Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Baking 101: Muffins- Ab uno, multi. (plus a soup recipe)

After a long silence caused by an old and ailing laptop followed by a long work schedule, I will begin again, renewed. (“Is there anybody out there?”). Back into the kitchen we go.
I know there are books filled with muffin recipes but as a working professional, I don’t want to have a different recipe for each kind of muffin. I want a solid basic recipe which can then be altered. That is this recipe.
The muffins are good with cinnamon & sugar sprinkled on top just before baking. Or you could fold in fresh blueberries. Or make a couple of changes for corn muffins or cornbread. You get the idea.
Recently for a picnic I made cornbread using this recipe and youngest daughter loved it which is another way of saying, “Dad, I need the recipe.” 
This recipe was in place when I began my job where I currently work. I don’t know where they found it but it works; I regularly make about 8 to 12 dozen muffins for brunch every Sunday. I have learned that with a little tweaking, this recipe can be turned into any muffin you want. Who says you can’t improvise when you bake?
The key to what makes the muffins so good is that the recipe uses butter and the flour is a combination of all-purpose and cake flours which makes a more delicate baked texture. The muffins can be mixed by hand in a bowl; no need to haul out an electric mixer. Unless you want to.
You will notice that the flour is given in two measurements. I always weigh the flour but I understand that many people don’t have a scale at home. (You should). If you have one you already know how useful it can be, from weighing ingredients for baking to weighing pasta portions, for example.
Cake flour is easily found in the grocery store. Use plain, not self-rising, cake flour.
If you add anything to the basic muffin mix you will get more batter. More batter, slightly bigger muffins.
And please, no “Do you know the muffin man?” I get that enough at work.
I have promised myself that I will include a soup recipe at the end of each blog this year. There's one below. I hope I can fulfill that promise in the weeks to come.

Basic Muffins
for one dozen muffins

2 Grade A large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup  (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon  (5 ounces ) cake flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3 ounces (6 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted 
1.Heat oven to 350 degrees. If your muffin pan is not non-stick, butter the pan. 
2. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk. Sift together the flour and the baking powder. Add the dry ingredients into the wet and mix together adding the butter at the end.
3. Divide the batter into the muffin pans and place them into the oven to bake for 24 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing them from the pan.

Muffin variations:
Do not be afraid to improvise if a variation doesn’t exist below. You can add nuts, too.
Corn muffins:
1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (4 ounces) corn meal
You may want to reduce the sugar depending on whether you like sweet “Yankee” cornbread or a less sweet “Southern” style corn muffin. (Ironic that they like their tea sweet but not their cornbread). You might also like to substitute some of the sugar for  honey. When it comes to corn muffins or corn bread, everyone has an opinion especially the further south you travel.
Cornbread:  Double the recipe and bake the batter in a 9“ by 12” baking pan.
Blueberry Muffins: Fold a half pint of fresh blueberries into the batter. Diced strawberries work well, too.
Banana Muffins: Mix one mashed banana to the batter
Cranberry Orange Muffins: Add the grated zest of half an orange and 1/2 cup chopped fresh cranberries.
Apple Muffins: Fold in one peeled grated apple along with 1& 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon.
Pumpkin Muffins: Add 1/2 cup pumpkin puree along with 1& 1/2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and ground ginger and 1 teaspoon ground allspice.

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup
This is for youngest daughter, too.
About the recipe:  Of the 3/4 pound of broccoli, four cups of broccoli are chopped for the soup. The remaining broccoli is set aside and cooked separately. This will be added to the finished soup. While the soup is cooking, the roux can be made and the remaining broccoli can be cooked. You can substitute rice flour for the all-purpose flour if you have gluten problems. Rice flour is fairly easy to find. If you have gluten problems, you probably have it already. This recipe could also be made with cauliflower.
The recipe makes enough for four to six people depending on appetites. Any leftover soup can be frozen and saved for future use.

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup
12 ounces broccoli
1/2 cup chopped onion
5 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk, half & half, or light cream
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Roux: 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
           4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
olive oil, for cooking
ground black pepper

1. Prepare the broccoli: Chop four cups of broccoli for the soup base and set aside. Cut the remaining broccoli into pieces and set aside.
2. Place a large saucepan onto the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions to the pot, stir, and cook the onions for about 3 to 4 minutes. Do not let the onions brown. 
3. After the onions have become translucent, add the 4 cups chopped broccoli, water, and salt. Raise the heat to bring the soup base up to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat so the soup simmers gently. Cook until the broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes depending on the size of the chopped broccoli.
4. While the broccoli is cooking  prepare the roux. Place a small saute pan onto the stove over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan; when the butter has melted, add the flour and whisk together. Cook the roux for a minute or two to cook off the flour flavor from the roux. Do not let the roux brown. Remove the finished roux from the heat and transfer it to a small bowl. 
5. To cook the remaining broccoli, place a medium-sized saute pan filled with 1/2 to 1 cup water onto the stove over high heat; lightly salt the water. When the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli and cook until the broccoli is tender; a knife point should slide easily into the broccoli. Drain the broccoli into a colander and refresh under cold water. Drain and set aside.
6. When the broccoli in the soup base is tender, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool. While the soup is still warm, puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot. Add the milk and warm the soup over medium-high heat. As the soup approaches the boil, whisk in the roux. Reduce the heat and whisk in the cheese. Chop the reserved broccoli and add it to the soup. Add some ground black pepper and taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed.

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