If you’ve ever baked anything, chances are that you’ve used the muffin method at least once in your life. The muffin method is used in more than 50% of baked goods recipes. As the name implies, it’s great for making muffins but it’s also used for any dense treats like quick breads and pancakes which use a lot of liquid and not much fat.
How it works?
The muffin method’s basic principal is very easy.
Combine and mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another. Be sure to include eggs and sugar in the wet ingredeniet bowl. Yes, sugar is wet in baking because it dissolves so quickly.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing as little as possible. The mixture does not have to be lump-free. This is the key part of the method: do not over mix. Do not use beaters or a mixer. If you stir too much, your recipe will develop gluten, creating a much more uniform interior.
In other words, you’ll end up with a cupcake and not a muffin. A cupcake without the usual amount of fat or sugar so it won’t be as light or tender. You want your muffin’s interior to be uneven and haphazard.
How do you know?
We aren’t professional pastry chefs, so how do we know when we’ve gone too far with our mixing? The best way is really through observations and notes on your results but… not everyone is into that.
I’d guess most home bakers are mixing a little too long. Maybe not all the way to cupcakes but too long. There are a couple rules of thumb you can try to improve your results.
First, try using a whisk instead of a spoon or spatula. A whisk, in my opinion, incorporates the ingredients in the shortest amount of time.
Second, stop mixing before you think you should. It’s fine if the batter is lumpy. In fact, it’s better if it’s lumpy. The lumps will bake out. If the batter is smooth, you overmixed.
Can you make the batter ahead?
Yes! Most people assume that because the leavening agent in the muffin method starts creating gases immediately upon mixing that the batter needs to be cooked quickly. Not true. You can make ahead and store it overnight in the fridge for fresh baked goods in the morning IF you are careful.
The key is to not remix or disturb the batter too much and release those gases. The batter is thick enough to hold the bubbles overnight if you are gentle. Alton Brown suggests using an ice cream scoop to portion the cold batter carefully into a muffin tin in the morning.
That’s it. If you’ve got a good understanding of the muffin method you are on your way to building a solid foundation as a home baker. The big takeaway for the muffin method is not to overmix. Success will mostly come from feel and experience but when in doubt just stop mixing. You want a muffin not a cake!