20 February 2011

In pursuit of real food

The occasional package of ramen noodles is all well and good, and I could eat quick-and-mindless pasta al pesto or mascarpone three or four nights a week without complaint, but after several crazy weeks, I was craving some lazy time in the kitchen. I would have been happy doing something, anything but washing dishes—I'm not clear how I dirtied every dish in the house when I was cooking little and eating less.

This morning I woke up and just couldn't take it any more. It was a perfect morning for baking—our skies were clearing after a few days of rain, and the whole house was chilly.

I've had a bit of an obsession with muffins lately. Good muffins are sweet but not sticky, substantial but not heavy. They're quick to make, and rarely require more than you have in your pantry, and if you have a small family like I do, odds are good that you'll have leftovers for the next day.


I'm equal-opportunity when it comes to muffins. I like the newfangled orange-cranberry and the classic almond-poppy seed (although I prefer lemon); I enjoy more cake-like chocolate and barely-sweet corn; I'm happy to gobble up gingerbread and banana alike. Recently I've made doughnut muffins and spice muffins, and I just bought bran, but mostly, I've been experimenting with blueberries.

blueberry-streusel muffins

Blueberry muffins have always been my favorites; they're a lesson in simplicity. The fruit greatly reduces the structural integrity of the muffin (particularly while warm), so I like to counteract that with some whole wheat pastry flour, a bit sturdier than white flour. I like to spike the batter with a few good pinches of mace or nutmeg, but the most important element is certainly the berries. I still have a few cups of blueberries from home in my freezer, but when I need to buy them I try to find small, wild Boreal blueberries, as they seem to have the best flavor. While I don't hesitate to use fresh berries when I have them, I find that frozen berries reduce or eliminate the purple streaks that are the bane of so many berry-lovers. These muffins are chock-full of berries and will stain your fingers purple if given half a chance—just like they should be.


Blueberry Muffins with Cinnamon Streusel
Adapted from the Stone-Buhr Cookbook

Baking manuals usually abound with instructions to have all ingredients at room temperature, but for this recipe, I recommend keeping the milk and egg cold. The blueberries are frozen, and having a cool batter will slow down the thawing process and help reduce any unnecessary purple streaks.

For the streusel:

3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch cinnamon
½ cup flour, divided

For the muffins:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup unbleached white flour
5 tablespoons sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
2 pinches mace or nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten (cold)
¾ cup milk (cold)
⅓ cup oil or butter, melted and cooled
1 cup blueberries, kept frozen

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. To make the streusel, mix the melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, and ¼ cup flour. Add additional flour by tablespoonfuls until the mixture crumbles but holds clumps easily; set aside.

Grease a muffin pan or line with paper or foil liners; set aside. Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl with a fork or whisk. Make a well in the center and add the egg, milk, and the oil or butter. Fold the ingredients together swiftly with a spatula, folding three or four times. Add the blueberries and quickly mix to distribute - the dry ingredients should be just moistened.

Distribute the batter in the muffin pan (I often leave one empty to keep the muffins nice and tall). Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the muffins—if you have leftover streusel, you can cover it and refrigerate for up to a week.

Bake 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes.

Reheat any leftovers in the microwave or in a 250ºF oven.

Makes about 12 muffins


  1. Those muffins look fantastic. In my opinion, streusel always makes things twice as good. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog until tomorrow evening and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link your muffins up. http://sweet-as-sugar-cookies.blogspot.com/2011/02/sweets-for-saturday-5.html

  2. oh,i need to try these, i love blueberries! but i am just about to move, so i will have to wait a bit...

  3. These look excellent. I've been working on muffin recipes for my new book (on cooking with whole grains), and it's tough to get them just right. The blueberry ones that came closest to what I wanted were pretty similar to yours, but had no sweetener (because my daughter and I forgot to put any in) and no streusel—but I doubt they'd be nearly as appealing to the world at large!

    Oh, and yes: the tiny wild blueberries are so, so much better than the big high-bush berries. You can actually get frozen wild blueberries at Kroger in some places.

  4. These muffins look like a real treat. Especially with the cute wrappers. I'm always too lazy to make a topping! (Plus they disappear too fast...) I'm with you on the dish washing, I'm not sure how so many get dirty. Life, I guess.

  5. Lisa - Thanks! I missed your deadline, but I'm enjoying reading up on your blog.

    Liana - I actually added the streusel and some additional sugar for the sake of my husband, who likes his muffins much sweeter than I do.

    Nicole - Thanks; I'm usually too lazy to make streusel, too, but I like it enough that sometimes I manage it. A sprinkling of raw sugar mixed with some cinnamon on top before baking is just as good, though.

  6. Your post makes me realize I haven't had a great blueberry muffin in quite a while. I need to remedy that situation quickly.

    I found your blog through Kitchen Corners - the MHC pancake post. Good to see another Smithie obsessed with baking.

  7. Smith seems to really churn out the bakers - I think it has something to do with Friday Tea. I'm Albright '04, by the way.

  8. oh, I am equal opportunity with muffins too! what a great phrase!