There are two kinds of muffins. The first are the ones with nutritional value: bran muffins, “morning glory” muffins, muffins containing whole-wheat flour, bananas, applesauce, carrots, raisins, flaxseeds, etc. These are purposeful muffins. These muffins contain enough fiber, both soluble and moral, to power you through a day of meetings, deadlines, appointments, and other unfortunate side effects of adulthood.
The other kind of muffins are made out of refined flour, sugar, and butterfat. These muffins offer nothing but cheerful insouciance and the promise of a blood-sugar crash come mid-afternoon. Like cinnamon rolls dripping with powdered-sugar icing and buttermilk pancakes drenched in maple syrup, second-category muffins are dessert posing as brunch. They’re dangerous on days when you need the energy to actually get something done. But on happy Saturdays and Sundays when you have nothing planned besides doing the crossword, catching up on DVRed sitcoms, and maybe a little day-drinking, they are the perfect way to greet the morning.
Blueberry muffins are definitely second-category muffins. Don’t try to hide behind their fruit content; if you were really interested in a healthy breakfast, you would dump some blueberries into a bowl, not wrap them up in cake batter. Once you accept that blueberry muffins are not healthy, you can get around to the crucial business of making them as delicious as possible.
Step one is easy and obvious: Pack your batter with plenty of butter and sugar. Blueberry muffins should be sturdier and less cloying than cake, but nowhere near as crusty and bland as bread. Better to err on the side of cake, I always say.
Step two is crucial but often overlooked: Bolster your blueberries with plenty of citrus. The combination of blueberries and orange is as effortlessly enchanting as the sororal chemistry of the Stella sisters. At the very least, you need some orange zest in your batter. If you also use freshly squeezed juice for some of your liquid, your muffins will make your kitchen smell like an orange grove. (If you prefer slightly less orangey muffins, adjust the recipe below by using 1¼ cups sour cream and only ¼ cup orange juice.)
Step three flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Most muffin recipes tell you to fill your muffin cups 2/3 or 3/4 full of batter, since the batter will expand as it cooks through. Following this rule of thumb yields compact, efficient muffins with a high ratio of soft sides to glossy tops. Therein lies the problem: No one likes muffin sides better than muffin tops. If you mound enough batter in your muffin cups to peek up above the surface of the pan, each of your muffins will emerge from the oven crowned with a tall hemisphere of that firm, toothsome exterior.
Yield: 12 muffins
Time: 45 to 50 minutes, partially unattended
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Grated zest of 1 large orange
1½ cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
1. Heat the oven to 375°F and grease a 12-cup muffin pan (or line it with baking cups). Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl; whisk to combine.
2. Beat the sugar and butter with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl) until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat to combine, then add the sour cream, orange juice, and orange zest and stir until well combined. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir just until combined. (The batter will be very thick.) Gently fold in the blueberries.
3. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of one of them comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.