Giant Muffins a la Joanne Chang

I’m on a search for the perfect muffin.  I like muffins.  What I’m not so fond of is knowing that their soft and moist cakeyness is hiding a staggering amount of oil.  It takes all the fun out of sinking my teeth into one.  And if I had a choice, the perfect muffin would have chunks of fruit, crunchy nuts, and just a bit of sweetness in each and every bite.

Chocolate muffins wouldn’t be on my list of something I’d consider a favorite, although a plump, dark one loaded with morsels does catch my eye at the coffee shop when it sits alongside the blueberry and carrot muffins that I prefer.  Somehow, eating chocolate for breakfast just doesn’t seem right (okay, so maybe a chocolate croissant…), and in my mind, muffins are breakfast food.

I’m certainly not one of those who has been a die-hard baker all her life — at least with any degree of consistency.  I do bake, but not nearly as much as I cook savory food.  You noticed that, maybe?  Perhaps it has something to do with the idea that we weren’t a dessert family when I was growing up.  If we had anything sweet after dinner, it would have been right before bedtime, and then, only a cup of tea with milk and sugar, or a small bowl of cereal.  Not both.

Definitely, muffins weren’t something we ever had, nor did I notice them in my mother’s venerable Betty Crocker cookbook.  Although there are several recipes for muffins in the old notebook, I must have been more intrigued by the popovers and the biscuits.  The streusel-filled coffee cake.   Mmmm…streusel.

But I’ve noticed something while going through the old muffin recipes — they don’t contain huge amounts of oil.  In fact, they’re all made with shortening — yes, I know that’s fat — but only 1/4 cup at that.  Yes, I do realize that’s still quite a bit of fat, but if a recipe makes eight giant muffins and only half of one is eaten for breakfast, then…well perhaps you can do the math.  I’ll just say that’s not very much fat at all unless you’re trying to avoid fat all together.

Not too long ago, I tried a recipe for Blueberry Muffins, and another for Pumpkin Oat Muffins.  Both were outstanding with the pumpkin being my favorite.  So at this point, that would be my point of comparison.  Can I beat that?  And if I’m living up to the point of this blog, then quite a bit of veracity has to go along with anything I bake, right?

And that brings me to my most recent muffin.

Once in a while, I indulge in a cooking magazine called Fine Cooking (and don’t you think I might have realized they had a website before now?)  I see it when I’m in line at the grocery store, and when the person in front of me has decided to argue about whether their lemons are on sale or not, I fixate on the cover which usually sports something I think I can’t live without.  It usually isn’t true, because I rarely cook what is on the cover of this particular magazine.  At $6.95 an issue, you’d think I’d make every single recipe in the magazine.  I do save them, however, going through them to see if anything catches my fancy.  The March 2006 issue just happens to have an interesting article on muffins and how one batter can essentially make “All Your Favorite Muffins.”  The master recipe is from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston.

What’s great about the article is that Chang breaks muffins down into categories:  flavorings, fruit and chocolate, and fruit, nuts, and glaze.  Within each category are suggestions for quantities and endless possibilities to mix and match.  What a perfect idea!

Here’s my first attempt of flavor combinations.

Recipe for Giant Muffins a la Joanne Chang:  Apple, Cranberry Pecan


1 lb. unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
1-1/3 c. granulated sugar
5 oz. (10 T) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 c. whole milk, at room temp
1 c. creme fraiche or sour cream, at room temp
2 lg. eggs, at room temp
1 lg egg yolk, at room temp

Flavorings:  1 tsp. vanilla, 3/4 tsp. freshly ground cardamom
Fruit:  1 c. chopped, peeled Braeburn apples, 1/2 c. dried cranberries
Nuts:  3/4 c. chopped pecans
Glaze:  none (but I had my eye on the maple…)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 6-cup (3/4 c. capacity cups) muffin tin with paper baking cups.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and  salt.  Mix well.  In a separate bowl whisk together sugar, melted butter, milk, sour cream, eggs & extra egg yolk until well combined.  Add the vanilla and mix in.
  3. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and gently fold just until the dry mixture is wet.  The batter will appear lumpy and there may be dry spots, but you don’t want to over mix.  Add the apple chunks and chopped pecans and incorporate gently.
  4. Fill muffin cups to the top and you will have enough batter for 8 muffins.  Bake on the center rack of your oven for 35 minutes, keeping an eye on them for a nice golden brown.  To make sure they’re done, insert a wooden skewer into the center.  It should be dry.  Cool on a rack, but enjoy while they’re still warm.

Recipe Notes

  • I used a convection setting for these muffins.
  • With respect to fat (since I mentioned the oil above) they do have more than a quarter cup of butter in them.  But they are so delicious.  They are delicious both warm and at room temperature with or without butter (yes, more butter) and especially nice with a cup of tea.   I don’t normally spread butter on a muffin, but I couldn’t resist with these.  They are light and have a tang that is accentuated by the apples and cranberries.  The pecans add a nice little crunch.  Although the giant size of these muffins is fun, half of one is more than plenty.  Also, there wasn’t as much fruit and nuts in a bite as I would like.  Using a normal size muffin cup tin and leaving the ingredients at the same quantity would allow for that.
  • Regardless, this is a very, very good muffin recipe that I will be experimenting with.  Did I enjoy these muffins more than the pumpkin muffins I mentioned above?  Not quite.  But I’m comparing recipes right now and those muffins did have 1/3 c. oil…But they also used 1% milk, and no sour cream.  But goodness, the sour cream was excellent in these muffins.

On to the next muffin!