Muffin making was never more enjoyable

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 The natural sweetness of blueberries works well in baking. By GAIL CIAMPA PROVIDENCE JOURNAL Lives there a man or woman who doesn't love a good blueberry muffin? Today, a good muffin is harder to find than it should be. And when you do find one, well glory be, the calories are out of sight because many are made with loads of sugar, sour cream and other fatty ingredients. Of course, there are the low-fat and fat-free ones, but we all know to tread lightly there because most of them don't taste great. So I was naturally intrigued when the July issue of Cook's Country, the glossy magazine from the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine, arrived a few weeks ago. There was a recipe makeover for blueberry muffins promising 80 fewer calories than a traditional muffin (190 as opposed to 270), and less fat (4.5 grams versus 11) and the bad saturated fat (3 grams versus 7). Cook's Illustrated recipes are tested and retested in their famous test kitchen, so I felt confident in the flavor these muffins would have. I also loved the accompanying article, which detailed how they remade the recipe to lower calories. A tough job When I made the first batch, my husband refused to give up the leftovers for a photo. So I had to make another batch a week later, and double it so I could actually leave the house with the muffins. That's my testimony. The test kitchen's favorite muffin recipe calls for sour cream and butter. It dismissed all the usual substitutions of canola oil, applesauce, wheat germ and soy milk, finding they made for gummy or cardboardlike muffins. Instead, test cook Meredith Butcher was able to cut back on that fat by using nonfat buttermilk. This also made for a lighter muffin. The recipe still uses four tablespoons of butter, but anything less than that made dry and chewy muffins, she said. We hate that. She also replaced all the granulated sugar usually used in muffins with light brown sugar. Brown sugar contains more moisture, so she was able to lessen the amount by 1/4 cup with lots of caloric savings. Finally, she wanted something to distinguish the flavor. Adding lemon zest and lemon juice brightened the flavor, but not in an overpowering way. COOK'S COUNTRY LOW-FAT BLUEBERRY MUFFINS 1 cup blueberries 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 large eggs 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled 3/4 cup nonfat buttermilk 1 teaspoon grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Double wrap the blueberries in freezer bags and freeze overnight, as frozen ones won't all sink in the batter. Don't take them out until the batter is made and oven is preheated. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk eggs and brown sugar together in medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Gradually whisk in melted butter, then buttermilk, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla until well blended. Fold into dry mixture with rubber spatula (a few streaks of flour should remain). Remove blueberries from freezer and toss with remaining tablespoon flour in small bowl. Gently fold blueberries into batter, being careful not to break berries. Distribute batter in muffin tin and bake until light golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Nutrition information for each of 12 muffins: 190 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 3 g saturated fat. More blueberry finds Here are two recipes for making the most of blueberries. The recipes have much in common — both start with a same basic double-fruit filling: a simple toss of fresh blueberries and nectarines, sugar and cornstarch. Complementary flavors and colors make the blueberry-nectarine combo a summer winner. The difference is that one recipe gives you a special-occasion dessert, while the other is family-friendly and quicker to prepare. The more elegant of the two — Spiced Blueberry-Nectarine Tartlets — has unseen secrets that give the cook an edge. For one, the pastry is subtly spiked with just enough cardamom to make the flavor intriguing. Second, the trick of getting the lightest, flakiest crust comes from the double chilling: the pastry dough is chilled before rolling, and again before it goes into the oven. Another cooks' secret is that the fruit filling rests on a bed of cookie crumbs: These add flavor while they soak up extra juices as the filling bakes. The second dessert — Blueberry-Nectarine Compote with Crunchy Topping — is a kind of easygoing twin to the first recipe. This straightforward dessert is made on the stovetop. The filling ingredients are lightly cooked in a saucepan, then served with the quick nut-crunchy topping made in a skillet. SPICED BLUEBERRY-NECTARINE TARTLETS 21/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom 1/4 teaspoon salt 11/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut in 1-inch cubes 6 gingersnap cookies or 8 vanilla wafers, crushed (about 1/3 cup) 3 cups fresh blueberries 1 ripe nectarine, diced 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 egg yolk 1 tablespoon heavy cream In a food processor or large bowl, combine flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar, cardamom and salt. Add butter and pulse or blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons cold water over flour; process 3 to 4 seconds or mix lightly until dough starts to come together (if dough is dry, sprinkle with a few drops of water and pulse or mix a few more times until beginning to hold together). Wrap in plastic wrap and press to form a flat disk. Chill until cold, about 30 minutes. Divide chilled pastry dough into 6 equal pieces. On a lightly floured board, roll each piece in a circle about 6 inches in diameter and 1/8-inch thick. Transfer pastry circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon 1 tablespoon cookie crumbs into the center of each circle. In a large bowl, toss blueberries, nectarine, cornstarch and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar. Mound fruit evenly in each pastry circle on top of cookie crumbs, leaving a 1-inch border of pastry. Bring the 1-inch pastry border up and over filling. In a small bowl, stir together egg yolk and cream. Brush pastry lightly with egg mixture; if desired, sprinkle with sugar. Cover lightly and refrigerate 30 minutes. Position oven rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 425 degrees. Bake tartlets until fruit lightly bubbles and crusts are golden, 22 to 25 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired. Nutrition information for each of 6 servings: 552 calories, 73 grams carbohydrates, 26 g total fat (15 g saturated). Developed by pastry chef Cynthia DePersio, of Fascino, Montclair, N.J., courtesy U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council BLUEBERRY-NECTARINE COMPOTE WITH CRUNCHY TOPPING 3 cups fresh blueberries 1 ripe nectarine, diced 3 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 cup sliced almonds 1/4 cup honey 1 tablespoon butter 1/8 teaspoon salt 21/2 cups cornflakes, lightly crushed In a large saucepan, combine blueberries, nectarine, sugar and cornstarch; over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until fruit is tender and mixture is thickened, about 10 minutes; set aside. In a large nonstick skillet, combine almonds, honey, butter and salt. Over medium heat, cook and stir until almonds and honey turn golden amber, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cornflakes. Spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil. Allow to cool 10 minutes, then break into small chunks. Divide blueberry mixture into 6 serving bowls or dessert glasses; sprinkle each with crunchy topping. Nutrition information for each of 6 servings of about 2/3 cup: 300 calories, 45 grams carbohydrates, 12 g total fat (2 g saturated). Source: U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

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