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Monday, April 27, 2020

Mulberry Lemon Muffin Loaf

So easy!
I love this recipe because it's consistent and easy to pull together with any soft fruit you have lying around, and you can easily modify to fit your tastes!

Mulberry Lemon Muffin Loaf
adapted from On Baking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz tapioca flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 5 oz granulated sugar
  • 2 oz vegan butter, coconut oil, or lard (solid fat only please)
  • Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 8 fl oz (1 cup) oat milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • Last year's mulberries from the freezer 
    • Or whatever small round fruit you have that's frozen; 5 oz of blueberries will do


Prepare a loaf tin by buttering and flouring or lining with parchment paper. I am the proud owner of a sort of funny "ridged" loaf tin that I had acquired from a garage sale before the Plague hit us all, so I decided to use that for this endeavor. If you are like me and collect random tins from thrift stores and garage sales, fooling yourself by saying "Oh, I'll use this for X Y Z applications", I should like for you to take this opportunity to prepare that special tin for this endeavor. After all, when else have you ever used that thing? If you do have your heart set on muffins, however, this yields a dozen large muffins, that should be filled in paper cups lining your standard muffin tin.  

Combine both flours in a medium bowl with the baking powder, granulated sugar, and salt. Chop the butter into cubes and dump it into the flour. Using your fingertips, pretend you're making a pie and rub the butter into the flour. I like to do this until the butter is quite small, almost like little rice granules are hiding in the flour mixture. I then add the lemon zest and do the same thing. I like to do this because I think it helps release the essential oils of the lemon into the flour, which will permeate the entire batter. 

Wash your hands now, starting by wetting with hot water and lathering separately with soap. Scrub between the fingers, under the fingernails, and then the top of your hands, all the way up to your wrists. Look out the window over the yard, or parking lot, and have a quick daydream about lounging around your living room in a long gown, telling everyone who'll listen that you used to be beautiful once. Rinse your hands thoroughly and pat dry. 

Combine the oat milk and eggs in a large measuring cup using a pair of chopsticks or a fork. Stir in the vanilla paste and lemon juice and mix until everything is mixed well. Make a deep well in the middle of your dry ingredients and add your liquid ingredients. Make sure you scrape the edges of the measuring cup with that spatula!

Next, stir gently three times clockwise, then three times counter-clockwise. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl all the way around, and then repeat that same method of stirring. You should have a loose and lumpy batter that everything has come together for, without dry spots. Take this now and add in the frozen mulberries, as many as you want, and fold in gently. I only had a cup and a half left, so that's what I used. 

It's not gonna look cute at this stage.
Pour your muffin batter into your prepared molds of choice and then let sit on the counter, undisturbed, and covered with a loose and clean tea towel. You're now going to want to preheat your oven to 350 degrees and let the muffin batter rest until the oven gets hot. While we're waiting, let's learn a thing or two about different mixing methods for any quick bread recipe you may find.

As mentioned before, this recipe is adapted from a textbook I bought in culinary school. My own copy of the textbook is now a tattered mess, but it's gotten me through the baking portion of culinary school and talks about mixing methods. In this recipe, it says right up top that this is the muffin method, and I will tell you now that yielding entirely to the muffin method will yield tasty results. 

The muffin method is simply sifting all dry ingredients together (flours, baking powder, salt, sugar) in a large bowl and then separately mixing the fats (which are usually either melted butter or oil) with the milk, extracts, eggs, etc. in another separate bowl and then dumping the liquid into the dry. Simply mix until just barely combined, fold in the soft fruits and whatnot, and bake. Why have I changed the method for this application?

In short, I like to do a combination of muffin and scone method for this loaf, because I think this makes this particular recipe just that much more versatile, and you can bake in big loaves as well as small cups. Muffins wrapped in paper cups are a joyful staple in the breakfast world, but few things are more satisfying to me than slicing into a big cake-like loaf and enjoying that slice with coffee in the morning. It only feels like I'm having cake for breakfast, which is enough to get me through my day.

The scone method might also be called the biscuit method if you live in the United States, where we love our buttermilk biscuits. To the rest of the world, however, our biscuits are versions of scones, and the method we use to make them is a classic method for making good quick bread. Simply take all of your flours, leavening agents, etc., and sift them all into a big bowl. You can cut in the fat with biscuit cutters, knives, or your own fingers until the butter is quite piece-y and pea-sized. Mix in your liquids, roll out onto a floured surface and cut into shapes before either freezing or baking. This method is done this way instead of the muffin way because this method desires one thing above muffins:

Layers.

You get a "layer" in a baked good by having a solid, chilled fat sort of hanging out in pockets, between little blankets of dough. You'll want this chilled and solid because when this cold item hits a very hot oven, it'll melt quickly and the water in this butter will boil and therefore create steam. The steam shoots upwards and forces the flour to rise up, too. As the oven continues to cook, the heat solidifies the structure that the butter has made the flour create, and you get layers as a result when they come out. 

Since we've been reading this, you might want to check your oven and see if it's hot enough. If it has reached its desired temperature, pop your muffin loaf in on the middle rack and bake the loaf for 45 minutes at 350, rotating once halfway through to ensure even cooking, or until it's golden-brown and delicious. While you're waiting, would you like to hear why the heck I want to put the "layers" principle in my muffin loaf in this way? 

When you're baking a larger mass like this and you want the muffin texture to remain, I think it's important to give your leavening a little bit of extra help. Cool-ish, tiny pockets of fat will result in larger bubbles in this loaf, but I personally like that because I like to slice the loaf and sometimes toast it under the broiler. These tiny extra 'pockets' of air where the fat once was are quite pleasant for an extra smear of butter, jam, or cream cheese. It's also nice because when you bake in a long loaf, you get that glorious crack all down the top, and that crack is the extra texture that I simply adore. Better and better still, I personally have found that baking them this way helps them last a day or two longer than the kind of muffins I bake with the butter being in a more liquid state. I have a lot of theories as to why, but I also am a person that says "who am I to argue with consistent results?"

Some might also be wondering why I let my muffin batter rest instead of just baking it. I like to let my muffin batter rest for two reasons, the first of which being gluten. Gluten is a great thing for baking, but too much of it will result in a bread-like texture for your muffin, which is not exactly what I want for this. Think of gluten as a net, trapping the air and fat and all the other goodies into a solid mass after baking, but we don't want too much because gluten results in chewiness instead of the cake-adjacent texture that someone would generally shoot for in a muffin. For all of these reasons, the muffin batter resting means the gluten will relax, and the acid in the lemon juice will have some time to snip away any excess gluten we might have lying around wanting to thwart our muffin's efforts at perfection. 

The second reason I like to do this is because of moisture. If one were to let the muffin batter go straight into the oven without a rest period, they would still get a muffin, but I don't think that the end result is as nice as letting it rest for at least twenty minutes in a cool space before baking. This is not an absolutely necessary step, but I do think that anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

After your 45 minutes has passed, peek into the oven to see how your loaf is looking. This all should look like you have a shiny, golden-brown top with a little crack running down the middle and the surface should spring back when touched. If these parameters are met, feel free to evacuate your loaf from the oven and allow to cool for at least ten minutes, in the tin, before removing to a cooling rack. If they are not met, then you likely only need another 5-10 minutes in the oven.

Dust with powdered sugar and serve with coffee! 
This muffin loaf can easily be modified with any soft fruit you may have in the freezer and is designed to let you bake something quick and simple without dirtying up too many bowls. I love this muffin loaf recipe because it's versatile, consistent, and - above all else - easy to whip up in an instant. I think that the humble quick bread should be a part of every good cook's repertoire and I call on you, dear reader, to take up your wooden spoon and claim this skill for your own. When the Plague has left this land, we will be armed well with basic baking skills, and hopefully, the confidence to make our own continental breakfasts at home. It is my sincerest of hopes that once we all are safe enough to leave our homes, we'll have a renewed sense of ability and confidence in the kitchen.

Good luck, everyone! I hope you're all staying safe, staying hydrated, and staying a safe distance apart from everyone else. Don't forget to wash your hands often and wear a face mask every time you go outside of your own home.  

Happy cooking and happy eating!

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