Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Joys and Sorrows of Baking Muffins

I remember the first time I ate muffins. I waited tables then at Faculty House, a dining club for University of South Carolina faculty. I was a graduate student at the university trying to keep body and soul together and my grades respectable.

At Faculty House, after the lunch hour, when the guests had left, my colleagues, including Lianji, my Chinese friend, and I sat down to lunch. I ate blackened wahoo or chicken piccata with rice or whatever was on the menu that day - I just happen to remember some dishes. And, always Lianji made sure we got our muffins. He would carefully stash away in the warmer a few before our lunch.

I would slather butter - I remember the pats with parsley sprinkled on them - on the muffins and watch the butter melt slowly down the sides. Oh, how we looked forward to that communal lunch after a hard shift!

Several years later, I baked my first muffins in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I lived for almost a year. I had bought a non-stick muffin pan. The muffins came out perfectly fine.

I replicated the success a year ago back home in Kolkata, India. My interest had been rekindled by "Muffins," a book by Elizabeth Alston, the food editor at Woman's Day magazine.

But, I recently messed up a batch of muffins. I'd started out to make orange marmalade muffins. I followed the recipe precisely except for the size of the egg - I had a small egg, while the recipe called for a large egg.

When I folded the wet ingredients - egg, yogurt, butter and vanilla - into the dry mixture of flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, I ran out of the wet portion. The flour mixture became dough instead of batter. I ran to my mother with the mixing bowl in hand. I was sweating profusely in the hot Kolkata afternoon. I was baking this for my colleagues for my birthday treat.

My mother suggested adding another egg or a little milk. I chose the extra egg, beating it into the dough-like mixture.

When the muffins came out of the oven, I gingerly broke one to eat. The marmalade looked and tasted fine in the core, but the texture of the muffin seemed tough and chewy, and, worse, it smelled of egg!

I took the muffins to office anyway. My colleagues ate one each. They downplayed the flaw, but one was candid enough to say the muffin smelled of egg.

When I analyzed the flaw, I thought the last-minute addition of the extra egg undid the muffins. Or, else why would they be so tough? True, I hadn't sifted the baking powder with the flour for even distribution, but was that fatal?

I have no idea. It's for you to judge without eating the muffins - I wouldn't even offer them to you. What went wrong?

In her book, Alston talks about the two main kinds of muffins based on the procedure of mixing: stirred and creamed. I have baked cakes and brownies before with great results, and all I can say is I am more at ease with the creamed method, in which the dry ingredients go into the wet and not the other way round.

But, the big question is: Will I continue to bake both kinds of muffins? You bet.

3 comments:

cin said...

muffins should only be mixed until just combined. if you overmix it, they will become tough and chewy. hope that helps!

Farid said...

Hello,

I am a chef instructor at The California School of Culinary Arts, Le Cordon Bleu and I am also a fellow blogger. www.bookofrai.com is a multi-author blog with established writers such as Paula Wolfert and Clifford Wright. To the lest you will see a list of authors who contribut content.

I started a Food Forum 2 days ago.

Book of Rai forum seeks to foster cross-cultural, inter-disciplinary dialogues about food. It evolved from the multi-author blog "Ya Rayi Our Rai" I coordinate. The blog evolved from frustrations with certain food forums. So why start another one? I feel there is a place for a more inclusive and focused forum with hosts and moderators who are passionate about their fields of interest.

Post about what you know, if you don't know ask a question.

I also started it because many of the bigger, general food forums fall short in more specifics fields of knowledge. I've found bloggers to be much more informed and specific. I'm very knew to blogging. I'm having a blast.

I invite you to join the forum to discuss your areas of interest in food. You can post links to your blogs of course.

It would be an honor to you as a member.

Best wishes
Farid Zadi

http://s14.invisionfree.com/bookofrai/index.php?act=idx

link to forum

shomas said...

hello

According to my experiance, never overwork muffins it becomes tough . saying that never add an extra egg in the batter in the end ...unless as u say it will be more of eggy taste. As ur mom suggested add a little liquid which would be milk or orange juice as it was a orange marmalade muffin. U may know the consistency by now. hope this helps...