cook’s illustrated’s blueberry muffins

I love Cook’s Illustrated. I love this magazine so much that I bought Handsome a subscription for Christmas, even though I am generally the chef and baker in our house. I also pay about $25 a year to have access to their entire online archive, because their recipes are just that good.

If you’re not familiar with this magazine, the accompanying web site, or the television show, the basic premise is that the kitchen staff tackles a recipe and tries to make it in the best possible way. They consult multiple versions of a recipe, test them, and come up with the most foolproof recipe possible that can be made in pretty much any kitchen. The magazine itself is gorgeous; the back cover of each edition contains a series of painting on a theme, like different mushroom varieties or whole baking spices. They also don’t use photos in the magazine, relying instead on black and white sketches to illustrate techniques and processes.

When I searched the archive for a blueberry muffin recipe, I was a little daunted at first. They offered recipes for Classic Blueberry Muffins, Anytime Blueberry Muffins, Lemon Blueberry Muffins, The Best Blueberry Muffins, muffins that were topped with almond crunch, cinnamon streusel, or orange glaze, or muffins rolled in cinnamon sugar. Decisions, decisions.

Then I spotted a recipe for The Best Blueberry Muffins… made with frozen blueberries. The admirable folks in the America’s Test Kitchen, after my own heart, optimized a basic blueberry muffin to maximize blueberryness using frozen blueberries, which, as we all know, are a different beast than the preferable, fresh variety. All I had on hand were frozen berries, so my decision as to which recipe to tackle was easily made.

In hindsight, this may have been too tall an order for this lazy Sunday morning. I often violate the conditions of Lazy Sunday Morning to make some breakfasty baked good. This particular Sunday, I was exhausted to my bones. I had spent the previous Thursday running around, making final arrangements to graduate. On Friday, I graduated and moved out of my apartment. On Saturday, I entertained my mom, sister, and a friend, going to dinner, lunch, watching two movies, and making a coconut cream pie (also from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe). And I hadn’t slept well Saturday night. Muffins from a mix, or even regular homemade muffins, are relatively simple. This recipe was not.

For this recipe, one has to make lemon sugar (I made lemon-orange sugar). Then one makes blueberry jam. Then melts butter. Then whisks dry ingredients, and then wet ones. Then rinses frozen berries and pats them dry, thus permanently staining a hand towel because someone doesn’t use paper towels. Then one mixes the berries with the dry ingredients, and the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Then one divides the berry batter among the muffin tins. But what about the jam? You put a dollop on top of each section of muffin batter, and swirl it. Top with the sugar, bake for 17 minutes, rotate pan halfway through.

It’s exhausting.

But it’s worth it. The result is a moist muffin with bursts of berry flavor; the citrusy sugar topping is a nice surprise, but I could easily skip it. The process is labor-intensive and I used up what felt like every bowl in the house, but for blueberry muffins? It’s worth it.

Blueberry Muffins with Frozen Blueberries
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
(link may not work, as I believe this is a recipe accessible only to subscribers)

Citrus Sugar Topping
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated citrus zest (original recipe calls for lemon zest, but I used a mixture of lemon and orange zest)

2 c. frozen blueberries
1 1/8 c. plus 1 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
4 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled (original recipe calls for unsalted butter, but I used salted and did not omit the salt in the recipe, and I found this to be fine)
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk (I used 1 c. whole milk plus 1 tsp. vinegar, mixed a few minutes ahead of time)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Mix 1/3 cup sugar with citrus zest in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat 1 cup blueberries with 1 tbsp. sugar in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat for about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Mash blueberries frequently and reduce mixture to approximately 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Wash other 1 cup blueberries well and dry. Set aside.

Mix flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk 2 eggs and 1 1/8 cups sugar until fully mixed. Add butter and oil gradually and mix well. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix well.

Mix reserved blueberries (the washed and dried ones) with the flour mixture.

Add egg mixture to flour/blueberry mixture and fold together, being careful not to overmix. (Batter will be lumpy and have flour spots; that is okay!)

Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.

Place one tsp. of blueberry jam on top of each cup of muffin batter, trying to press it below the surface. Use a skewer or chopstick to swirl the jam into the batter, making a figure 8 motion.

Top each cup of muffin batter with the citrus sugar topping.

Bake 17-19 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. The edges of the muffins will be golden brown when they are done.



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