The Muffin Method Man

AB's Crib: 11:09 pm

GUEST: Cookie

COOKIE: [voice over] And now from the Dumb Crook Department, a local man was arrested Saturday night for picking a fight with six off-duty police officers who'd asked him for an autograph. It turns out the accused closely resembles an international cooking celebrity. And now here's Skip with the weather.

SKIP: [voice over] Thanks Cookie. Let's start by taking a look at the current conditions outside. 72 degrees, with winds from the southwest at 6 miles per hour. Barometer at [continues on in the background] ...

AB: [wakes up and answers the TV remote] Hello? [notices it is not the phone, tosses it away and picks up the phone,  it rings again] Okay, okay! Hello? Hello. Hey, Bro. No. How're you? Arrested? Again? They thought you were me? Wow, that is crazy. Well look, how much is bail? I'll come ... What? Jeez, what'd you do, hit a cop? No, they don't have to wear those uniforms 24 hours a day! Oh, I can't believe you did that! All right, what can I do? A cake. You want me to make you a cake? Well, of course I can, but what ... what do you mean you want something " special" inside? Well, what do you mean? You mean like cream filling, fruit, what do you ... Hello? B.A?  You ...

    B.A. Busted again!
    Let's see, cakes, cakes, cakes, what kind of cake for a jailbird? Let's see. Wait a second, who's going to keep a cake? How's he going to trade that in for, you know, a better pillow, or a toothbrush or ...? No, he doesn't need a cake. He can't use that as currency on the inside! He needs cookies? Pastry? ... Muffins.
    Muffins are what my incarcerated kin craves. Sure, small, transportable, they're perfect for breakfast, for a morning snack, after lunch, right before lights-out. They're great for bribing guards. They store well. Heck, you can freeze them for months. And what's more, muffins are the perfect delivery device for a load of goodies: nuts, cheese, berries, you name it. Oh, my brother doesn't need cake. He needs muffins. He needs ... [good eats].

Drury Lane

GUEST: Chuck

    [singing to himself] Have you seen the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man? Have you seen the muffin man who lives on Drury Lane?

Alton Brown
"International Cooking Celebrity"

    You know, in Victorian England, muffin men were such a common sight on the streets of London that they actually got a nursery rhyme of their very own. Not very common around here, though. Where is that guy?

CHUCK: [in a heavy British accent] G'day, Guv'nor. Fancy a muffin?

AB: Yeah, but do you have anything just a little taller? CH: You Yanks and your ruddy chemical leaveners!

    Ah, thank you! You know, the word 'muffin' probably is a mutation of an old French word, mofle, which means soft.

CH: Then again it could have come from muffe, a low German word meaning cake.

    Well, regardless of where 'muffin' comes from, a real English muffin is really just a soft yeast dough cooked on a griddle.

CH: The American version is a quick bread, meaning it derives its lift from a chemical rather than a biological source, which requires a time to rise.

    And since the chemical source in question is baking powder, which wasn't invented until the mid-19th century, it means that the American muffin is a thoroughly modern invention, which just happens to be ...

CH: Just happens to be perfect for today's steering wheel in one hand, latte in the other hand, and cell phone in the other ... lifestyle.

    Which doesn't mean that lift is all that muffins have going for them.

AB: Chuck?
CH: Yeah, Mr. B?
AB: You need to work on that accent.
CH: [dejected] Bully!

The Kitchen

    This may look like a cake in miniature, but a muffin is no cupcake. In fact, the batter that produced that muffin had more in common with pancake batter than any other baked good. In fact, the only thing separating these [pancakes] from that [muffin] is something we call the muffin method.

    Before we can make with the method, we've got to make some heat. Set your oven to 380 degrees.


    And now, the hardware. #20 Scoop
Flexible Cutting Board
Muffin Tin
    Let's meet the wet team. We have 1 cup of yogurt for body and acidity, half a cup of vegetable oil to coat the flour particles and keep the muffins moist, a cup of sugar to sweeten and tenderize, and a single egg for fat and emulsifiers. I'm just going to bring all these together. 1 Cup Yogurt
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Sugar
1 Egg

    By the way, in the baking world, sugar is almost always referred to as a wet ingredient because it's almost always combined with the wet rather than the dry goods.

    The dry team is composed of twelve and a half ounces of cake flour— and that's measured by weight, not by volume— a nice big heavy pinch of salt, two teaspoons of baking powder and one teaspoon of baking soda. We're basically just going to sift all of them together.

12 1/2 oz. Cake Flour
Pinch Of Salt
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Baking Soda

    Now, why the baking powder and the baking soda? Well, you no doubt remember our famous episode, "The Dough Also Rises," right? You don't? All right, watch this.

    [film real from the The Dough Also Rises show] Now as you no doubt remember from your fourth grade science class, if you combine an alkaline, say uh baking soda, with an acid like vinegar you get, well, a big case of gas. Now, this relationship like most has to be equal if it's really going to work and that's what's so great about baking powder. You see, it contains an equal ratio of an acid, cream of tartar, and baking soda. All you have to do is add liquid and instant gas. So, why does so many recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda? Well, it's got to do with an equal ratio. You see, a lot of ingredients—chocolate, sugar, eggs, even dairy products—can throw off the acid/alkaline relationship. So, we add just a little bit of baking soda to our biscuit dough to help counteract the acid in the buttermilk.

Alkali + Acid = Gas

    As we continue with the muffin method, you see that we have the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Now we bring them together. [begins to pour the wet into the dry but stops himself] Or maybe we stop just for a moment to think about what kind of muffins these are going to be.

The English muffin dates back to the 10th Century, Wales.

The Kitchen

    Although many ordinary household edibles, figs, apricots, dates, nuts, apples, bananas, even chocolate chips, make perfectly good muffin fodder, I am personally a blueberry guy. Now since their cell walls have been punctured by ice crystals, frozen berries tend to bleed and weep. And when that juice mixes with the muffin batter, the CO2 can make it all turn green. Blech. So use fresh berries whenever you have a chance. If you have to use frozen, whatever you do, don't thaw them before they go in the batter. Of course, either way, the berries are gonna sink to the bottoms of the muffins, right? Maybe not.

    To prevent your berries from taking a dive in the oven, toss them with about a tablespoon of the dry muffin mix. Think of this as Velcro, which will bind the batter to the berries, keeping them in suspension. Now, we can continue with the next chapter of the muffin method.

Toss berries with
1 Tbs. of dry mix

    Take a nice big spatula and pour the wet right on top of the dry. Now, mix for a nice, long ten-count. [counts slowly] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Now, pour in the blueberries, reserving about half a cup for another purpose. Stir three more times. One, two, three. Now walk away. Just walk away. I know, I know, it doesn't seem right leaving all that lumpy mess in there. But it's all gonna cook out. Besides, if we were to try to stir that until it was smooth, well, this is what would happen.

[AB in fast motion stirs the mix until it is smooth, fills muffin tins, places blueberries on top, places in oven for 12 minutes, returns to oven and rotates the pan, cooks for another 10 minutes, returns, turns them out on a dish towel, takes one and cuts it in half]

    Now I know muffins are supposed to have irregular interiors, but this one looks like ... [a retro postcard of Carlsbad Caverns appears in front of AB] This nasty phenomenon is called 'tunneling' and it happens whenever too much stirring creates gluten, the protein matrix responsible for French bread's chew. Get enough gluten in a muffin, and instead of a texture based on a lot of little bubbles [a bunch of colored balloons float by] the gas created by the leavening is forced into a handful of highly elastic chambers, resulting in [three much bigger balloons float by]. And that's just not good eats. The moral of the story, don't over-mix your muffins!

    Let's try that again, shall we? Let's take a little more time to discuss things. For instance, my muffin pan. It's my favorite. Heavy, aluminum, non-stick. Very effective and efficient at heat conduction. Now if you have a muffin tin that you do not trust to release the muffins, you can take out a little stick insurance, [sprays the pan with cooking oil] but go easy with the stuff, okay? It's powerful, and it has the tendency to settle on every sur- [slips on the floor and falls down] Whoops! Surface! Okay. Every surface, which is why I often use shortening, though it's a little harder to put on the pan.

    Our batter is significantly heavier than a pancake batter, so we're not going to use a ladle. We're going to use a disher or a scoop. And the thing I really like about it is, it makes sure that every one is completely even. [goes to put the batter in the tins and they're all filled with paper cupcake cups] Hey, wait a minute! We don't need no stinkin' paper cups! These aren't cupcakes! Sorry. Let's scoop, shall we?

#20 Scoop

    Last but not least, the final berries, a little bit on each muffin. And just so they stick to the batter, kind of press them down.

    There we go. Now, straight into the oven. 400 degrees is the new mark. Now, why not just set it to 400 degrees to begin with? Because ovens cycle, okay? They turn on and off, and if you slide those muffins in while the cycle is off, they won't have the burst of heat they need to rise thoroughly. And that would be a very bad thing.

Increase oven
temperature to 400°.

    What could happen? Well, for instance, if you don't have enough heat, this could happen. [shows a muffin with a very large flat top] Of course, if you don't monitor the heat of your oven when it is on, you end up with something that looks kind of like the Elephant Man. [produces a muffin that is oblong and distorted on top] Sort of. The only way to do that, of course, is to use an oven thermometer. It's the only way to get around muffin deformation. You've got one, right? Good.

    Last but not least, set a timer. Total cook time here is going to be 20 to 25 minutes. But we're going to want to turn them around one time for evenness so I'm going with 12 minutes to start. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get a mop. Oomph! [slips again]

20 - 25 mins.

Muffin men sold hot, fresh muffins door-to-door in 19th Century England.

The Kitchen

    Hmm! Well, they look golden, brown, delicious, nicely rounded on top. But are they really done? Only one way to be sure. [puts a toothpick into a muffin, pulls out, it's dry] Yep, they're done. Of course, now we have to contemplate cooling. Some folks like to leave them in the pan to cool, but I think that results in soggy bottoms, and nobody likes a soggy bottom, do they? Then of course there are cooling racks. There's nothing wrong with a cooling rack, except that in this case, the grid shape might embed itself on top of the muffin. And now I know how my brother feels. It gives me the spooks. I'm going to stick with the tea-towel method. [puts a tea-towel over the top of the muffins, turns them all over, muffins fall out onto the towel]

Cool muffins upside down for better volume.

Popoff County Jail: 10:37 am

GUEST: Policeman

AB: Psst! B. A. I'm down here! Are you ... [a rope of bed sheets is thrown down to AB, he ties on the basket of muffins which is then hoisted up, then the whole container is thrown back down to AB] Ugh! What's wrong? They're perfect! Oh, they won't fit through the bars! Don't worry, Bro! I know exactly what to do! You just sit tight. I'll be back, okay? [a cop exits the back of the jail, crosses his arms and leers at AB, AB notes the muffin he has in his hand, shows it to the cop who becomes as excited as a puppy dog, AB throws it and the cop gives chase] Go get it boy! Go get it!

    Hmm, I thought it only worked with donuts.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Yeast puppet

    Although they are kind of lacking in perpendicular, English muffins do require some leavening. And they get it, not from chemicals, but from critters. Yeast. Unicellular animals who like to consume mass quantities of carbohydrates, like sugar and flour.


AB: Here you go, Big Guy.

    In return, they produce copious amounts of carbon dioxide.

YEAST: [burps and passes gas]
AB: That's disgusting.

    Commercial yeasts come in suspended animation and must be roused before use, using a procedure that bakers call 'proofing.'

    To proof, or bloom, your yeast, just dissolve about an eighth of a teaspoon of sugar in some warm water, say a third of a cup. There we go. Dissolve 1/8 tsp. sugar in 1/3 cup warm water.
    How warm? Well, it should be about 100 degrees, which is just barely, barely warmer than body temperature. So if it feels kinda neutral to you, it's probably fine. You could go ten degrees in either direction, just avoid 130, cause yeast [draws his finger across his throat] above that. Speaking of, sprinkle the little guys on and watch them wake up before your eyes. It's about as much fun as Sea Monkeys, and a lot cheaper. Wait about five minutes.

Yeast Dies At 130°

    And now for the wet team. We start with 1 cup of very hot water. To that, we add 1 tablespoon of shortening, 1 tablespoon sugar, one half teaspoon salt, and half a cup of milk powder. 1 Cup Very Hot Water
1 Tbs. Shortening
1 Tbs. Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Milk Powder

    Now I know what you're thinking. You're wondering why would you use milk powder and water when you could just use milk. Well, here's the thing. I used a higher proportion of the milk powder to water than the manufacturer suggests for a normal glass of milk, thus producing über-milk, containing more protein and more maltose, or milk sugar, than any non-steroid-loading bovine could ever produce. And that is a good thing, because protein and maltose both enhance browning. And maltose will bring some very very nice flavors to our particular party.
    Oh, time to check the yeast. You notice that the guys are up and creating a nice head of foam. If your yeast hasn't created foam within the first few minutes, odds are either your water was too hot or your guys were dead. That's why they put expiration dates on those little packets. Time to add this to the milk, and then the dry. Yuck!

    [voice over] The dry team is played by two cups of all-purpose flour, sifted once. Dig a little well right in the middle and pour in the wet team. Beat this until it just comes together to form a mass, a rather sticky mass, and park it someplace for half an hour to rise. If you're paranoid like me, you can park it inside a bowl along with a household heating pad set to low.

2 Cups Sifted AP Flour

Most baked muffins will freeze well for up to 3 months.

The Kitchen

    Cooking English muffins. The challenge: heat management. The solution: an electric griddle, set to 300 degrees.


    That is not all of the hardware. You will need four rings. These are tuna cans with the bottoms cut out. This is a pastry ring, professional pastry ring. This cost the same as this. These came with tuna, this didn't. You make the choice.


    Straight down on the griddle, a little bit of non-stick spray, not letting it get on the floor, and our dough: thick, sticky, risen. The way around the problem? Once again, our scoop. We apply two portions to each cup.

2 Scoops Per Ring

    [voice over] Once your rings are full, cover with an aluminum sheet pan or a cookie sheet and wait for five minutes.

5 mins.

    [voice over] Then, give them a gentle flip. Make it fast. Re-cover, and cook for yet another five minutes.

5 mins.

    [voice over] Uncover, and remove to a cooling rig. I like to use a big, wide grill spatula for this. Why the cooling rig? Because if you put them on a flat surface, the bottoms will get gooey. Now, if you've properly greased up your rings, they'll slide right off. Look at that beautiful interior.

Delmonico's Restaurant served the first eggs Benedict in 1860.

Popoff County Jail: 12:02 pm

    [once again the rope made from sheets is lowered, the basket tied on and this time it's taken up, the cop once again exits and leers] I'm prepared for this. Here ya go, boy! Got a muffin for you! [tosses the muffin as before] Okay, go get it! [the cop does not give chase] Oh, bother.

Inside the Jail Cell


AB: [enters and sits down next to B. A. who is opening a muffin with a plastic fork] At least it's roomy.

    You know, he's right. Sticking a knife, sorry, a shiv into an English muffin is very bad form indeed. If you want to enjoy all the peaks and valleys, and nooks and crannies inside, you're gonna have to use a fork. Of course, a metal fork would be nice, but just use whatever you've got.
    I hope our big-house misadventure has inspired you to break out of your muffin monotony and see muffins as the true hotbox Houdini's that they are.

AB: Say, who's in the top bunk?
BA: Some psychiatrist.
PSYCHIATRIST: [in a Hannibal Lector voice] Is that you, Clarice?
AB: See you next time ...
BA: Maybe.
AB: ... on "Good Eats."
BA: [offers AB a muffin half]
AB: No, not hungry.

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Transcribed by Carrie.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010