High Altitude Baking: Lemon-poppy seed muffins (recipe)
March 25, 2016
Editor's note: High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Tender, lemony, with a little crunch — everybody loves this! That's what I scribbled in the margin of this recipe years ago, and my notes still hold today. This little muffin is a winner. Serve it at breakfast, lunch or dinner, and I guarantee it'll brighten the meal.
To assure its success, bring the batter together gently and quickly, stopping as soon as the dry and wet ingredients combine. If you beat it, as you would when making a cake by the creaming method, you'll end up with a tough texture.
Lemon-poppy seed muffins
(Adjusted for elevations of 8,000 feet and above. Make in a standard muffin pan.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
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1/3 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
Finely grated zest and juice of half a large lemon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons bleached, all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream
1 large egg
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon superfine granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the cups of the muffin pan with paper liners, and grease them with a vegetable oil-flour spray (both are necessary to prevent muffins from sticking at high altitudes).
Step 2: Cut up the 4 tablespoons of butter, place them in a 2-cup glass measure, and microwave until butter is melted. Set aside to cool.
Step 3: Add the sugar and lemon zest to a mixing bowl, and rub them together with clean fingers until the sugar absorbs the oil and becomes slightly damp and the lemon fragrance is strong. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and whisk to combine well. Add the poppy seeds, and whisk/stir until evenly distributed. Set aside.
Step 4: To the melted butter, add the lemon juice (you should have about 2 to 3 tablespoons), sour cream, egg and vanilla, and whisk until smooth and blended. Add this to the dry ingredients, and use a rubber or silicone spatula to quickly combine them just until no dry ingredients are visible. Don't overmix; the batter need not be smooth — a few lumps are fine.
Step 5: Fill the lined muffin cups to ½ inch from the top; smooth the tops of the batter if misshapen. Bake until tops color slightly with golden spots and a thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Step 6: While the muffins bake, prepare the glaze: In a small bowl or 1-cup measure, melt the butter, and stir in the sugar and lemon juice. When muffins are done, move pan to a rack. Immediately brush a thin layer of glaze over the top of each muffin. Repeat until glaze is gone. Remove muffins from pan, and place on rack to cool. Serve warm (if made early in the day, rewarm in a 325 degree oven). They're best the day they're made but can be frozen for up to a month.
Yields 6 to 7 muffins; can double recipe.
This recipe is a variation of one from "Baking," by Dorie Greenspan. Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook "Cookies in the Clouds" (available at The Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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