So I’ve been working hard in the test kitchen formulating the perfect basic muffin recipe. Having a recipe like this is important–muffins are a quintessential quickbread, and almost all quickbread recipes originate from the most basic mixing instructions, known as the “muffin method“. When I think of quickbread, I think of banana, zucchini and pumpkin breads, but technically, a quickbread is any non-yeast bread. It can be cooked as soon as the batter or dough has been made; there’s no need to wait for the dough to rise as you must with yeast breads. Pancakes, crepes, popovers, cornbread, muffins, cream puff shells, and biscuits are other examples of quickbreads. A good muffin is tall, light, and moist, with a cracked top and a fine crumb.

When making quickbreads, minimizing gluten formation is key in getting that perfect texture and crumb. That’s why you’ll see “do not overmix” on most muffin recipes. Gluten is a¬†fascinating¬†natural protein group, and understanding how it works can make or break a recipe! (Check out “Understanding Gluten“–my post about what it is and how it works!)

This is a recipe for basic muffins–these could easily be made into any other type of muffin with a few simple tweaks. Whether you want blueberry, banana, oatmeal, or heck, even ham and cheese muffins, this is the place to start! In fact, the simple addition of a cup of blueberries would really knock these tasty muffins out of the park (blueberry muffins are my favorite)!

2 cups AP flour
1 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease the bottoms of a 12-cup muffin tin or line with cupcake liners. (Do not grease the sides of the muffin cups, as a little traction there will help the muffins rise up so you get a nice muffin top!)

2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

3. Add the milk, oil, and beaten egg to the dry ingredients and stir just until everything is moistened*. The batter should be lumpy! Do not overmix!

4. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Cool on wire rack and enjoy.

Makes 12 muffins.

*If you are adding nuts, berries, chocolate chips or other inclusions to this muffin, gently fold them into the batter at Step 3, a few strokes before the batter is fully mixed.

-Roll any berries, nuts, raisins, or other inclusions in a little bit of flour before folding them into the batter. This helps the batter cling to the inclusion and helps prevent them from settling to the bottom.
-If you are going to attempt to make a savory muffin, such as a ham and cheese, first reduce your sugar to 1/4 cup. A little sugar helps keep the bread moist, but the less you use, the more a muffin begins to taste like a biscuit, which is typically a good thing if you’re going for savory! If you want to take the sugar down even more, you may have to increase the fat to keep the muffin moist. Or technically speaking, if you remove the sugar and egg and increase the fat, you’re well on your way to a bona-fide biscuit recipe anyway! Happy experimenting!

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7 Responses to Basic Muffins – The Perfect Blank Canvas!

  1. sandhya says:

    Hi, Have accidentally come upon your blog yesterday when I Googled the difference between baking soda and powder.And am hooked! So far,this is the most entertaining post because it has a recipe plus tips and its loaded with information.My second favorite is the one about keeping apples unbrown.Thank you so much for your blog.Tomorrow, I am going to make a a quickbread with raisins and also fruit salad with apples and bananas.Wish me luck.

  2. Anya says:

    Amanda- so excited that you started this!!! I am already a follower :)
    I am experimenting a lot with almond flour and other gluten-free flours… do you have any tried and true recipes for those?

    • Amanda says:

      Not yet, but it’s on the docket! Stay tuned for updates, as I will certainly be delving deeper into the unique (and scientifically fascinating) challenge that is gluten-free cooking!

  3. I do have a question, just curious–would it be bad/more delicious to use butter instead of oil, or is there a reason oil is better? Outside of butter being worse for people’s waistlines, of course.

    • Amanda says:

      Good question! When using the muffin method, you add all the liquids at once to the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Oil is preferred in this recipe because it remains liquid even at cool temps and is easy to stir in quickly and evenly. If you wanted to use butter instead, it would have to be melted butter, and it would be a bit harder to manage. Meaning, as soon as the warm butter touches the cold egg or milk it will start to solidify and cause issues with achieving a uniform mixture with minimal stirring. However, substituting melted butter would by no means be catastrophic to your recipe. You just might want to be mindful of the potential pitfalls.

      You bring up another interesting point–is butter really worse for the waistline? Fat is about 9 Calories per gram whether it comes from oil or butter, so if you’re looking to reduce your Calorie intake (aka reduce your waistline), there’s no benefit there. The most glaring difference, health-wise, between butter and oil is that butter contains cholesterol and saturated fats (and often salt), whereas vegetable oils are almost completely cholesterol-free and made up of unsaturated fats. A diet high in cholesterol and saturated fats has been linked with heart disease, which is why people at risk might prefer oil as a “healthier” option, but bear in mind that the Calorie load is about the same.

      Keep the questions coming!

  4. Wow, this is really interesting–I wasn’t aware that muffins and crepes are in the same family, now I will sound so smart using the word “quickbreads” as much as possible. I should give myself an opportunity by handing out some ham-and-cheese muffins at work on Monday. Maybe I’ll roll some peas in flour and mix them in! (I’m joking, but I’m actually starting to wonder if, say, a cornbread muffin with ham, cheese and peas might actually be better than you’d think…ONE WAY TO FIND OUT, RIGHT??)

    Really informative and entertaining post, I totally want to make some muffins or zucchini breads now…I love actually knowing WHY overmixing is bad, instead of just being told to fear it! The tips you gave are great too, most recipes don’t answer those unexpected questions that come up when cooking, like how to avoid all the blueberries sinking to the bottom of the muffin so you end up with something looking as if it could use a blueberry diaper change. Thanks for the post!!

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