processed, the specks remained. There were other problems, but this was the most obvious.

Maggie and Julie tried valiantly to eat them with me. Actually, I had two today and they’re not so bad the next day. They’re just not so good either. And when you put a lot of work into baking something, you really want it to be good.

Tonight I tried my hand at some blueberry muffins. I wanted moist, so I used a sour cream recipe that I found in one of my older books.

I followed the recipe to the letter. The time came to mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. The instructions said “it will form a moist but lumpy batter.” It formed a moist, lumpy… dough. Big difference. Mixing dough forms gluten, which makes a muffin tough. Aside from that, it was unbakeable in this form. I frantically added milk (which was not one of the ingredients) to thin the mixture out into a thick batter. Then I added the berries and baked it.

It didn’t turn out as muffins. They’re more like blueberry scones. It occurred to me that I should have noticed the low amount of sugar in the recipe… no butter… no vanilla… no milk. In retrospect it sounds like a scone, not a muffin.


I want a recipe that turns out muffins something like a Dunkin Donuts muffin (or better). Actually, like a crumb cake without the brown sugar/cinnamon top and with blueberries inside.

So, I’m making an appeal to my readers. Does anyone have a blueberry muffin recipe that they have made and were happy with the results? I’d love to hear about it. Because I don’t give up. But instead of making more scones, I’d like to try a recipe I know has been used successfully.

Posted by James at January 30, 2006 10:18 PM
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off the top of my head, i'd say trust any recipe from Fanny Farmer (preferably an older edition) or Better Homes and Gardens.

lemme rustle around and find some recipes for you. would you be interested in other flavors?

Posted by: beth at January 31, 2006 12:37 AM

As far as I'm concerned, the best baked goods recipes come in boxes. :-P You say the Burke household has had baking difficulties, but I made a perfectly delicious batch of brownies the other day... thank you Betty Crocker. In fact, I made a fine banana bread a few weeks ago, and that was from scratch. It's... er, ahem... you who has some sort of weird cooking block against baking sweet things.

Posted by: Maggie at January 31, 2006 7:35 AM

Ouch! Or is that "Snap!"? Sorry to hear about your bakin woes. Don't despair. You'll get it. You always do. Or you could just leave the sweet baking to Maggie and just be in charge of the savories.

I haven't made muffins in a long time, but I do remember my friend Ryan making a really good blueberry coffee cake. I'll root around and see if I can find that recipe for you.

Posted by: briwei at January 31, 2006 7:38 AM

This month's issue of Fine Cooking has a feature by Joanne Chang (of Flour Bakery in Boston) on muffins. I haven't made 'em yet, but the folks over on the Fine Cooking board are raving. I'll type it up and e-mail it to you later.

P.S. I feel your pain.

Posted by: Karen at January 31, 2006 8:06 AM

OK - I'm taking notes here. Other flavors? Hmmm. My favorite muffin flavors are blueberry, pumpkin (with a crumb cake topping), corn and raisin bran... then maybe some sort of orange cranberry after that.

But I'd like to try to "perfect" [laughs to himself] blueberry muffins first. If it turns out I have to modify another muffin flavor, so be it.

Fine Cooking, eh? Hmmm. Wonder if Barnes and Noble carries that.

Thank you for your support, folks!

Maggie is not really enthusiastic about my drive to learn how to make these things from scratch. For one thing, she doesn't get excited about any baked goods unless they have chocolate in them (with one notable exception). And the chocolate baked goods she likes best are her double-batch brownies out of a box. So she sees no reason for me to mess up the kitchen in search of a better from scratch recipe.

That's why I have not attempted brownies from scratch in over a decade. She and Manny took pity on my first attempt, but made them the target of jokes, and I have been reminded of those brownies (and the folly of trying to make from scratch something that you can get from a box) repeatedly in the years since.

I'm getting to the point where I agree. My biggest successes were with cakes and pastries you can't get in a box mix. For example, the cinnamon rolls.

But I have to give Maggie credit. She claims she will try to eat some of the remaining muffins from this batch. But she wouldn't touch any more of the cupcakes.

Anyhow, you can't get good blueberry muffins from a box.

Posted by: James at January 31, 2006 9:23 AM

I LOVE scones. When there is tea available, I'd rather have a scone than a muffin.

Muffin recipes: personally, I'd go with Jiffy mix or Bisquick. :) But that doesn't count as scratch, I suppose.

My mother used to use Joy o'Cooking for baking. A lot of their recipes tend towards the lackluster, but they are very reliable and you can always adjust them to taste.

Posted by: julie at January 31, 2006 10:58 AM

The coffee shop next to our community theater has the BEST blueberry-white chocolate scones. Mmmmmm!

Posted by: briwei at January 31, 2006 11:10 AM

Hey - I picked up that issue of Fine Cooking and the recipe looks excellent!

I'll give it a try next. Thanks for aiming me in that direction, Karen. This looks like an excellent magazine.

I may still look at other recipes to see how variations affect the outcome. But this is a MUCH better starting point than what I'd had before.

I have a great book called "Cookwise" that guides you in how to vary different recipes. It tries to teach you how varying the ratios of different ingredients changes the outcome.

Posted by: James at January 31, 2006 1:42 PM

I think scones are OK, but I don't like them showing up when you're making muffins.

Posted by: James at January 31, 2006 1:50 PM

Jiffy - I've made the Jiffy cornbread. It comes out fine.

Bisquick, to me, is the devil. I dunno, I just tend not to like things that are made with Bisquick. It's got a bisquicky taste.

Posted by: James at January 31, 2006 2:08 PM

I didn't know there was a big difference between Jiffy and Bisquick! I always just buy whatever's cheaper. I should do a comparison.

Posted by: Julie at January 31, 2006 2:30 PM

Someone on the Internet was kind enough to do a "Jiffy vs. Bisquick" comparison for me. Apparently, they are mostly interchangable, but one important difference is that Bisquick has "a ton more sodium" than Jiffy. Since most of us have perfectly good sodium dispensers at home already, I don't need any extra in my baking mix.

Amusing recipe my mother used to make frequently:

Beer biscuits, dropped or rolled

2 cups Jiffy mix (or Bisquick, if you want SALTY beer biscuits!!)
1 tbsp. Sugar
6 fl. oz. beer

Mix ingredients, then either roll & cut, or drop on greased cookie sheet. Bake @350F 15-20 minutes.

Wonder if this would be any good made with chocolate bock. I suspect not. It's not good with Guinness Stout, I can tell you that much.

Posted by: julie at January 31, 2006 2:47 PM

Interesting - yes, I'd say that the sodium in Bisquick may be what I don't like about it. Like, too much sodium bicarbonate.

I thought you were talking about the "Jiffy" cornbread mix. I forgot there was an all-purpose Jiffy. Good to know, because I would probably like it better than Bisquick.

Interesting leavening fact: Cookwise says that many recipies are over-leavened. More leavening ingredients give you bigger bubbles, but bigger bubbles can pop, leaving you with a poorly-leavened product.

So, sometimes reducing the leavening can help if you find your muffins and cakes are collapsing.

Posted by: James at January 31, 2006 4:03 PM

Also found (in my unscientific online "research") that several people claim that Bisquick produces heavier biscuits.

I didn't find anyone who claimed to like B better than J, but I found numerous people who claimed to like J better than B due to flavor, consistency, or cost (which I imagine probably varies, else I wouldn't have a box of B in my fridge right now).

Posted by: Julie at January 31, 2006 4:18 PM

Ah what an ironic coincidence.

I can say that recently, I've been baking a lot of blueberry muffins....and the results have gotton better and better. They were mmm mmm.

I started with 'mini-muffins' using a mini-muffin baking tray, but then i got cups for them. i could talk about blueberry muffins all day but nay the less, the recipe:
You DO need milk, and you do need (real) butter, self-raising flour etc, eggs and of course the blueberries themselves.
(BY the way, u can of course substitute blueberries for any form of dry fruit)

* Pre-heat oven(180degrees C), get cups or baking tray ready and greased.
* melt 150g butter, leave to cool
* wisk cream cheese(200g) and sugar (150g) together in a bowl
* add 3 large eggs one at a time (beat them first, it's better)
* when it's all combined nicely, add the butter.
* then, mix in 300g self-raising flour, and then i find it is better if you Stir in 100g or so of fresh blueberries(dried will do, but the juicy kind are much ...well, juicier basically)


At this point, i did a bit of 'testing' to see if the mix tastes nice, and it certainly should do. You don't really need to do that though.

* spoon into your muffin tin or muffin paper cups(about 3 thirds full)

* bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.



ps, i know what you mean about that 'speackaling'. When a used a Betty Crocker muffin mix, i noticed the batter had speckles in it. But when it cooked in the oven they turned out okay.

pps i remember attempting cooking box-packet muffins a few years ago, and they turned out like what can only be described as beige tar. It was disgusting! don't know what happened there. So don't be put off!

Posted by: Abigail at January 31, 2006 6:53 PM

Ooo - that recipe sounds good, too. I bet the cream cheese makes a really good texture. Thank you!

I've had good luck tonight with the "Fine Cooking" recipe. Results to be reported in a later post...

Posted by: James at January 31, 2006 9:38 PM

Huzzah! No longer will you be the purveyor of "baked bads"!

Posted by: briwei at January 31, 2006 9:55 PM

Mmmmmm. Cream cheese on a blueberry muffin. Cream cheese IN a blueberry muffin. Mmm.

I was going to attempt to convert all those grams into ounces, but then I realized, actually, the proportions are pretty easy to figure out. :)

Posted by: Julie at January 31, 2006 9:57 PM

I'm still casting about for more variety in blueberry muffin recipes, too. Here's my favorite so far:

Blueberry Muffins
From Pam W.

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
2 cups fresh blueberries

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Gradually add sugar.

While beating, slowly pour in oil; add vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients; add alternately with sour cream to the egg mixture. Gently fold in blueberries. Spoon into greased muffin tins (or paper liners).

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Yield: 24 muffins (sometimes a few more)

Notes: As you can tell from the amounts, it's easily halved for a test batch. I also sometimes add lemon zest, and I've used rehydrated dried wild blueberries from Trader Joe's with good results.

This makes a fairly moist, more cake-like muffin. I've been meaning to try it with frozen blueberries as well, since Cook's Illustrated has recommended that for the best taste/texture combination-- and it'd be a lot more convenient, too.

Posted by: Ariane at February 2, 2006 4:34 PM

Yeah - and you don't seem to have to thaw the blueberries for the recipe. I've thrown them in frozen ang have gotten great results.

Posted by: James at February 2, 2006 4:45 PM

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