I’m a big fan of muffins. A good blueberry muffin, slightly warm, with a spoonful of vanilla yoghurt is a real treat, especially when the fruit is fresh and the berries burst in your mouth with a little explosion of juice and flavour. I’ve also been a long time fan of Prêt a Manger’s breakfast muffins that were, until not that long ago, amusingly named Morning Glory Muffins, and I’ve been meaning to attempt to replicate them for a while now.
They are chock full of nuts, seeds and dried fruit and have helped me get through many a morning hangover whilst still feeling healthy and without having to resort to a full fried breakfast. They also go really well with coffee and with a Bank Holiday weekend ahead of us I thought I would try to make a batch of these muffins as a weekend treat.
The first step was to try and find a basic recipe for a muffin. One that wasn’t too sweet, too greasy or too complicated. A recipe that was versatile enough to add items to and remove items from without any detriment. This proved to be considerably harder than I expected and I can safely say that, after hunting through hundreds of books and websites, no such recipe exists.
I was also adamant that these muffins would be actual muffins. Most recipes seemed to result in little cakes that refused to rise up over the top of the cases, giving nothing more than a pathetic little dome of cake and a dense body underneath. I wanted a blooming mushroom cloud of muffin, spilling over the top of the case like the flesh of an overweight teen girl ballooning out over the top of a pair of low cut jeans.
This is the holy grail of muffin making – a light cup cake shaped base with a delicious cloud-like top that looks as if it is trying to escape its humble origins. But as a beginner I was unsure how to achieve this feat. I could use industrial quantities of baking powder but I didn’t want the end product to taste like bicarbonate of soda. I was also using wholemeal flour, not noted for its anti-gravity properties. And judging by the photos accompanying the various recipes I consulted, it seemed unlikely that I was going to achieve the desired effect.
And then I had a eureka moment. Instead of mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ones as one complete lot, if the egg was separated and the white beaten, like a meringue, before it was folded in at the last possible moment, then the muffin should be full of the necessary air to rise up like a nuclear explosion. The theory was good, but many sound theories have failed in application. Communism works, in theory, said Homer Simpson. But buoyed by my own Archimedes moment, I was awash with confidence.
And so, with wanton abandon I mixed flour (wholemeal and white) with some oats, a generous quantity of dried fruit (pineapple, cranberries and raisins) and seeds (pumpkin, poppy and sunflower), some brown sugar and a little baking powder before adding the ‘wet’ constituents: milk, egg yolks, vanilla yoghurt, oil, grated carrot and orange juice. The whole lot was mixed together and as the oven was heating up, I went to work with the egg whites, whisking them up until they were transformed from a liquid dribble into a billowy mass.
Once the whisked egg white had been folded into the muffin mixture and divided equally between 12 muffin cases, they went into a hot oven and I crossed my fingers.
There was no superstition necessary, however, and after twenty minutes they had risen up and over, just like muffins should. These were no pathetically domed specimens, little cupcakes vaguely masquerading as muffins. These were bona fide muffins worthy of any bank holiday breakfast table, to be served with steaming coffee, a little butter and plenty of late morning sunshine.
And if you ask nicely, I might even give you the recipe…