Dec 18, 2014
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Le Dense French Muffin


Le Dense French Muffins

I received a distress tweet the other day.

The comments on the recipe were divided. Many bakers described similarly disappointing results, but others raved about their new favorite muffin. Being almost, but not quite, entirely unqualified to help in a matter like this, I preheated the oven and got down to some science.

I then rather unscientifically failed to reproduce the failure in question.

At the moment, we’re also in the process of moving/deciding if we’re going to move/preparing to move, so between regular workdays, surprise trips to IKEA, and…I don’t know, meals and stuff—I’m busy—it took me three more days to finally get down to all that science I had promised. I imagine the last time it took three days to procure baking powder in America was before the Gold Rush. It wasn’t even rationed in the war.

Le Dense French Muffins

But once I had it, I looked for a lead. Perhaps there would be a point in the recipe, a kitchen fork in the road, if you will, where I could say, “ah, if I were to do this next step this way instead of this way, it would probably turn out dense and dry!” or perhaps one of the ingredients would get me thinking about alternatives and I would say, “Eureka, if this egg/baking powder/butter had been cold/expired/vegan, it would’ve thrown everything out of balance!”

At the very least I thought my muffins would either turn out “So simple, yet so exciting” or “terribly dense” and “very gummy as I chewed them.” Then I’d have proof that there was a kitchen fork that I must’ve missed.

In the end, I had learned next to nothing.

They were tasty muffins, but they were also rather crumbly and dense, like soft, fluffy biscuits. They didn’t taste like donuts to me but the texture didn’t turn me off, either. I would recommend the recipe to a friend in search of an easy muffin (heh), but it wouldn’t be the very first recipe to come to mind. So not only do I still not know where the unsuccessful bakers might have gone wrong, I actually don’t even know whether the bakers with the “heavenly” muffins and those with the “just OK” muffins actually got different results, or the same muffins and different expectations.

Muffin batter. Thick. Dense.

Conventional wisdom says that a failed experiment is still good science, but in this case, I’m not so sure. I didn’t think good science could be so anticlimactic.

The mystery remains, but we do have some pretty good muffins to eat now. The recipe, kindly offered for free by Velvet Lava, is republished below, which I have done entirely for the sake of putting the ingredients in order. I found it a bit hard to follow before, so if you’re daft like me, this may help you as well.

Le Dense French Muffins

Le Dense French Muffins

Makes about 8 standard muffins.

For the batter

  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/3 c. butter, melted (that’s 5 1/3 Tablespoons)
  • 1 egg (preferably room temperature)
  • 1/2 c. milk

For the topping 

  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Coat muffin tin with cooking spray.
  2. In a medium-large bowl, sift or stir all dry ingredients.
  3.  In a separate bowl, beat together butter, egg and milk.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir just until combined, but still a bit lumpy. Do not over-mix.
  5. Scoop batter into muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they just start to turn a bit golden at the edges.
  6. For the topping, mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Place melted butter in another small bowl. Dip the top of the warm muffins in melted butter, then dip/roll the muffin in cinnamon sugar.
  7. Serve warm.

All of this speaks to the same Internet-age-old problem: Should you avoid a recipe because some of the reviewers don’t like it, or should you assume those reviewers are mistaken or differ from your own tastes? What if a recipe looks perfect, but doesn’t have any comments at all? Do you risk it?

UPDATE, FEBRUARY 7, 2013: Alert reader Charlotte asked how distress-tweeter Kristina (another Kristina, not me—which is confusing, I now realize) had measured the flour, and sure enough, we got to the bottom of this mystery!

About Kristina

Kristina Ackerman is a busy freelance web designer, living and DIYing with her fella and their little fella in a cute old house in Atlanta, GA, USA.
  • charlotte

    Perhaps it was how the original poster measured the flour. If you “scoop” vs “spoon into”, you can end up with something like 20% more flour.

    • http://knucklesalad.com Kristina Ackerman

      Charlotte! That is an incredibly good point! I bet you’ve nailed it.

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