from the mailbox: 3 simple steps to baking the perfect muffins

Tip #1: Do not overmix
If I could narrow it all down to just one important rule in baking muffins, it would have to be not to overmix. Muffins are said to be the easiest bake, but all it takes is just some extra flicks of the whisk, and you’ve got yourself the driest bake. When incorporating the wet ingredients into the dry, there is a tendency to overmix because the ratio of liquid to flour is quite high. Mixing too much develops the gluten in the flour, which results in hard and dry muffins with ‘tunnels’.

You simply need to mix the ingredients just until the flour is sufficiently moistened. Some bakers recommend mixing no more than 15 strokes, but personally, a good sign to stop before you overmix is when all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl, and you still see some flecks of flour in the mixture. This is definitely not one of those moments you’d want to exercise your OCD tendencies;– the batter should be lumpy, never smooth!

Tip #2: Fill them up just enough
It is undeniable that what makes muffins so appealing is the appearance, more specifically their trademark muffin top. But this is where it gets really tricky when it comes to baking your own muffins, hoping to get the ‘bakery muffin dome’. Fill the muffin cups too little, and you’ll get flat tops or shrunken muffins. Fill the muffin cups too much, and you’ll get ‘flying saucer’ tops.

Be generous, but not overly so. Scoop the batter into each muffin cup, filling it to 3/4 full and try to mount more batter in the middle of each cup. This ensures that the resulting muffins will have a nice dome.


Tip #3: Letting the batter sit — yes and no
As with any bake that contains leavening agents, you would want to go straight from the counter into the hot oven as soon as possible. Since the rising factor is one of the primary characteristics of muffins, leaving the batter outside (of the oven) will affect not only the appearance, but also its texture. However, this differs with different recipes, and more specifically, different leavening agents.

For recipes that call for baking powder, you may allow the batter to sit for 5-10 minutes before going into the oven. Single-acting baking powder reacts with the liquids in the batter at room temperature to create air bubbles that will help in the rising. Double-action baking powder reacts in two phases;– some gas is released at room temperature upon mixing with the liquids, while most of the gas is released at high temperature upon baking.

For recipes that call for baking soda, you would want to rush the batter straight into the hot oven. Baking soda reacts with the acids in the batter (typically yoghurt, buttermilk) to create bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand under the high baking temperature. These bubbles are created immediately upon mixing, so you should not leave the batter sitting out, lest the chemical reaction stops before you get them to the oven.

Previously on FTM:
From the Mailbox: my take on food photography

From the Mailbox: the humble crumb topping

From the Mailbox: tips on baking the perfect cookies

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58 thoughts on “from the mailbox: 3 simple steps to baking the perfect muffins

  1. the mister

    Whoa, that was a comprehensive tutorial!

    An equivalent one in my world would be ‘3 Simple Steps To Draw Superhero Muscles’ or sumpthin’…

    Hehe… :P

    Oh and that first photo is something out of a high end recipe book, man!

    Reply
  2. Malin

    Muffins are definitely not as easy as some people say! I always fill them up too much or too little, that’s the hardest part for me! I’ll keep this post in mind next time :)

    Reply
  3. grace

    this is very helpful! i’m a muffin maniac and these tips are familiar to me, but it’s good to see them reiterated. it’s also good to see some muffin porn. :)

    Reply
  4. ovenhaven Post author

    bie: Haha, that literally made me laugh out loud :P Spare me the superhero muscles, please. Just a tutorial on how to draw the rectangular chin of your fave superhero will do :P

    Malin: It took me quite a while to get the hang of filling them up, but it works well once you can identify/gauge how high your muffin will rise :)

    grace: Haha, muffin porn! :P I think muffins are one of those things I’ll never get tired of, and possibly one of the first few things I grab off a cafe display :)

    Reply
  5. cakebrain

    I never think I have the muffin mastered, perhaps because I think I miss the mark with homemade ones when I’m thinking of the kind you get at the mall…more like cake! I do however have some awesome cupcake recipes, but I guess that misses the point of the “quickbread” method, doesn’t it. Nice looking muffins!

    Reply
  6. cookie

    sista, excellent tutorial! Tip 3 is new to me, and just so glad you shared them!

    If I may just add 1 point – the temperature. It should be at least 200C when the muffin are put in. This will help to create the nice dome!

    Reply
  7. ovenhaven Post author

    percicilan: Hope these will help you the next time!

    felicia: Haha! Y’noe something, when I first discovered your blog, I was like “NOOOOOOO!”, coz I’m a big muffin fan, and I don’t eat cupcakes :P Muffins are definitely pretty in their own rights!

    Ju: Awww thanks, sweetie! Interestingly enough, I got hit by muffin cravings while drafting this post :P

    cakebrain: Hehe, there was a time when I heard people saying “The muffins aren’t fluffy enough”, and I’ll have to remind them that they’re thinking of cupcakes, not muffins :P

    thecoffeesnob: Glad to share that, sweetz!

    cookie: I agree! I always turn to 200C, but I read somewhere that it should be between 175C – 200C, depending on the type of dome/peak you want. Apparently lower half of that range produces the peak type, while the higher half produces the dome type. I haven’t tried that out, but 200C always works for me! :)

    Reply
  8. vicvickvicky

    Super useful tips! Especially the last one! People often diss baking as a girly thing, but a girl who makes those gorgeous muffin tops has beauty AND brains! :)

    Reply
  9. kimhopf

    I think that we were on same wavelength with this post, because I totally had a muffin craving last night that couldn’t be contained, so I blogged about it :) I wish I would have read your blog first though, it has some great tips! Love your blog- keep it up!
    Kim
    http://www.photo-salsa.com

    Reply
  10. Moranna

    I am not a muffin enthusiast! In fact I rarely eat them! After reading your baking tips, I can understand why! I have never made them myself and now I don’t think I will bother!! Sorry!

    Reply
  11. ovenhaven Post author

    vicvickvicky: Awww! I’m not a science person, but I have to say that baking involves quite a bit of science! :P

    Deli Lanoux: Glad to share them! :)

    Abby Langston: Practice makes perfect, no? ;)

    kimhopf: Just saw your muffins, and they look absolutely tempting! And definitely worth a midnight bake :)

    Moranna: Oh what a pity! Thanks for dropping by anyway :)

    Reply
  12. siegel505

    Someone once made me blondie muffins (white chocolate) and they were divine! Huge chocolate chunks in white chocolate batter. Not quite sure how to melt the white chocolate into the batter though!

    On another note: Do you think you could make blueberry muffin ice cream?

    Reply
  13. dreamlivedream

    Wow, I am most definitely an overmixer… I quite often ring my mum and have a good ol chat whilst I’m mixing. Will have to stop that immediately! Thanks for the handy tips, am planning on baking a test batch tonight! :)

    Reply
  14. ovenhaven Post author

    chowchow: Thanks for dropping by :)

    justalittlepiece: How I miss mini-muffins! I’m giving them a go next :)

    dancingirja: I agree, need a couple of tries before you can get the hang of it!

    Cyra Miles: Thanks! :)

    thoughtsappear: Thanks for dropping by :)

    siegel505: To add the melted chocolate into the batter, just melt the chocolate together with the butter, then mix the batter using the normal wet-into-dry method! About blueberry muffin ice-cream, that certainly sounds absolutely delish! I’ve yet to make my own ice-cream though, so I’m not in a position to comment :P

    dreamlivedream: Ooops! That’s definitely not the way to go :P Hope these tips will help you!

    Reply
  15. Cheryl@watchmebake.blogspot.com

    hi! great tips and it’s coincidentally just in time for me to improve on my triple choc muffcakes! :D oh and i just browsed through your other posts and found your recipe for choc muffins! have already bookmarked it :D

    ps: love your photography! am stalking your blog already hahah

    Reply
  16. Krista

    That is the BEST tip sheet on muffins I ever read! :o) Such great comfort food, muffins… nothing better on a cold winter’s day than a warm apple muffin straight out of the oven…

    Reply
  17. andotherfrivolities

    I love muffins. Definitely one of my guilty pleasures :)
    Thanks for the tips – very handy, I’ll be keeping them in mind next time I decide against cereal/toast for brekky. I can easily confess to being an overmixer – you hit the nail on the head with pending OCD! Lumps. Must. Be. Destroyed.
    Ah well. Nobody”s perfect!

    Reply
  18. geekproposal

    I always left my muffins sit before throwing them in the oven. Next time, I’ll try following Rule #3 and see how they turn out. Thanks for the good read.

    Reply
  19. tracieMoo

    thanks for the tip! I honestly didn’t know about letting the batter sit on tip3!
    Very informative. I should take note since I love making muffins so much.
    I’d always prefer muffin to cupcakes. Love the texture and I’ve always thought they are simple to make. They still are, just with these few extra rules :)

    Reply
  20. sidewayschef77

    Very informative! I “do” have the tendency to over mix my muffin batter (due to my OCD issues) to get all the lumps out. But most of the time my muffins come out moist and flavorful, but I will try your tips the next time. Now would this information be the same for muffin mixes, since the leavening agents are already in the mix? I love the pictures also…magazine-worthy. Thanks ;)!

    Reply
  21. BigLittleWolf

    These look and sound scrumptious. I love to bake, but have yet to make a muffin that I truly love. (Might these break that streak?) Store-bought really cannot compare.

    Reply
  22. ovenhaven Post author

    Cheryl: Hello, stalker! Haha. Love the name of your muffcakes :P

    mayor sipayung: Thanks for dropping by…

    Krista: Awww thanks! Glad to hear it’s of use to you :)

    andotherfrivolities: I used to be like that when I started out too! Either whacking it endlessly, or actually going the mixer way :P

    geekproposal: I’m the exact opposite; I always rush them into the hot oven.

    tracieMoo: Muffins, besides brownies, are my go-to because of the ease! Well, anything that doesn’t involve waiting for the butter to soften, or creaming, is an ease for me :P

    Jasline: Hope this will help you out!

    laterna-sapni: Thanks for dropping by…

    sidewayschef77: Awww thanks! I’m afraid I’m in no position to comment, coz I’ve never used muffin mix before :P

    BigLittleWolf: Hope these tips will help you out!

    harshit151899: Glad the tips could be of help :)

    shirley: Thanks, Shirley! And thanks for dropping by.

    Reply
  23. June

    I’ve been such a silent reader! Sorry for not commenting earlier :(

    But I have a question: in some cupcake recipes, they call for both baking soda & baking powder. So…should I let it sit for a while or should I pop them straight into the oven?

    Thanks so much for these tips though :) I can’t wait to start my next batch of muffins!

    Reply
  24. ovenhaven Post author

    If it contains both, it’s best to just pop them straight into the oven :) Hope these tips will help you out in your next baking adventure! Thanks for de-lurking and dropping a note :)

    Reply
  25. ayeloveyou

    those muffins look delish! i’m making muffins tomorrow night and i’m definitely going to use these tips! i’m always looking for tips to make my baking easier, tastier, and more eye appealing-this was perfect!

    Reply
  26. amy

    thanks for the tips! now would you do a tutorial on scones? hahaha:) thanks for dropping by and i would send you some of my apple pie only i think you can do one as good or even better than mine! besides, we all know the trick to a good slice of pie or cookie! that is to eat it fresh from the oven. that is really the best way, dont you agree? :)

    Reply
  27. ovenhaven Post author

    Gah, I almost made scones today! Alright, the next time I make them, I’ll post up a tutorial especially for you, okay? ;) And yes, now you’ve got me lemming and craving for a slice of apple pie! Or any pie for that matter :P

    Reply
  28. greenlaundry

    These tips so super handy, the sorta things only a seasoned baker would know! Because I would never have considered these things and I’d prolly commit #1 and wonder why my muffins are ruined.

    I really need to get an oven. What brand of an oven are you using?

    Reply
  29. ovenhaven Post author

    Y’know, each time I get a mail asking why the reader’s muffins turned out dry / hard, that would always be my first guess, i.e. they overmixed. Hehe :P

    I’m using a really old huge oven. Reckon it’s about 10 years old now! It’s from Sanyo, and while it’s not exactly THE brand anyone would look for, it’s definitely been overworked and yet is still strong after all these years, so it’s gotta count for something. If you’re looking for an oven, identify the functions you need. Some include two racks (upper & lower), some like mine have the grill and microwave functions as well, some have fan.

    I looked around, and one of the popular brands as recommended by a local baker/chef is Tecno TEC3400, which is less than $150. Can’t vouch for it though, since I’ve never used it. Have fun shopping!

    Reply
  30. Pingback: From the Mailbox: 5 tips on packing lunchbox (recipe: smoked paprika chicken with mushrooms burger) « :: epicurean escapism ::

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