How to Make Great Muffins

Everyone's heard the old song, "Do You Know the Muffin Man?" But once upon a time, a muffin wasn't the big cake-type creations Americans love so much. Instead, muffins were flat, round, and made with yeast, more like what we buy as "English muffins" today.

Non-bakers are sometimes a little intimidated at the thought of making muffins at home, but they're actually an easy baking project. Here are a few hints.

Don't use reduced-fat products, whipped or tub butter or margarine, or soft liquid butter or margarine. For best results, use butter, shortening, or stick margarine with at least 80% oil.

Measure all the ingredients accurately.Baking is more of a science than an art.

Arrange the oven rack so that the muffins bake in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Fill the muffin cups two-thirds to three-fourths full.If there is not enough batter for all of the cups in the pan, fill the empty ones with water.This will help the muffins bake more evenly and keep the pan from scorching.

Unless the instructions specify otherwise, muffins should go in the oven as soon as the batter is mixed.

Check for doneness about 5 minutes before the end of the recommended baking time.Muffins are tested like cakes - insert a toothpick near the center.If it comes out clean, the muffins are done.Be sure that if the muffin has a filling, that the toothpick is inserted in the muffin, not the filling.

Unless the recipe directs otherwise, cool the muffins in the pan for about 5 minutes before serving.

More Helpful Tips:

Do not overmix the batter.Overmixing can cause muffins to be tough, or to have empty tunnels. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until blended.

To get a jump-start on muffins, the dry ingredients can be combined ahead of time in a resealable plastic bag.When it's time to bake, pour the dry mix into a bowl and add the wet ingredients.

Almost any muffin recipe also will work as a coffee cake (it works in reverse as well!).Pour the muffin batter into a 9-inch-square baking dish, and increase baking time 10-15 minutes.

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