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Muffins from mom

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Homemade muffins are a treat for kids and a break for mom
Photo by Sarah LemonCarrot Corn Cakes
Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/TNSMini lemon glazed blueberry muffins.
Mini lemon glazed blueberry muffins. (Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/TNS)

Homemade muffins summon maternal memories.

Weekend mornings of my childhood seemed extra special when Mom piled a bowl high with freshly baked blueberry muffins, still steaming inside a tea towel. Another bowl glistened with cheesy scrambled eggs.

The spread was a major departure from Dad’s favorite bacon, hashbrowns and eggs over easy. I reveled in the lighter, brighter flavors but didn’t recognize — until I became a mom, myself — how the minimalist menu helped to preserve Mom’s sanity.

Flipping enough pancakes, French toast and their ilk to feed a family entails about 30 minutes or more of manning a stovetop griddle. Another pan or two simultaneously crank out eggs fried to each person’s preference. Unless the cook’s a stickler for keeping items warm in the oven so everyone can eat together, kids clamor for the first plate.

Learning from Mom how to short-order cook with the best of them, I repeat the same ritual for my family approximately every other weekend. But I’m worn out before the day’s essentially begun. Sliding a pan of muffins into the oven lets me put up my feet — coffee cup in hand — for about 10 minutes, slightly less time than it takes to scramble a big pan of eggs.

So among my “good Mom” goals is the occasional breakfast of freshly baked muffins. Ignoring my sons’ indifference, I consider the day’s mothering duty done as those muffins transport me straight back to childhood.

My affection for muffins has only grown since embracing paper liners. For years I resisted, viewing them as wasteful. But the ordeal of soaking and scrubbing muffin tins drained away my motivation for baking.

It didn’t matter how much — or with which fat — I greased the tins. The muffins still stuck, perhaps because using my mom’s vintage bakeware, instead of modern silicone, is a factor in my nostalgia. Paper liners, though, are a small concession to and investment in lower-stress baking. The unbleached, compostable type, sold under the brand If You Care, ease my environmental conscience.

My dietary sensibility, however, recoiled at so much refined oil in mainstream muffin recipes. I assumed this ingredient was just a holdover from the 1980s and ’90s margarine craze, evidenced in “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook,” my mom’s go-to source for baking. But after years of replacing half the oil with flaxseed meal or substituting butter, I delved into the issue and emerged with some credible evidence for oil.

Simply put, liquid oil readily diffuses throughout muffin batter to yield a light, nongreasy baked texture. Melted butter, on the other hand, solidifies when muffins cool, resulting in a denser texture. The water in butter also encourages gluten development that can make muffins tough.

In recipes calling for melted butter, substitute only three-quarters to seven-eighths the amount of oil to adjust for butter’s water content. Baking with oil instead of melted butter actually preserves moisture and promotes a longer shelf life.

When they’re hot out of the oven and I’ve brewed the morning coffee, I can appreciate muffins that masquerade as cupcakes. One of my cold-weather favorites pairs canned pumpkin and grated apple or pear with dried cranberries and pecans, all enveloped in warming spices. But I prefer savory muffins — meant to complement hearty soups, salads or other main dishes — that have a delicate crumb, like these Carrot Corn Cakes.

Lighter, airier muffins also can be coaxed from a higher oven temperature. On the advice of Chicago Tribune writer Robin Mather, I’ve been baking muffins at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reducing the temperature to 350 for the remaining baking time, usually 10 to 15 minutes. My muffins did rise higher — and with them my baking confidence.

Mom would be proud.

Mini Lemon-Glazed Blueberry Muffins

2 cups white whole-wheat flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 large egg

1 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 (5.3-ounce) containers plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries, completely dry

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/3 cup, plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a standard mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg until light in color. Add the brown sugar and continue to whisk for 30 to 60 seconds. Add the melted butter in 2 batches, whisking after each addition. Add the Greek yogurt in 2 batches, whisking after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla.

Gently toss the blueberries in flour mixture. Add yogurt mixture and fold gently until blended thoroughly. Do not overmix.

Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin tin. This will be a heaping tablespoon. Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

While muffins are baking, prepare lemon sugar and glaze. Carefully remove muffins from muffin tin, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

To make lemon sugar, in a small bowl, stir the lemon zest into the 1/3 cup sugar; set aside.

To make lemon glaze, in a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice and the 1/4 cup sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring and simmering until mixture is thick and syrup-like. Allow mixture to reduce to about 4 tablespoons.

After muffins have cooled for 5 minutes, brush tops with some lemon glaze and dip tops into lemon sugar.

Makes 36 muffins.

Carrot Corn Cakes

1 cup flour

3/4 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup canola oil

1/2 cup low-fat or whole milk (do not use nonfat)

1-1/2 cups grated carrots (2 medium carrots)

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

2 to 3 teaspoons black sesame seeds or black mustard seeds, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar; mix well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and milk. Add the carrots and dry-ingredient mixture and stir to mix well; batter will have an oatmeal-like consistency.

Divide batter evenly among paper liners, filling cups two-thirds full. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Transfer cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

To serve, slather some of the mascarpone on each muffin, then sprinkle with the black sesame seeds or black mustard seeds.

Makes 12 muffins.

Cran-Lemon Tea Muffins

2 cups white whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons matcha green-tea powder

2 eggs

Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

1 cup coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a muffin pan with cooking spray or line with paper muffin cups.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and matcha powder. In another bowl, combine the eggs, lemon juice and zest, honey and buttermilk. Pour wet mixture into dry, then gently mix in the melted coconut oil. Fold in the cranberries. Batter will be lumpy.

Scoop an equal amount of mixture into each muffin cup and bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for about 10 minutes and then serve.

Makes 12 muffins.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.