Monday, November 28, 2011

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

Last week at Costco, I happened to notice that there were only two remaining copies of the new Cook’s Illustrated cookbook.  I’d been wanting a copy since I read about its publication last month–I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge devotee of cookbooks (the fact that I’m usually incapable of following a recipe makes owning cookbooks seem a little unnecessary), but if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s the science of cooking and food preparation.  Cook’s Illustrated magazine is famous not only for developing excellent recipes, but also for explaining why a recipe works the way it does.  In the cookbook, I noted that every single recipe included a small section devoted to explaining “Why This Recipe Works.”

Well, I was sold.  I really, really wanted that cookbook once I had my hands on it.  And, as I mentioned, there were only two copies left.  Although I had asked The Hubs to buy me the cookbook for Christmas, I was willing to bet that he hadn’t done this yet and worried that he might forget.  (And even if he had bought it, I reasoned, I could easily return the extra copy.)

So I bought the cookbook as an early Christmas present to myself, and I spent a good part of my long Thanksgiving weekend immersed in its contents.  I have yet to think of a recipe this cookbook doesn’t provide, from almond cookies to zucchini frittata.  At almost 900 pages, it’s pretty unwieldy–but that’s a small problem to deal with in exchange for a comprehensive reference that gives me a starting place for virtually anything I’d like to make.

I decided to start using this cookbook by making something simple:  blueberry muffins.  After church on Sunday morning, we were all rummaging around for sometime homey and simple after a weekend of eating various combinations of rich Thanksgiving leftovers–and on top of that, muffins are easy to make gluten-free simply by substituting a gluten-free flour blend for all-purpose wheat flour.  (Yeast breads, I’ve learned, are a little more tricky–but quick breads pose no special problems at all.)  In addition to that change, I decided to use buttermilk rather than sour cream–same tangy flavor, but gluten-free flours tend to create a thicker than usual batter, and I thought the liquid buttermilk might work better than the thicker sour cream.  Finally, I decided to add some vanilla to the batter, just to provide a sweet contrast to the tart blueberries, and to sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top, for texture.

These muffins are very, very tender, so I’d suggest just spraying you muffin tin with non-stick spray rather than using paper or silicone liners.  This will give you crispier edges, and it will prevent the problem of the blueberries breaking open when you pull the liner away from the bread.  Also, be sure your berries are frozen when you add them to the dry ingredients; they’ll thaw as the muffins bake, but they won’t break open while you’re folding in the dry ingredients and turn the batter purple.

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Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups flour (either a gluten-free blend or regular all-purpose flour)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup frozen blueberries
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together to combine the dry ingredients. Set this bowl aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar, and melted butter. You'll end up with a thick, white paste. Slowly add the buttermilk (about a third at a time), whisking between additions. Add the vanilla and whisk again.

Add the frozen blueberries to the bowl of dry ingredients and toss them lightly, just to coat the berries. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients (again, about a third at a time.) Stir just until the dry ingredients have been incorporated, and don't worry about a few small lumps in the batter.

Use a cookie scoop to evenly divide the batter among the twelve muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar. Bake muffins for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops look dry and bounce back when you touch them lightly.

A note to gluten-free bakers: let the muffins cool completely before you sample then. While they're still warm, gluten-free baked goods tend to be very gummy.

Inspired by a recipe from Cook's Illustrated

 

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