Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cranberry-Lime Muffins (AKA Lemon-Blueberry Muffins, part II)

As you can guess from the title, this is not really a new recipe. But I think it's an important update, worthy of a brand new post. Since coming up with the lemon-blueberry recipe, I've been making them pretty constantly and have made a couple slight refinements. I've also learned a couple things about muffin-making; the main one being that the Cranberry-Lime muffins that I'm going to write about are by far the best muffins I've ever had. Even better than the original Lemon-Blueberry muffins that up till that point were the best muffins I've ever had. On average, I make these twice a week, every week.
Cranberry-lime muffins for breakfast every day! My family is so jealous. I don't share anymore; they're too good. Of course, they could just ask me for the recipe and I'd happily share it with them, but I think they're leaning toward holding me hostage and locking me in the kitchen to make them their cran-lime muffins every day instead. Seriously, you should see the look on Nathaniel's face when he knows I'm making these.

Ok, the recipe is mostly the same as the original, but after making these muffins a few dozen times, I've made a couple small tweaks and slightly streamlined my process for making them. Also, I learned something very useful that I never knew before, but always wondered about. Suppose your batter mix is too wet and you need to add more flour to it (or you just want to add more to increase the amount)? If it's only a tiny bit, then no problem, but if you're adding say, 1/4 cup, then obviously you'd want to increase the amount of baking powder as well, right? But by how much? Well, I was listening to The Splendid Table and they had the author of the new book Bakewise on. She said that the ratio of powder to flour is 1 tsp to one cup. More than that and you're asking for trouble. So 1/4 cup of flour, obviously, equates to 1/4 tsp of baking powder. I never knew that before. Very handy to know. She also said (and I'm grossly paraphrasing here since I can't remember exactly how it went) that how light and fluffy your muffins will be depends on how much air you whip into the butter. The baking powder doesn't react with an acid in the mix to form a gas and raise the muffins; basically it releases the air that's been whipped into the butter/sugar mix to raise the muffins. So you want to whip the butter/sugar mix very well before adding the egg because once you add that egg, the air intake basically stops right there.
Also very handy to know. Ok, on with the show...

Cranberry-Lime Muffins

1 3/4 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter (softened)
1 large egg
1/2 c whole milk yogurt
1/2 c mayo
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
juice from 1 1/2 limes

Here's my routine for putting it all together (and if you check out the original recipe for L-B muffins, you'll see that this one is basically backwards from that one, which is good. I'm learning, I'm learning...)

Start by chopping the cranberries. I still don't have an exact amount, but generally use about 2/3 of a 12 oz bag. Also, if you're using just a knife and cutting board: they're much easier to chop when frozen. When they're thawed and you cut them, they tend to 'pop' and fly off the cutting board and table. They stay in place much better when frozen. (If you have some sort of kitchen-gadget chopper or are using a food processor, thawed is probably better. But I like the simplicity of just a knife and board, myself.)

Next, mix the mayo, yogurt, and lime juice in a bowl and set aside. (When you first open the yogurt, if you're using one of those large-size containers be sure and mix it well first, as the cream tends to sit on the top of the yogurt- don't want to use it all up on the first batch and then be left with a bunch of low-fat yogurt for the next round. That just wouldn't do at all.)

In another bowl, beat the sugar and butter thoroughly (remember, lots of air). I went out and bought a small electric hand mixer just for this purpose. Half a stick of butter and half a cup of sugar is not very much, and even doubling the recipe it wasn't enough to be able to mix very well in my brother's Kitchenaid stand mixer. And my arm was wearing out doing it by hand. I also recommend using a small bowl with steep sides, or even a small saucepan. Makes the mixing much easier, since the butter/sugar doesn't have much room to move around. Once it's as light and fluffy as you'd like it to be, mix in the egg, and then mix thoroughly with the yogurt/mayo/lime.

In another bowl, mix together thoroughly the flour, baking powder and salt. Next you're going to add in the butter/sugar/mayo/yogurt/lime goodness and the cranberries too (being careful not to overmix) but before you do that, I want to point out that the volume may vary due to the amount of juice in the limes. So you may want to hold back on adding it all at once so as not to end up with an overly wet batter. I definitely wouldn't cut back on the lime juice to just one lime. Just try 1 1/2 to start with on your first time, and tweak it from there. (I suppose if I was really devoted I'd just measure out the lime juice so I'd know exactly how much to add every time and wouldn't have to worry about it. Someday. Maybe.) Also, when I make these, I add about 1/2 the liquid and then 1/2 the cranberries, then more liquid, then more cranberries, so it all gets mixed in at the same time without getting overmixed.

(Oh, something else I learned in the process of making these is that if you forget to add the egg to the sugar/butter mix, your muffins will be totally fine- I almost couldn't tell the difference- but mixing the sugar/butter into the mayo/yogurt mix is much more difficult and does not look good at all. The butter doesn't want to emulsify and the whole thing looks like curdled milk. But don't worry, you'll likely not notice a difference in the way the final product tastes. Still, better just to not forget the egg in the first place.)

That's all there is to it. Bake on 350 until a knife comes out clean. Makes 6 large crazy-delicious muffins.