Thursday, August 30, 2007

When good muffins go wrong...

Please, kids...don't try this at home.

I am a huge fan of Alton Brown, so I have in my possession two of his books: I'm Just Here for the Food and its sequel I'm Just Here for More Food. So I was bored last night and started thumbing through I'm Just Here for More Food; I came across a recipe for Orange Cranberry Muffins that I wanted to try. It looked interesting enough, and I've never made this particular flavor of muffin before so I thought I would give it a shot and bought the ingredients this morning. I put it all together this afternoon (which took forever by the way), meticulously following his instructions in order to get the proper result. Baking is, after all, a science. I'm a scientist. I can do this.

I've seen on some other blogs that some bakers prefer to use "nut & candy cups" instead of standard paper cupcake liners. They're cuter, and the look is different. Different is good. As a plus, you don't need a muffin tin to bake them in because they stand up all by themselves. How could I resist? They work for cupcakes, so they should work for muffins too, right? I mean, isn't a muffin just a cupcake cousin? Then I thought to myself, "well muffins usually have some sort of 'cap' on them... a muffin top, if you will. You NEED a pan to support the cap while it's baking, lest it overflow." I ignored this conversation with myself, eager to try out my new cups. (Mistake #1)

You're not supposed to just swap out ingredients when baking, because it all too often results in disaster. We all know this. I know this. But I'll be okay with just one change, right? Well anyway, the substitution I made was to swap out the unsalted butter for some Blue Bonnet margarine I had in my fridge (Mistake #2). I was trying to save money by not buying any unsalted butter, which to my shock I did not have already stocked since I almost always do have it. Besides, the margarine box proudly claims: "Bakes like butter for less than half the price!" Oh really? Let's just find out, shall we? So does Blue Bonnet margarine live up to its claim? Not in my opinion. The finished result was overly salty, even though I significantly reduced the amount of salt used in the recipe.

But that wasn't the least of my woes. Alton Brown's recipe clearly states that it makes 12 muffins, and that the cups should be filled "to the top." Now I am a very trusting person, but even I was skeptical at this statement. Thinking I was very clever, I decided to make a baker's dozen (that's 13, in case you were wondering) instead of a neat dozen to compensate for not having a muffin tin to support the muffin top. "Ha HA!" I thought to myself, "with that extra cup in there, the batter won't overflow. No cap will form and I'll have the cutest little domes on my muffins." Then I looked at the cups again. And again. "Should I put down 5 more cups and make 18 muffins? Nah, they'd be too small. What about 15 muffins? No, you're fiiine... 13 is better than 12. Alton Brown won't steer you wrong." Ignoring my better judgement, I put the pan in the oven and hoped they wouldn't overflow. (Mistake #3) Boy was I wrong. Luckily I had a baking sheet under them to catch the overflow.

Were these any good? No. Edible, yes, but I would be too ashamed to let anyone I know eat these. I DO have a reputation to maintain, after all. ^_^

Moral of the story (actually there are two):
(1) Don't ignore your baker's instinct.
(2) Don't be cheap when you KNOW that butter is better.

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