Episode Five: Muffins.

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Baking frustrates me. I follow a recipe; I use the right ingredients in slightly different proportions and mix them a little bit differently than instructed, and my goods look completely different from the picture.

The difference between muffins and cupcakes epitomize this perplexity. Same ingredients stirred together and baked, yet the results are not the same. Structurally, what’s causing this difference?

Muffin Method

The Muffin Method produces an uneven, soft texture in muffins, breads and pancakes.

You simply need to combine dry ingredients (flour, leavening, salt, spices). Then, combine liquid ingredients (oil, milk, water, eggs, sugar – because it melts so fast). Add the two together; stir until barely combined. Bake it up!

Unlike creaming, when you combine the wets and the drys you are not creating seed air bubbles. Thus, leavening induces the only air bubbles, which are randomly sized and create an uneven texture.

Second, muffins contain much less sugar than cupcakes, which means their texture is much less tender.

WHY?

In addition to sweetness, sugar creates tenderness in baked goods. Sugar gets in between proteins and steals water, slowing down coagulation. Heat breaks down the molecular bonds of proteins, causing proteins to bond with their neighbors, causing coagulation, or thickening, forming the structure of the baked goods.

Watch out for overmixing your batter. Sift drys first. It aerates the flour, increasing the volume, allowing for easier integration into a batter. Less stirring means less gluten is formed, which creates a more tender muffin.

Creaming Method

The sugar crystals cut into the fat, creating air bubbles that the fat seals over. These are seed bubbles. The bubbles are evenly dispersed throughout the fat and there is an even rise in the cake. The air assists in leavening. The sugar itself is suspended in the fat. This method makes cake batter or cookie dough. The air expands in the oven, serving as a leavening agent.

Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here For More Food was a crucial source of information for this piece.

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