The best weekends start with muffins....and here are mine

We all have our gifts, and here are mine:   I write very good thank you notes.  I grow really beautiful lettuce.    And I can bake any kind of muffin. 

I cracked the muffin code in 1987, when I was a graduate student in theoretical linguistics.    Some time in January, I figured out that I really, really did NOT want to be a linguist when I grew up.   Yet I needed to finish out the academic year at UC Santa Cruz.  So I pondered what unique, life-enriching experiences I could have in my four or five remaining months on California's Central Coast.  And looking around me, I decided that what was truly exceptional about that place at that time was the quality of the muffins.  They had fabulous muffins in Santa Cruz, and I set out to learn how to make them.  I baked muffins every day.  

I found a willing set of taste-testers in my fellow graduate students:   graduate students will eat anything.   I'm pretty sure that a quarter century later, this is still true.

Over the years, the master recipe has changed very little, although I have made hundreds of variations.   These muffins are fast--I can go from muffin concept to loaded oven in 12 minutes and 43 seconds (but who's counting?).  And they are pretty healthy:  these days I make them exclusively with whole-grain flour and canola oil, and I usually load them up with fruit and nuts.   Yes, there's some sugar in there.   But I think you should relax about that.

Here is the Master Muffin Recipe:

2 cups flour (I like white whole wheat or whole-grain pastry flour; but any kind will do)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup dairy (buttermilk, yogurt, or milk soured with 1 tsp. vinegar)

1/3 cup oil or melted butter

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

Whatever else you want to add:   dried fruit, diced fresh fruit, nuts, bananas, pumpkin, chocolate chips

  • Combine the dry ingredients
  • Combine the wet ingredients
  • Gently mix the wet and dry ingredients together until they are just barely combined
  • Fold in whatever fruit, nuts, etc. strike your fancy
  • Spoon batter into greased or lined muffin cups, and bake until done (usually 22-25 minutes)

Thousands of muffins later, here are some suggestions:

  • Dried buttermilk is awesome:  if you use it, then add 4 Tbsp. to the dry ingredients, and use water instead of other dairy in the wet ingredients.
  • Feel free to add other spices to the dry ingredients:  cinnamon is the obvious choice; ground ginger and nutmeg are also lovely, or you could get a little edgy and add cayenne pepper.
  • If you want to add in a fruit or vegetable puree (mashed bananas, a can of pumpkin, grated carrots, grated zucchini), then mix it in with the wet ingredients and decrease the liquid to 3/4 cup.
  • You can swap 1 cup of rolled oats for 1/2 cup of the flour.
  • You can substitute a little lemon or orange juice for some of the liquid.   Be sure to add a little grated peel as well.
  • If you make banana muffins, then increase the salt to 1/2 tsp.   I don't know why it makes those muffins sing, but it does
  • You can use frozen berries straight from the freezer; no need to defrost them first.   But you will need to increase your baking time a little bit.


Some of my favorite variations:   chopped plums and walnuts; peaches and pecans; pears, nuts and crystallized ginger; blueberry lemon; oatmeal and mixed berries; cranberry orange; raspberry chocolate chip; banana walnut chocolate chip (with a little extra salt--trust me!); jalapeno cornmeal; and the current household favorite, pumpkin chocolate chip:

 It is October, so today's muffins will be apple cinnamon, maybe with some walnuts.   They will be ready around 9:00.   Bring your own coffee.