Muffins: Everything you always wanted to know


Muffin. The word may elicit visions of a huge chocolate chip filled sweet confection, or a flat disc-shaped yeast-risen dough that must be toasted before eating. Both have interesting histories.

The sweeter version may come from the German word, “muffen,” meaning “little cake.”   I have heard stories about these cakes from the parents of some of my friends who came from Germany and escaped the Holocaust. They talked about the fancy and delicious almond or chocolate cakes that were the pride of bakeries throughout Berlin and beyond. Today, if we see those cakes in bakeries, they are more commonly referred to as tarts and are often filled with pastry cream and fruit.

The English muffin has a different origin and comes from the Old French word, “mouflette,” meaning “little, soft bread” and may go back to the 10th or 11th century. This muffin has not changed much since it was created centuries ago. Thomas Jefferson had a recipe for such a muffin, and Sir Thomas created his famous English muffin in the mid-19th century, then brought it to America several years later. That iconic muffin has not changed much since then.

In 18th century England, muffins were sold by salesmen who walked the streets hawking their fresh, warm treats in baskets on their heads. They showed up during the afternoon in time for high tea. These muffins were often of the English variety and some were more like crumpets and scones with nuts and fruits.

Muffins made their way across the ocean and into the hearts of all immigrants in the early 19th century. Muffins were adopted into Jewish cuisine in America early on. In fact, Mrs. Esther Levy’s Jewish Cookery Book published in 1871, had several recipes for muffins in it. One recipe was for a traditional English yeast muffin, but she also offered something called “ring cakes” which directed that cake batters be put into the same rings used for English muffins. The result was more of the current muffin-like pastry we know today.

The muffins we know today are strictly American, but are beloved by all. In fact, in my email this week, I received several muffin recipes from strictly kosher web hosts. In addition, a recent food magazine offered a muffin for every month of the year.

Kosher bakeries offer all kinds of muffins and they are really part of our eating culture. A warm, homemade muffin is perfect with a cup of tea or coffee on a cold winter morning or while the snow is flying, and they are also fairly easy for children to make. Mini muffins are a treat in lunchboxes for children and adults alike. 

Raspberry (or Cherry) Almond Muffins (Dairy or Pareve)

These are my favorite flavors, almonds and cherries or raspberries, combined.  I often use a bit more almond paste but you can use as much or little as you like.   

1-1/2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 cup finely ground almond flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

2 large eggs

1 cup whole or unsweetened almond milk

1-3/4 sticks butter or trans-fat-free pareve margarine, melted

1/3 cup almond paste, crumbled into small pieces

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. pure almond extract

1 cup chopped, pitted fresh or thawed cherries OR

3/4 cup fresh raspberries, cut in half

1/2 to 3/4 cup demerara sugar (raw sugar)

1/2 to 3/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Place the flour, almond flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl and whisk to blend. Place the eggs, milk, butter, extracts and crumbled almond paste in a large bowl and whisk until well-blended. It is OK if there are lumps of almond paste.

Add the flour to the liquid and mix until blended. Do not overmix. Add the fruit, mix, and spoon into the prepared tin. Sprinkle with the raw sugar and the sliced almonds.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

Maple Corn Muffins (Dairy)

Corn Muffins are the state muffin of Massachusetts.

2 cups yellow cornmeal, divided

1 cup unbleached flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 stick plus 2 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled slightly

1-1/4 cups whole milk

1 cup sour cream

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup pure maple syrup, dark amber

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside. Place 1-1/2 cups of cornmeal in a large bowl with the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend. Set aside.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup cornmeal and the milk and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 2-4 minutes. It should be thick enough to leave a line when you draw your finger over the back of a spoon. Scrape into a large bowl and let cool.

Whisk the melted butter, milk and sour cream into the cooked cornmeal. Whisk to blend and then add the vanilla, sugar and maple syrup. Whisk to blend. Add the eggs and mix until thoroughly blended.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until completely blended. The batter will thicken as you mix.

Spoon into the prepared tin — the cups will be full — and bake for 13 to 18 minutes, until golden. Rotate the tin once halfway through baking. Serve warm. Makes 12 muffins.

Cinnamon Apple Muffins with Walnut Streusel (Dairy)

Apple muffins are the state muffin of New York. You can use any kind of apples you like. I prefer Cortland for a soft, moist muffin, but Granny Smith are delicious, also.

2-1/4 cups apples, chopped, mixed with 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cups unbleached flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar OR 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup pure maple syrup, dark amber

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

3 large eggs

1 stick butter, melted

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Streusel Topping:

2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1/4 cup unbleached flour

1-1/2 tsp cinnamon

3 Tbsp. butter, melted

Place paper liners in 2, 12-cup muffin tins. Set aside Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Chop the apples and toss with lemon juice. Set aside or refrigerate.

Combine flour, sugars, salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Place the eggs, cream cheese and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix until smooth. Add the butter and mix a bit to blend. Remove the bowl from the stand, scrape down the sides and add the flour. Mix by hand until blended. Add the apples (leave any lemon juice in the bowl) and mix to combine. Spoon into the prepared tin about 2/3 full.

Mix the streusel ingredients together and place a spoon on top of each muffin, pressing in gently. Bake for 20 to 28 minutes until golden. Makes 12 to 18 muffins.