MAD FOR MUFFINS By Karen Tedesco
Go big! Celebrate spring with a batch of oversized strawberry rhubarb streusel muffins.
Like all iconic foods, the great American muffin has an evolution story that reflects the cultural moment.
When cupcakes became the “It” sweet back in the Sex in the City era, the innocent, always-there-for-you muffin suddenly became the object of straight-up Mean Girls social shaming.
Remember the “Muffins are Just Ugly Cupcakes” meme? And so the humble muffin quietly shuffled away from the spotlight like a pair of worn-out sweatpants.
But just as cozy loungewear is often the first thing we reach for when seeking comfort, muffins are like an uncomplicated friend: easy to be around in the morning.
In the 1700s, the first baked goods to be called “muffins” were more akin to English muffins – flat, yeasted griddle cakes that people could easily stash in their pockets to eat later.
Our modern muffins progressed from those inauspicious beginnings, eventually mutating into a type of lightly sweet quick bread made with a chemically leavened (i.e., baking soda and baking powder) batter rather than yeast dough.
Because baking powder wasn’t patented in the United States until the late nineteenth century, there weren’t many recipes around for slightly sweeter muffins or quick breads, although little cakes baked in fancy pans were popular for children’s snacks and tea parties.
A recipe for muffins first appeared in Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book in 1925. Compared to today’s muffin recipes, Fannie’s were about half as sweet and minuscule in size.
Now, back in the present, muffins are sweeter, bigger – literally over-the-top in size. They spill out of the tin they’re baked in, producing more of a muffin top than a bottom.
Meet your new best friend: big (jumbo! oversized!) muffins, topped with fresh strawberries, rhubarb and a brown-sugar crumble. They might remind you of a good coffee cake – not too sweet, with a crumbly streusel topping and a buttery, tender texture inside. Adding buttermilk to the batter gives the muffins a light, tangy crumb.
Yes, large muffins are indulgent! But they’re easy to make, and they make everyone happy.
These muffins are baked in a jumbo muffin pan (a.k.a. Texas Muffin Pan), making them very shareable.
Because the batter and toppings completely fill up the muffin cups, I like to bake these muffins in tulip-shaped parchment liners to ensure they keep their shape better. (Plus they look pretty.)
Otherwise, it’s very easy to make your own bakery-style liners out of parchment paper: Cut six 6-inch squares of paper to fit a jumbo pan (or twelve 5-inch squares to fit a standard muffin pan) and crease them to fit inside each muffin cup.
Don’t worry if all you have are regular cupcake liners (or even no liners at all); just be sure to oil your muffin pan thoroughly, including the top.
And for heavens’ sakes, let’s not call them cupcakes, okay?
Karen Tedesco is a recipe developer, food stylist and photographer living in Maplewood. For seasonal recipes and more, visit her website FamilystyleFood.com.
Bakery-Style Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins
Makes 6 jumbo or 12 standard-size muffins.
The muffins keep well for a few days, wrapped or stored in a covered container.
Streusel Crumble Topping:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces strawberries, hulled and chopped
2 stalks rhubarb (6 - 8 ounces), diced
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Grated zest from 1 orange or lemon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack positioned in the middle. Oil a 6-cup muffin tin and fill with muffin liners or tulip-shaped parchment liners.
Place the ingredients for the streusel in a bowl and mix until it forms large, moist crumbs. Set aside.
Put the strawberries, rhubarb, cornstarch, brown sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and gently stir to combine. Set aside while you mix the rest of the batter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and grated zest. Make a well in the center and stir in the egg, oil, butter, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix until the batter just comes together and the flour is incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly into the muffin cups. Spoon the strawberry mixture evenly over the batter (about 1/2 cup for each cup), then top with the streusel crumbs (2 tablespoons or so per cup).
Bake 22 - 27 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out with only a few moist crumbs.