Posts Tagged ‘Crumb Topping’

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Crunch-topped Corn Muffins

Crunch-topped Corn Muffins

I bake at least once a week. The evidence is that I usually write about it on this blog. The upside is that any skill, be it golf, tennis, dance, or archery (!) is honed by this kind of repeated activity. Practice, practice, practice…

The downside is that you may find yourself becoming complacent about your ever increasing level of skill. Or is it arrogant? Invincible, eh?

Runners can experience physical setbacks—shin splints, and various muscle aches or injuries come to mind. These kinds of injuries can often be a good reminder to check your technique, or even just to slow down a bit.

But bakers really don’t run the hazard of more than an occasional minor burn. In my case though, I sustained a minor psychic burn that reminded me that I wasn’t listening to my own advice, or that my advice was contradictory.

My shabby tale starts innocently enough: I baked some corn muffins for a business meeting. Ah, the humble corn muffin…a simple morning treat, and, this time, my wake up call. You see, I decided that because the corn muffin was so straight forward that I would arrogantly put my own spin on it, kind of like a city slicker moving to the country and deciding he could build a better barn than the locals.

I’m so ashamed. Yes, I should have known better.

If you have ever read my recipes you know that I avoid using real butter in many things because it can upset my stomach. Advice #1: this is fine when the taste of butter will not be “front and center”. A good example of this would be butter cookies. If butter is in the title accept no substitutes. By the same token, I am not an absolutist about this. Even if I didn’t use butter in a recipe, you should feel free to use it. No judgmental gaze down my nose, I promise.

Well anyway, back to the corn muffins. I decided that I wanted to make a big, fluffy, kinda-sweet-but-not-too, Northeastern Corn Muffin, not to be confused with the savory, toasty Southern-style. The fluffy, sweet Corn Muffin is what I grew up eating; if you’re from New England, chances are your old Auntie or Grandmother used to buy these at Jordan Marsh or Dorothy Muriel’s (a/k/a Brigham’s). Here’s a rhetorical question you never hear Ina Garten pose: “How hard can that be?”

Ugh. You’d be surprised.

The truth is that Corn Muffin beauty is in the eye of the beholder / taster / dunker. I wanted to brighten them up a bit, avoid making them too damp, and therefore too heavy, and give them a touch of complexity. Most of those functional specs I achieved, but I made two fatal mistakes.

First, here’s what I did right. I started with a good basic muffin recipe that I’ve had for years. Anyone who bakes muffins knows that you start with a plain recipe and all the variations are due to what you add, whether you add fruit, nuts, crumb topping, or spices.  I added just a touch of grated orange zest which I thought would complement the sunny toasty flavor of the corn.

Where I went wrong was using the wrong amount of cornmeal so the muffins were a bit too grainy or crumbly. Even worse, I made the crumb topping without real butter. Uh-oh.

Yeah, sure, for most of the people the muffins—just out of the oven, mind you—were a treat. They liked them a lot. Loved them? That’s a stretch.

But there’s always one in every crowd. The one person whose opinion I know is truly important gave them a thumbs down. This wasn’t done in a malicious way, but with the knowledge that whether I recognized it or not I wanted—needed—to know the truth. She said, “Too dry, and whatever spray you used to keep them from sticking to the pan smells funny.”

I’m only human. So, it took me a while to make peace with her terse criticism. I hadn’t used any spray to keep them from sticking.

But some hours later I took the last surviving muffin home, opened the Tupperware, and put the muffin to my nose. It smelled…greasy. Damn if she wasn’t right on the money. Back to the drawing board.

The dryness of the muffin was a delicate problem. I knew the answer wasn’t more liquid; rather, it was reducing the cornmeal vs. flour ratio. The greasy smell needed a little thought, but not much. I just needed a light bulb moment to realize that I had made the crumb topping with my favorite butter substitute. Clearly it was the real turtle soup I craved, and not the mock. (For the uninitiated, the latter is a play on a Cole Porter song lyric. Jeez, don’t you ever listen to Tony Bennett?)

Two tablespoons of butter distributed amongst six muffins? Clearly my stomach had nothing to worry about, and using butter meant the muffins had a sweet, clean, corn smell: that corn muffin smell we all love.

Some times it pays to stop and smell the grease.


Click here for the recipe for Crunch-top Corn Muffins


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