The other day I saw an ad in the subway urging New Yorkers to consume fewer calories. It’s part of a campaign to remind (maybe inform is more appropriate) people of the recommended daily caloric intake of 2000, and to feature food that has more calories than one would expect. The ad showed an innocuous muffin with a banner noting that it contains a whopping 470 calories.
The term muffin was first seen in English in 1703. It comes either from the Low German muffen for small cake or the Old French moufflet for soft. Early versions were limited to a single type of grain (such as corn, oat or bran) with the addition of simple additives such as raisins, nuts or apples. These muffins had a short shelf-life, and were thus not commonly sold in bakeries.
With the decline of home baking, growing coffee consumption and the health food movement, muffins began to be sold commercially in the mid twentieth century. This required an increase in sugar, fat and preservatives which put them into dangerous territory of being mistaken for cupcakes (without frosting).
At some point the shape of the commercial muffin changed from a small domed top to the mushroom top. This instigated the muffin top craze where retailers produced disproportionately large muffin tops; some produced muffin tops without bodies. The tops were valued for their crispy texture in contrast to the cakey texture of the muffin body.
I was part of the muffin top generation. As a child, I thought muffins were a healthy breakfast alternative to donuts. I used to love the chocolate chip version at the now-defunct Canadian chain mmmarvelous mmmuffins. The other meaning of muffin top can be found here.
This healthy recipe comes from my friend Mira’s father. I first encountered these muffins in Oxford, and got to sample more of Philip’s excellent cooking a couple of years later on a trip to Iowa City. The adapted version contains peaches and blueberries which can be substituted with other fruit in. Philip’s original recipe had 1 cup apple, 1/2 cup carrot and 1/2 cup zucchini. These are perfect breakfast muffins – ideal during the holidays when you have a full house.
Makes a dozen regular sized muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup oat bran
1/3 cup wheat germ
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup ripe peach (about 1 peach)
1 cup blueberries
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
coarse sugar and/or slivered almonds, for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Place foil liners in muffin pan or grease and flour each muffin cup.
2. Mix all but the last four ingredients together in a big bowl.
3. In a small bowl mix milk, egg and oil. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture.
4. Spoon batter into muffin liners. Fill to 1/4 inch from the top of the liner. Sprinkle with coarse sugar or slivered almonds.
5. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Do not overbake.
6. Cool in muffin pan for 5 minutes. These muffins are best eaten warm and served with jam, honey and/or butter.