At our house, we’ve been wild crazy about these Cook’s Illustrated Big Beautiful Muffins for as long as I can remember. So much so, that even though I have a few other muffin recipes on my site, I rarely venture beyond making these!
Of course, it helps that I have tried and collected about 30 variations! As I recall (this recipe has been on my site since 2014) Cook’s started me off with a few of those variations and I, always being just a little “extra”, kept adding and adding. Variations are on a printable PDF, rather than in the recipe because all those variations would make the recipe so darned long.
About Cook’s Illustrated Big Beautiful Muffins Traditional Method:
While these muffins, in any of the variations, are out of this world fantastic, they are still very much a muffin, not a cupcake. They have a beautiful crumb, gorgeous texture and they’re always moist without being heavy. Kudos, too, for muffins that are crunchy on the outside and absolutely tender inside.
Now in the late 90s, we all knew bigger was better, and home cooks wanted nothing more than to compete with the big bakeries and professionals who were turning out huge muffins. Chris Kimball and staff came through. This recipe fills a dozen muffin cups and the muffins are so large that the tops spill out across the pan and they are so big they have to be cut into squares. When I really want to impress (like for company, special occasions, or to take to a friend who may be going through a difficult time) I make the muffins that way, still.
For people like me, people that just want a muffin, thank you, and not an extravaganza, cutting the size a bit gives the same moist, wonderful muffin in a much more reasonable presentation. The same batter easily divides into 18 muffins rather than 12. So whether you want to “go big or go home” or just want a muffin, this is the recipe for you!
Traditional or Shortcut Method:
- The traditional method uses softened butter which is creamed with sugar to start the muffins. It does require pulling out the mixer. They are utterly fantastic, high rising with a perfect muffin texture – Sturdy, moist, delicate & fluffy.
- The shortcut recipe uses melted butter and is hand mixed, super quick & easy, perfect for a busy morning. You’d swear they were the best muffin in the world – if you hadn’t had the first recipe! They’re not quite as fluffy as the mixer method, but they’re so easy you may find yourself turning to this recipe more often!
Making Cook’s Illustrated Big Beautiful Muffins Traditional Method:
This recipe is a very straightforward recipe following the “creaming” method. Room temperature items are always best to use and the butter has to be softened to room temperature before using. That means you should be able to bend the stick of butter without it cracking and it should keep its shape rather than “blowing out.”
The batter is going to be very thick; you haven’t done anything wrong! Follow the recipe carefully, alternating the additions of the yogurt and the dry ingredients to the creamed butter, sugar, and eggs, and for the most tender, fluffy muffins, do NOT overmix.
A couple of baking hints:
- Fill empty older muffin cups halfway with water to prevent the pan from overheating on one side and warping. The newer muffin cups with sturdier construction (say the last 15 years or so) should be fine as is.
- Use butter wrappers to grease pans. Whenever you remove a wrapper from butter, fold it into a square and save it in the freezer. They will be at the ready anytime you bake. I keep mine at the far end of a door shelf.
- When you use citrus, take a moment to zest it, even if you aren’t using zest in the recipe you’re making. Put it in a small snack-size Ziploc bag and it will be ready anytime you wish to make a recipe that uses just a bit of zest, such as these muffins (if you are making a variation that calls for zest.)
- If you’re making muffins with a streusel topping, double or triple the streusel and freeze it for another recipe later. Use it when making muffins, coffee cake or any type of crisp.
A big bonus with either the large or the small muffins? They are perfect for making ahead if you’re planning on overnight company or you’re going to have a busy morning. The muffins can be mixed and refrigerated and scooped into the muffin tins the next morning to bake or they can be portioned and frozen in the batter state, removed from the pan, then popped back in a pan to be baked off later.
This is perfect, also for smaller families and would be gluttons – and I’m speaking of myself, here. It can be dangerous for me to have too many of these home-baked muffins on the counter, especially if I happen to wake during the night! If they require cooking or they’re frozen, I won’t bother!
Storing & Reheating Cook’s Illustrated Big Beautiful Muffins Traditional Method:
You’ll want to store your muffins at room temperature in an airtight container. You need to know that some of the toppings might suffer for that, especially during warm weather. Streusel can become less crisp and glazes can get messy, but for the most part, these muffins will keep well for two or three days. Not that they’ve ever lasted that long at my house!
To rewarm, wrap in a paper towel (or thin cotton) that has been slightly dampened and wrung out thoroughly. Microwave for 30 seconds or so, depending on the strength of your microwave and how many muffins you are rewarming.
One of the best things about these muffins is that they are fantastic plain, with no additions, but the thick gorgeous batter can support many flavors, add-ins, and toppings. I, personally think muffins are like cupcake’s old maiden aunt – some decorum and restraint should be shown. The great thing about making your own – you don’t have to agree and may put whatever you wish in these, in any amounts you please!
While you may want to try any of these variations by themselves, feel free to riff and try in combinations – a huge number of variations can be made with different combinations of fillings, add-ins, and toppings. The amounts given are only guidelines. Feel free to increase or decrease any of the options to suit your taste. The addition of too much fruit, chips, etc., can alter the texture of a muffin. Usually, a cup to a cup and a half is about right to add flavor but not overwhelm.
Pull up this handy dandyprintable PDF to see around 30 or so variations or just scroll to the bottom of the page to read them. I am personally wild about the Toffee, the Streusel and either Raspberry or Pear with a little Almond Paste crumbled into the batter.
Because some of these variations add to the volume of the batter, if you’re making smaller muffins, you may be able to squeeze an extra muffin out of the batter. With the ginormous muffins, well, they’ll just be a bit larger. Watch them carefully towards the end of baking and add additional time as needed. Additions may affect volume and therefore the amount of oven time the muffins need.
Saving Money when Making Cook’s Illustrated Big Beautiful Muffins Traditional Method:
Your cost to make Big Beautiful Muffins is going to vary according to the types and amounts of add-ins and/or toppings, but the basic recipe is about $2.67 for 12 very large or 18 basic muffins. Sure beats the $3.69 price I saw for four at the store’s bakery the other day.
You can regulate the pricing by being a careful shopper. Buy and stock up on baking items when they are on deep sale, usually around any major holiday. You’ll see flour, sugar, eggs and so on often on a deep sale during most holidays, while items like dried fruits, chocolate chips, and so on are usually at their lowest around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter holidays.
You might want to check out my post on Winning at the Grocers. You’ll find links to each of the major food holidays in the US, with items to look for on sale.Print
Cook’s Illustrated Big, Beautiful Muffins
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Total Time: 55 minutes
- Yield: 12 to 18 1x
- Category: Breakfast or Brunch
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)
- 10 Tablespoons (1 stick plus two tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature (if you use salted, decrease the added salt to 1/4 tsp)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat plain yogurt
- Mix-ins, below, optional. See PDF linked above and add in at the appropriate time.
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375 *F. Generously grease or spray a 12 cup muffin tin for a dozen muffins, including the level top portion. For best results, do not use liners.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until lightened in color and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Turn the mixer to low and slowly beat 1/3 of the yogurt into the creamed mixture. Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients, beating until just barely incorporated. Stop and scrape down the side of the bowl and add 1/3 of the yogurt. Beat on low again, until just barely mixed, stop, scrape and add remainder of flour. When nearly mixed, stop again and add the remainder of the yogurt, mixing as little as possible to blend together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix with a spatula.
Portion the batter into each of 12 muffin cups. (This should be just below the rim, depending on the volume of the mix-ins.) Bake until light golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. The only way to go wrong is to overbake, so remove them from the oven by the crumb test, not the color.
Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Directions are below for making 18 muffins instead of 12 and for freezing.
Note: These muffins rise higher if a cupcake liner is NOT used.
Portion into 16 or 18 muffins rather than 12. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, but don’t be too concerned about browning on the top. With the smaller muffins, there is a greater risk of drying with increased browning. Check with a toothpick and remove from oven when it comes out with just a few crumbs adhering.
Refrigerate or Freeze:
Batter can be made ahead of time and stored in either the fridge or the freezer.
- For the fridge, store it in a covered container up to 24 hours. Portion into muffin tin and let sit for 30 minutes (if possible) before baking.
- For the freezer, portion the batter into the muffin tin and place tin in freezer to flash-freeze. Once frozen, remove from tin and store in a freezer container. To bake, return to muffin tin and let sit 30 minutes while preheating the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
For 12 muffins. plain – no add-ins or toppings, using low fat yogurt: cal 234, tot fat 9g; sat fat 5g; mono 2g; chol 63mg; sod 201mg; pot 127mg; carb 33g; fib 1g; sug 12g; prot 6g; vitamin A 6%; calc 14%; iron 7%
For 18 muffins. plain – no add-ins or toppings, using low fat yogurt: cal 156, tot fat 6g; sat fat 2g; mono 2g; chol 42mg; sod 201mg; pot 85mg; carb 22g; fib 1g; sug 8g; prot 4g; vitamin A 4%; calc 10%; iron 5%
Keywords: Big Beautiful Muffins, Breakfast or Brunch Dish, Cook's Illustrated, Muffins, Yogurt
- Sugar Coated: Sprinkle the tops with 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar or sanding sugar before baking.
- Streusel Topping: ½ c white or brown sugar, ⅓ c all-purpose flour, ¼ c butter, cold & cubed, 1/2 to 1¾ tsp cinnamon, apple pie spice, or other flavorings. Mix together until crumbly. Add before baking.
- Streusel Topping with Oatmeal or Nuts or Toffee Chips: ½ c white or brown sugar, 1/4 c all-purpose flour, ¼ c butter, cold & cubed, 1/2 to 1¾ tsp cinnamon, apple pie spice, or other flavoring. Mix together until crumbly. Use about 1/3 cup of oatmeal, finely chopped nuts or toffee chips. Add before baking.
- Cinnamon Coated: Mix about 1/2 cup of sugar with two teaspoons cinnamon. After baking, while still warm, dip muffin top in melted butter and then in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
- Citrus Glaze: Mix 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of citrus, simmer in a small saucepan for three minutes until slightly reduced. Brush on top of baked & still warm muffins.
- Chocolate Drizzle: Any drizzle can be made by combining one ounce of chocolate with one teaspoon of shortening or butter. Shortening tends to give the best texture. Drizzle on baked and cooled muffins.
- Berry: Almost any berry is wonderful in these muffins. Larger berries like strawberry should be chopped. The trick to getting the berries to distribute evenly and not bleed too much into the batter is to gently shake them in a bit of flour, then shake off the excess before adding them to the batter. Sprinkle them across the top of the finished batter and gently fold in. Do not thaw if using frozen berries. No need to be exact, but don’t over do it – usually 1 1/2 cups is more than sufficient.
- Berry Plus Citrus: Some berries just go well with other flavors. Add one teaspoon and up to one tablespoon of citrus zest to the yogurt. Gently fold into the finished batter 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen berries (do not thaw if frozen).
- Lemon Blueberry (or Raspberry) Muffins: Add 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest to the yogurt mixture. Gently fold into the finished batter 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen berries (do not thaw if frozen).
- Berry Plus Extract: Add in about a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of your favorite extract with the yogurt. Some extracts are very strong and very little is needed. Almond comes to mind. Others are a little less overwhelming and the full 1/2 teaspoon will be needed. Gently fold into the finished batter 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen berries (do not thaw if frozen).
- Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins: Add 3 tablespoons poppy seeds to the flour mixture and 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest to the yogurt mixture. While the muffins bake, cook ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until it turns into a light syrup, about 3 minutes. Brush the warm syrup over the warm baked muffins and serve.
- Apple Pecan: Finely dice two apples and fold into finished batter with 1/2 to one cup of chopped toasted pecans. Substitute all or part of the white sugar with brown, if desired. Try a little maple syrup mixed with melted butter for a topping on the baked muffins. Also very good with a streusel topping added before baking.
- Peach Pecan: Finely dice two peaches and fold into finished batter with 1/2 to one cup of chopped toasted pecans. Substitute all or part of the white sugar with brown, if desired. Try a little maple syrup mixed with melted butter for a topping on the baked muffins. Also very good with a streusel topping added before baking.
- Apple & Cinnamon Chip: Finely dice two medium apples, substitute some of the white sugar (or all) with brown sugar, add about 3/4 cup of cinnamon chips. My preferred topping is brown sugar streusel added before baking.
- Apricot Almond: Add three tablespoons almond paste with yogurt and mix in 1 1/2 cups finely chopped dried apricots into the finished batter. (Use a thin knife coated with cooking spray to finely chop Apricots. Freshly dried works best, here, ones that have been sitting for some time may be rather tough, although they can be softened by pouring a little boiling water over them and allowing to steep to desired consistency. Sprinkle a few sliced almonds over the muffins before baking.
- Jelly or Jam Muffins: Add three tablespoons almond paste to a small amount of the yogurt, mashing it into a cream. Mix with the remaining yogurt. Fill muffin tins halfway, add a heaping teaspoon of jam, then continue to fill them with the desired amount of batter.
- Raspberry Almond 1: Add three tablespoons almond paste to a small amount of the yogurt, mashing it into a cream. Mix with the remaining yogurt. When filling muffin tins, Spoon 2 tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup. Drop 1 teaspoon raspberry jam into each cup, then spoon the remaining batter evenly on top.
- Raspberry Almond 2: Add ½ teaspoon almond extract to the yogurt mixture. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup. Drop 1 teaspoon raspberry jam into each cup, then spoon the remaining batter evenly on top.
- Raspberry Almond 3: Add fresh raspberries and small chunks of almond paste (three to four tablespoons worth, broken into the size of chocolate chips) to the finished batter. Fold very gently.
- Raspberry White Chocolate: Fold in 1 1/2 cups of raspberries and 3/4 cups of white chocolate chips to the finished batter. Do not thaw if using frozen berries.
- Cranberry Orange Muffins with or without Nuts:
Add 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest to the yogurt mixture. Fold 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries into the finished batter. If desired, add ¾ cup coarsely chopped toasted nuts into the batter.
- Toffee Crunch: Add one cup (or more!) of toffee chips to finished batter. Use all white sugar, all brown or a combination. Marvelous with the chocolate-coated toffee chips or combined with 3/4 cup chocolate chips.
- Toffee Crunch Almond: Add a cup each of toffee chips and slivered almonds to finished batter. Like above, this can be made with any combination of brown and/or white sugar. Marvelous with the chocolate-coated toffee chips, too.
- Mocha Chip: Dissolve three teaspoons instant espresso powder in yogurt and fold in one cup of chocolate chips into the finished batter.
- Chocolate Chip Muffins: Add 1 teaspoon vanilla to the yogurt mixture and fold 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips into the finished batter.
- Banana or Banana Rum: It’s just hard to go wrong! For Banana, add 1/2 teaspoon of grated nutmeg in the dry ingredients and 1 1/2 cups of diced firm banana, folded into the finished batter. For Banana Rum, use 1/2 teaspoon Rum Extract mixed in the yogurt and then fold in the banana. Mashed banana will make the muffins too soft.
- Banana Chocolate Chip: Fold 1 ½ cups finely diced bananas and 3/4 cup chocolate chips into the finished batter. Mashed banana will make the muffins too soft.
- Banana Walnut Muffins: Substitute light brown sugar for the granulated sugar and add ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg to the flour mixture. Fold 1 ½ cups finely diced bananas and ½ cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts into the finished batter. Mashed banana will make the muffins too soft.
- Other ideas: I have yet to try every flavor combination I’ve thought of, and am always thinking of more, usually while I’m eating the ones I’ve just baked. Here are a few I hope to make friends with some time in the future: Cherry, Cherry Almond, Cherry filled, Cream Cheese Cherry filled, Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip filled. Pineapple Coconut, Mango, Tropical Combinations, with perhaps a coconut topping, or grated lime zest, or a lime citrus glaze.