The Best Muffins Ever – Big, Beautiful Muffins

We’ve always loved these Big, Beautiful Muffins in the Frugal Household – out of this world fantastic, but still very much a muffin, not a cupcake. They have a beautiful crumb, gorgeous texture and they’re always moist without being heavy.

Big, Beautiful Muffins - the only Muffin recipe you'll ever need. Small or large, a dozen variations.
Big, Beautiful Muffins – the only Muffin recipe you’ll ever need. Small or large, a dozen variations.

These started out as Cook’s Illustrated Big & Beautiful Muffins, or maybe America’s Test Kitchen’s, or both. Depending on the show, book or magazine, the recipe has floated back and forth with a few variations. I’ve been making them for years, since way, way back when we all knew bigger was better! What’s with all this “less is more” stuff, anyway?

In the late 90’s, home cooks wanted nothing more than to compete with the big bakeries and professionals who were turning out huge muffins, and Chris Kimball and staff came through. Muffin tops that spread all across the pans, so big they have to be cut into squares…Crunchy on the top edges, moist and tender inside. For company or to take to friends who might be going through a difficult time, I make them still.

Big. Beautiful Muffins - these are chocolate chip toffee streusel, but a dozen variations are given
Big. Beautiful Muffins – these are chocolate chip toffee streusel, but a dozen variations are given.

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. Whether you want to “go big or go home” or just want a muffin, this is the recipe for you!

A big bonus with either the large or the small muffins? The muffins can be divided and frozen in the batter state, then baked off later. Perfect 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!

Big, Beautiful Muffins - the only Muffin recipe you'll ever need. Small or large, a dozen variations.
Big, Beautiful Muffins – the only Muffin recipe you’ll ever need. Small or large, a dozen variations.

Note that there are two recipes below:

  • The first uses a mixer and wet/dry ingredients are alternated. They are utterly fantastic, high rising with a perfect muffin texture – Sturdy, moist, delicate & fluffy. Out of this world fantastic. The drawback: the butter has to be soft & a mixer has to be used.
  • The second 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! Just slightly heavier, they don’t rise to quite the height of the first but they’re so easy you may find yourself turning to this recipe more often!
Big Beautiful Muffins - these are Almond Pear - chunks of pear & almond paste, struesel topping
Big Beautiful Muffins – these are Almond Pear – chunks of pear & almond paste, struesel topping

Additions:

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, below. 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!

Cost:

Cost is going to vary according to the types and amounts of fruits and add-ins, 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.

Chocolate Chip Muffins
Chocolate Chip Muffins

Big, Beautiful Muffins - Mixer Method

  • Servings: 12 - 18
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 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. Add in at the appropriate time as directed

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 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 over bake, 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.

From the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com

Big, Beautiful Muffins - hand mixed

  • Servings: 12 - 18
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled (if you use salted, decrease the added salt to 1/4 tsp)
  • Mix-ins, below, optional. Add in at the appropriate time as directed

Adjust oven rack to 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, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt in a large bowl. In medium bowl, whisk the yogurt and eggs together until smooth. Gently fold the yogurt mixture into flour mixture with rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in melted butter. The batter will be thick.

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 half-way through baking. The only way to go wrong is to over bake, 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 below for making 18 muffins instead of 12 and for freezing.

Note: These muffins rise higher if a cupcake liner is NOT used.

From the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com

Additional Instructions – Both Recipes {Print}

Smaller Muffins – Both Recipes:

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 adhering.

Refrigerate or Freeze – Both Recipes:

Note: 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. 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. (I generally use a muffin cup liner when freezing.)

Variations & Mix-Ins –  Both Recipes:

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 ginourmous muffins, well, they’ll just be a bit larger. Watch the baking times as it may slightly affect the muffins.

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.

Toppings:

  • 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 flavoring. Mix together until crumbly.
  • 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.
  • Cinnamon Coated: Mix about 1/2 cup of sugar with two teaspoons cinnamon. Dip warm muffin 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 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.

Fillings:

  • 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 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 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 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 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. Also very good with a streusel topping.
  • 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. Also very good with a streusel topping.
  • 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.
  • Apricot Almond: Add three tablespoons almond paste with yogurt and mix in 1 1/2 cups finely chopped dried apricots. (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. If desired, add ¾ cup coarsely chopped toasted nuts into the batter.
  • Toffee Crunch: Add one cup (or more!) of toffee chips to 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 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.
  • Banana Banana Chocolate Chip: Fold 1 ½ cups finely diced bananas and 3/4 cup chocolate chips into the batter.
  • 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 batter.
  • 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’s a few I hope to make friends with sometime 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.

Put Your own Spin on It:

So what flavors would you dream up to incorporate into these lovely muffins? I bet you have something in mind already!

 Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read {Strategies Applied} for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Nutrition:

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%

Obviously, choice of add ins and toppings will affect the nutritional values. The smaller Cranberry Orange Muffins shown above came in at 177 calories. The large, Chocolate Chip Toffee Streusel Muffins came in at 528 calories, pretty much on par with the nutritional values of those from Panera, Starbucks, etc.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

Make extra Streusel and keep it in the freezer!

DSCN9395x
Streusel is even better frozen – make extra for another recipe.

Fill empty older muffin cups half way with water to prevent the pan from overheating on one side and warping. The newer muffin cups with sturdier construction (say the last 10 years or so) should be fine.

Use butter wrappers to grease pans. When ever you remove a wrapper from butter, fold into a square and save 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.

23 thoughts on “The Best Muffins Ever – Big, Beautiful Muffins”

    1. Hi Pat, sorry so late in replying, I was away from my computer most of the day! Cranberry Orange is in the long list of different variations. They are my fave!::

      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. If desired, add ¾ cup coarsely chopped toasted nuts into the batter.

  1. I just made these today!! There are so yummy and taste so creamy ( if muffins can taste creamy- I think its the yoghurt I can taste). I added apples and pecans, wow are they delish. Next time I would maybe also add some cinnamon, if that won’t be an overload for my senses. I’ve made them for friends for breakfast tomorrow as we are staying with them tonight. I also made lemon curd, so I may slather some on top of the muffins too! Thanks for sharing, it was so easy to make and the results are great.

    1. So kind of you to say so and I’m glad you liked all the “Add Ins” and toppings, etc! I really like making my own muffins, especially because when you buy them someplace they always seem to look better than they taste!

      By the way, I followed yours as well. What a darling little “helper” you have and I love your Mother/daughter tea party! What a great way to build memories!

      1. I know what you mean!! Nothing upsets me more when I buy something that looks delicious and then just doesn’t taste very good. Feels like I wasted money/ruin my life hahah. So many good reasons for us to bake!

        Thank you heaps! I’m enjoying motherhood😊 though some days she eats most the mixture rather than help! Hehe but yes great memories indeed!
        Have a good day!

    1. I know! That’s the beauty of these – they can be adapted so well to almost any kind of muffing you can think of! I love these with raspberry jam. Blackberry preserves are REALLY good inside these, too.

    1. I worked for years in downtown Minneapolis, which, to those unfamiliar, is a city that is connected by “skyways” designed to keep one out of the elements – you know the nasty 34 degrees below zero weather.

      I’d commute in, park my car in a garage and wind my way into work – dangerous places, these skyways, rife with coffee shops and bakeries!

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minneapolis_Skyway_System

      If you do get to them (after the shutters are done?) I’d love to hear what variation you went with or if you came up with your own favorite.

    1. Well, thank you! I didn’t think I’d ever get done writing it – was afraid I’d bit off more than I could chew, so to speak! I really didn’t mean it to be an encyclopedia! I love muffins, too, and by the way, I so wish I didn’t have some of those streusel topped ones sitting out in my kitchen right now!

        1. I know, right! We’d sit at my well worn kitchen table and have muffins and maybe some of my Fall Spiced Tea, exchange recipes and your little pugs and my giant lab, Gibson could fight over any crumbs that might fall….

          Of course, then I’d probably feel obligated to clean the kitchen – virtual does have some advantages!!

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