Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Dear Tricia, What's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? I tried to make muffins and the recipe stunk. The muffins had too many blueberries and it kinda sunk into the muffin pan.

I know... muffins and cupcakes go in the same little paper cups that go in the same little muffin pans and they look so alike too. Baking can be hard and those little guys are probably reveling in the fact that they're making it harder. Jerks.
But there's three major differences between the two and I'm happy to share those with you.

1. Cupcakes have more sugar in them- usually double the amount. They also have more fat (oil or butter... it depends on the recipe), though not always double.

2. The way you mix them in the recipe is usually different too. Muffins are pretty simple: you mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc. The stuff that's not wet. Duh.) in one bowl and the wet ingredients (eggs, oil, water, etc. The stuff that's not dry. Unless you've had one too many bong hits, this should also be common sense, but no judgment.) in another bowl. Then you stir them up together just until they're mixed. It's really simple and fast, actually. That's why they're awesome for breakfast- you can have them mixed in the time it takes to brew a pot of coffee.
Cupcakes have a more complicated mixing method that is used in most cake recipes too. First, you have to cream the butter and the sugar together, then you slowly add the eggs, then you add the dry ingredients. It takes an electric mixer, and its more time consuming. In fact, I've wrote two separate blogs on how to master this method. (Why Butter and Eggs are the Slash and Axl of Baking is my favorite one.) Not all cupcakes use this method... but unless they come out of a box, a lot of them will.

3. Cupcakes usually have frosting. And while I'm totally supportive of eating one at every meal, you won't usually see them at the breakfast table.

The thing about putting heavy stuff in a batter is that its easy for it to sink to the bottom, especially if there's a lot of it, like in your recipe. Some recipes just aren't good recipes. And unfortunately, except for yours truly, there's no bad recipe police squad. But when it comes to adding extras, like chocolate chips in cookies, or nuts in banana bread, or berries in muffins... you can always change that to what you like. That's not the case for super important measurements for baking soda and salt and things like that, but for the rest of it... feel free to make your own rules.
Next time when you add the blueberries to your muffins, toss them in flour before you stir them in. This should help keep them afloat in the batter while your muffins are baking. (The protein in the flour helps make a little safety net around the blueberry that keeps it from sinking.)
If you ever have crappy muffins that have sunk, like yours did, you don't have to throw them away. Break them up in little pieces and eat them on top of yogurt and fruit. Serve it for brunch, calling it a "yogurt and muffin parfait" and you'll be so gourmet. Oooh la la...

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