Monday, January 30, 2012

Raspberry-Almond Muffins and a Question about Mixing Method

This past week I taught one of my all-time favorite classes: Breakfast Breads. The class includes some of my favorite recipes for breads and cakes and covers a wide variety of mixing methods. One of the methods I teach is the "muffin method". Because I typically teach this class in the fall, most of the time the muffin that I use to demonstrate this particular technique is Pumpkin Chocolate Chip. Occasionally, when the class falls during the winter months, I use a recipe for Raspberry-Almond Muffins instead. Since I have already posted the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip recipe, and the Raspberry-Almond are always a class favorite, I thought I would share that recipe too.

Not only are these muffins popular in my classes, they have always been one of my favorites. They were in fact the starting place for my recipe for Everyday Blueberry Muffins (long time readers may remember my quest for the perfect "muffin method" blueberry muffin). Because I like my blueberry muffin recipe so much, as my class approached, I thought I would try that recipe with raspberries and almonds to see if I liked it better than my original raspberry-almond muffin. To my surprise, I did not. Since I don't have an explanation of why one recipe works better with raspberries and the other with blueberries, I won't dwell on it. But I did want to mention it since I ended my blueberry muffin post with the thought that the recipe would probably make good raspberry muffins. This did not turn out to be the case.

In my blueberry muffin post I go into some detail about the muffin method (basically you mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl, all the wet in another and then quickly combine them). One thing I didn't address in that post is the role of sugar. If you were to randomly examine muffin recipes that use the muffin method, you would find that some recipes include sugar in the dry ingredients and some include it in the wet. I have never thought too much about why you would want to choose one way over the other. Most of my recipes include sugar with the dry ingredients. Uncharacteristically for me, my raspberry-almond muffin adds the sugar to the wet ingredients (which probably has something to do with the original source of the recipe more than anything else).

In the recent class, someone asked "why" one would choose one way or the other. Since I didn't know the answer, I came home and looked it up. One source (Baking911) said they always included sugar with the liquid because it resulted in better aeration... No explanation was there as to why this might be true, but I was interested to find an experienced baker who expressed a preference. Shirley Corriher in her book Bakewise doesn't address the issue at all (at least that I could find). But all of her muffin-method muffins use sugar as a dry ingredient.

Some of the more detailed information that I found on the subject was in a post at Finecooking.  The author of the article felt that adding sugar to the liquids would limit the development of gluten.  (Too much gluten is what makes a muffin tough.) In brief, his reasoning was as follows: Since the proteins that combine to form gluten must have access to water in order to form gluten, and since sugar is attracted to water, adding sugar to the liquid ingredients ties up some of the water making it unavailable for the formation of gluten. This sounds plausible, except that it is my experience that sugar always makes baked goods more tender—for the very reasons described—no matter what the mixing method. My understanding is that when glutenins and gliadins (the gluten forming proteins) are in a competition with sugar for water, sugar always wins.

At this point, it seemed to me that the only reasonable thing to do was to test both methods with my recipe for raspberry-almond muffins to see which one I liked better. So that's what I did. I made half a recipe each way and then sampled them (along with a blind taste tester).

In the final analysis, there was no discernable difference between the two muffins. The batter is more liquid when the sugar is added to the liquid ingredients and it seemed to me that they baked slightly faster and were perhaps a hair taller with this method (better aeration?)...but when I tasted them side by side, I could detect no difference in taste or texture. I was surprised by this. After reading the post at Fine Cooking I had been ready to discover that including the sugar with the liquids was superior and that I was going to have to go back and adjust all of my muffin recipes.... But this will thankfully not be necessary.

Things were slightly different with my blind taste tester. Because it took me some minutes to mix up the second batch (the one that included the sugar with the dry), the two batches of muffins came out of the oven at different times. The batch that included the sugar with the dry was warmer than the batch that included the sugar with the liquid when she sampled them. When she reported to me that she thought one was more tender, I asked if maybe her perception wasn't due to the fact that the one she liked better was still warm. Neither of us complained when we had to sample another pair of muffins at a later point when they were both cold. And at this second sampling my taste tester could not tell the difference between the two muffins either.

Method 1 (adding the sugar to the liquids):

Method 2 (adding the sugar to the dry ingredients):

I think the lesson least for what I already knew: the most important thing when mixing muffins using the "muffin method" is to not over-mix them. Over-mixing is a huge temptation. The batter will still have lumps and visible bits of flour in it when it is done. But, if you resist the temptation to keep mixing until the batter is smooth and looks fully blended, you should be able to produce light, tender muffins.

Another thing I should point out about this recipe is that I use frozen raspberries. Most of the time when you add frozen fruit to a batter, the batter immediately seizes up and becomes very difficult to work with. This is because the frozen fruit is firming up the butter. In this recipe the batter (especially when the sugar is included with the wet ingredients) is very liquid. So liquid that when you mix it up you will think you have made a mistake. But, if you stop mixing at the appropriate moment, and wait a minute or two, the frozen raspberries will chill the butter and the batter will become firm enough to scoop. If you want to make it with fresh raspberries, you should most definitely include the sugar with the dry ingredients because the batter is less liquid when made this way.

I actually prefer to use frozen raspberries because I can break them up a bit before I add them. This disperses the raspberries throughout the muffins more evenly and in random sizes—which is much more pleasant than muffins loaded with big soggy lumps of raspberry.

Finally, I think it is worth mentioning that whenever you add berries, chunks of fruit, dried fruit, chocolate or nuts to a muffin, you should always toss them with the dry ingredients before adding the liquid. Combining the liquid with the dry and then folding in the aforementioned "mix-ins" will necessarily involve over-mixing the batter.

The recipe that I am posting includes instructions for both of the methods I tested. You should choose whichever method pleases you....just remember to not over-mix....

Raspberry-Almond Muffins

2 1/4 c. All-purpose Flour (265 grams)
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
3/4 c. Sugar
1 large Egg
8 T. Unsalted Butter, melted
1/2 c. Heavy Cream
1/2 c. Milk
1/2 t. almond extract
1 1/3 c. frozen (unsweetened) raspberries, lightly broken—do not thaw
1/2 c. sliced almonds
Sugar for sprinkling (granulated or Turbinado)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray, grease or line with muffin-liners, a 12-cup muffin tin. Set aside.

Method 1 (sugar with the liquids):
In a large bowl, whisk together the first three ingredients; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, butter and sugar together. Whisk in the cream, milk and almond extract. Add the frozen raspberries to the dry ingredients and toss to coat. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry and stir until just combined—this will only take a few strokes. A few clumps of flour will be visible in the batter—this is as it should be (do not over mix!). The batter will appear to be very liquid. After sitting a minute or two, the frozen berries will solidify the butter and the batter will firm up considerably.

Method 2 (sugar with the dry ingredients):
In a large bowl, whisk together the first four ingredients; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and butter together. Whisk in the cream, milk and almond extract. Add the frozen raspberries to the dry ingredients and toss to coat. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry and stir until just combined—this will only take a few strokes. A few clumps of flour will be visible in the batter—this is as it should be (do not over mix!).

Bake the muffins:
Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with some sliced almonds, and pat gently to help them adhere to the muffin top. Sprinkle each muffin with a bit of sugar.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes—until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Serve warm. Makes 12 muffins.


Lisa B said...

These muffins are always a hit when I take them somewhere. Love them!

Paige said...

Thanks Lisa! You must have had this class several years has been a while since I included these muffins in the class.

Petra said...

Thanks so much for posting this recipe, it is absolutely delicious. Can't make these too often though, we've already gobbled up 8 since this morning.

Paige said...

Petra, I'm so glad you liked them!...and appreciate it so much that you let me know. I think they're kind of addictive too....