Remember when muffins used to not be cake without frosting, but sort of semi-sweet, relatively wholesome breakfast treats? When I think about old-fashioned muffins, I conjure up elderly ladies in Maine, for some reason. They have slightly knobby fingers and some kind of wood paneling in their house and when their grandchildren come to visit, they pull out old aluminum tins and make a batch of muffins for them. Who knows where this fantasy comes from, but the overblown, greasebomb, missing-only-the-frosting cupcakes that now masquerade as muffins and populate every coffee shop between here and the West Coast of the United States really get me down.
So let's bring back the old-fashioned muffin, shall we? Only lightly sweetened, barely peeking over the edge of the muffin tin when fully baked, best spread with a little pat of fresh butter (that's how the old ladies in Maine do it, I'm sure)...and leave the cake bombs to someone else.
If you're with me, and I hope you are, then start with this recipe, Marion Cunningham's brown bread muffins. It comes from her Breakfast Book, of course, and is perfect, of course. The muffins are made with a mix of flours - the rye gives the muffins some depth and the cornmeal the loveliest, faintest crunch. Molasses gives them the warmth of a New England winter and the buttermilk ensures a light and dainty crumb. The raisins soften and unpucker in the heat of the oven and when you come across one in a tender bite of muffin, it's a welcome pocket of chewy sweetness.
When they're done and slightly cooled, I think these muffins taste best split open and swiped with something cool and creamy. Unsalted butter, as suggested above, or maybe the thinnest layer of cream cheese. Something to tame the slightly wild molasses flavor and to make these officially breakfast material.
Wholesome, lightly sweet, normal-sized - they're just what the doctor ordered.
Marion Cunningham's Boston Brown Bread Muffins
From The Breakfast Book
Makes 12 muffins
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup golden raisins
1. Heat oven to 400 F. Butter a standard muffin pan. Mix together the flours, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, molasses, sugar, oil, and buttermilk. Blend well. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well.
2. Fill the prepared muffin tins 3/4 of the way and bake for 15 minutes, until your tester comes out clean. Serve hot with butter or cream cheese.