Blueberry muffins with orange zest

I had a hankering to make another batch of muffins.  I really like making muffins because they're so easy to put together and they taste so good warm from the oven.  Your house smells wonderful and then you sit down with your fresh muffin that has a slightly crisp top and warm cake within...
I was looking through the Flour cookbook by Joanne Chang and zeroed in on her "raspberry-rhubard muffins."  I decided to go a more traditional route and make the classic blueberry variation instead since I've got some frozen blueberries in the freezer I'd love to use up.  But one of the reasons I really wanted to try her recipe is because it uses crème fraîche, which is something I've never used before in baking but have heard so many great things about. 
I always thought crème fraîche would have the consistency of sour cream since it's often cited as the alternative if you can't find crème fraiche but at first sight, it's much more like cream cheese in texture.  When you let it sit at room temperature and whisk it a bit, it becomes looser, with a thick and velvety texture.  The crème fraîche, milk, and eggs add richness to the muffins but to give it a fresher flavor, I decided to add some orange zest.  For me, you can rarely go wrong with adding a bit of orange or lemon zest to a basic cake or muffin batter.
I would definitely make these muffins again.  I made the batter for these muffins the night before and baked them first thing in the morning.  They're the type of muffins that puff up on top when baking and then sort of slide off to the sides, leaving some nice crispy edges to munch on once the top is cooled.  The center was super fluffy, with a nice airy texture (which surprised me since I half expected the crème fraîche to add a denseness to them).  I polished one off very quickly.  In general when I'm baking, I'm pretty precise when it comes to measuring the flour but I tend to low-ball the amount of sugar.  I found that I shouldn't skimp on the sugar when it comes to this recipe.  Mine could have used just a tad bit more sweetness so next time, I'll follow the recipe more precisely.

These muffins are intended to be baked in standard muffin tins but filled in an almost overflowing kind of way.  I made half a recipe, which should make 6 well-stuffed muffins but I preferred to just fill them up to the top as opposed to overflowing so I got 9 muffins out of half the recipe.

This was the first time I've ever made muffin batter the night before to bake the following morning.  It came out well for me but I don't doubt that baking the muffins fresh would probably be even better.  But the option is certainly attractive for times when you'd like to have fresh muffins in the morning but don't have time to let all the ingredients come to room temperature. 

So the night before, I started by sifting flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  I add the sugar into a small bowl and zest the orange right on top of it and then them together.  In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and then add the sugar-zest mixture.
Then whisk in the melted butter, milk, crème fraîche, and vanilla until thoroughly combined.   
Add the wet ingredients into the dry and fold together gently using a rubber spatula until just combined. 
Add blueberries and carefully fold them in with the spatula.  The batter isn't very attractive looking; it's thick and lumpy, which does tend to make me a little nervous.  But do not overmix.  You can bake the muffins now or, like me, cover the batter tightly and place it in the refrigerator for the next morning.
The next morning, I scoop the batter into paper lined muffin tins, filled practically to the top.  In a 350 degree oven, they bake for about 35 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and the middle springs back when you press it lightly. 
I didn't think these were the best looking muffins to come out of the oven, to be honest.  I was a little nervous that maybe making the batter the night before was not such a great idea afterall.  Luckily, after tasting them, I realized they were very tasty.  I love the crispy edges and the flavor of the orange zest.  The texture is excellent, being very light, moist, and fluffy within.  As I mentioned earlier, I need to be less stingy with the sugar next time but it still worked very well.  My husband, who I mostly bake muffins for, is a fan of these.  And I can see myself craving one of these again very soon.


Recipe:

Blueberry Muffins with Orange Zest
Adapted from the Flour cookbook by Joanne Chang

- Should make 12 muffins when filled/stuffed to near overflowing; otherwise, prepare for 18 -

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/3 cups sugar
Zest of 2 large oranges
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 cup crème fraîche, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

If planning to bake immediately, preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the center of the oven.  Line muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.  Place sugar in a small bowl and zest orange directly on top of the sugar.  Rub the zest and sugar together until sugar is moistened. 

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and egg yolk together.  Whisk in the sugar-zest mixture, followed by the melted butter, milk, crème fraîche, and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.  Pour wet ingredients into the dry.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold together until just combined.  Add blueberries and carefully fold them into the batter until evenly distribured.  The batter will be thick and lumpy.  Do not overmix.  The batter can be covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator for up to one day before baking.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups, nearly to overflowing (or like me, just fill them up to the top but you'll end up with more).  Bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown and spring back when gently pressed in the middle.  Let muffins cool on wire racks.

The muffins are best the day they are baked but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Refresh them by placing in a 300 degree oven for 4-5 minutes before eating.  (In a pinch, I'm guilty of putting muffins in the microwave for about 15 seconds).  You can also freeze the muffins, wrapping tightly in plastic wrap, for up to a week.  Reheat them, frozen, in a 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes. 



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