How Many Berries Can You Stuff Into A Batch Of Muffins?

It’s like the Zen question–”What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

How many berries can you cram into a batch of muffins before they turn into either a gloppy mess or they fall apart entirely?

I ask these questions, not only because I they are interesting exercises in kitchen science, but because I really like very fruity muffins. This is not a new preference with me–I am the famed creator of “Purple Muffins” which everyone, even avowed muffin-haters (how can you hate a muffin–I mean really?) have liked. The creation of Purple Muffins was an accident–I had an overabundance of wild blackberries one day and put them into a batch of muffins along with some other berries I had bought at the Farmer’s Market and discovered as I stirred the fruit into the batter that wild blackberries are extremely fragile. They break apart at the slightest provocation and spread their inky-purple colored selves all through whatever they are being stirred into.

Which, in this case was muffin batter. And thus, the batter was tinted a vivid hue of reddish violet, a color which surprisingly stayed brilliant all through the baking process. It was a little weird biting into bright purple baked goods, but they really tasted divine, so I guessed it was all fine.

Of course, all of my friends living in Athens thought purple muffins were the coolest thing ever, because not only were they psychedelically colored, they tasted great. So, for every pot luck and summer party, I was begged to make purple muffins. I even baked them for the psychic fairs we held at our book store (yes, Zak and I used to host psychic fairs–we both read Tarot cards, too) and they were always a hit with the metaphysically inclined folk who patronized our shop. (Purple, being the color of aura that indicated a spiritual nature, according to folks who are into such things, is a very popular color among the crystalline company we used to keep, so naturally, anything purple, even muffins, is bound to be if not advanced spiritually, then at least cool and interesting.)

So, I bought a bunch of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries again this weekend at the market and Zak saw them and said, pleadingly, “Make Purple Muffins, please?”

I cannot refuse him when he tips his head like that and gives me the puppy-dog eyes.

So. that is what I set out to do.

But I didn’t want to make either the original Purple Muffin recipe, as I didn’t really want to go digging around for the recipe.

You see, the original recipe is only recorded in one of my journals of those long-ago Athens years when we read Tarot cards and were asked odd questions at the grocery store when we shopped there after midnight such as, “Can you get me any of the works of Paracelsus?” This query from the checkout clerk was answered by. Zak who unblinkingly replied, “Would you be wanting the two volume Waite translation of his hermetic and alchemical writings or the Turner translation of The Archidoxes of Magic?” I mentioned that I wasn’t certain that either of them were still in print, but that we would do what we could to find them. These sorts of conversations only seem to happen in Athens, very often late at night at Krogers. I am sure there is some sort of metaphysical meaning to this. Perhaps the Athens Krogers is located on a ley line or some such.

(I wonder if Paracelsus, alchemist that he was, ever experimented to see how much fruit could be put into muffins without turning them into inedible goo? I somehow doubt it, but it is fun to think about it.)

But, I digress.

Nor did I want to do the ersatz Purple Muffin recipe, which I posted here about four years ago under the title Summer Berry Muffins. There is nothing wrong with that recipe–it is just that they don’t tend to turn out very purple.

So, I decided to experiment.

I wanted to see how many fresh berries I could stir into muffin batter before the mixture refused to bake into anything resembling a muffin. I wanted muffins that were more fruit than muffin, with the batter basically just there to hold the berries together. Why?

Because I felt like it, and because it is a fun exercise. And, because there was a high chance for failure, it being a baking recipe that I was going to muck around with in a rather extreme way. Fruit is juicy, and that can radically change the balance of liquid to solid in a baked good and can thus turn something good into something that will not bake up properly at all.

And, I decided to get Kat in on the action, because if I was going to make a mess of myself and my kitchen, I might as well get the kid all sloppy, too. And in truth, we all ended up in the kitchen, with Zak even taking a turn stirring the berries into the batter roughly in order to get as much purple juice as possible to stain the dough.

It turns out that you can get quite a lot of fruit into a muffin while still having it stick together and bake up into muffins. You have to be careful not to cover them tightly after they are cool, because sugar is hygroscopic, meaning that it will cause baked goods to readily take in moisture from the atmosphere and retain it. (This is part of what sugar does in baked goods besides make them sweet–it also acts as a means to keep them from drying out.) When you have sugar from the batter, as well as the added sugar and native juice from the fruit, if you tightly wrap or cover your baked item, it will get soggy.

I have found that you can keep these Purple Muffins, Version 2.1 unwrapped and on your counter for at least two days with impunity. You might be able to keep them longer, but I wouldn’t know about that, because they didn’t last two days at my house before being consumed with great glee and gusto by Kat, Zak, Brittney, Dan and myself.

One more thing–in the interest of making these muffins a little bit healthier, I did a couple of things. First, instead of sour cream, I used 2% Greek yogurt. It worked fine. I also substituted most of the all-purpose flour with King Arthur’s white whole wheat flour. This also worked fine–there is no discernible difference between muffins made completely with all-purpose flour and those blended with white whole wheat.

I guess that once you have all of that fruit in there, it doesn’t matter if you use healthier flour–it still all tastes good. Well, that and white whole wheat flour has a very mild flavor.

Of course, I ruined the healthier profile of some of the muffins by adding a layer of streusel topping–that delectable mixture of butter, sugar and flour that makes crispy, crumbly, buttery crumbs on the top of baked goods. I did this at the behest of Kat who loves “crumbs” as she calls it. Next time, I will substitute some rolled oats for some of the flour so I won’t feel so bad about adding more sugar and butter to the muffins than is absolutely necessary.

Purple Muffins. Version 2.1
Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup raw or white sugar (raw tastes better)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon zest
1 large egg
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 cup (use a fluid measuring cup) Greek yogurt
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups fresh mixed berries, picked over, rinsed and dried (I used blueberries, quartered strawberries, raspberries and blackberries)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon rolled oats (or you can use 2 tablespoons of the flour and leave out the oats)
2 tablespoons cold butter

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, spices, and lemon zest in a large bowl.

In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk egg until thick and uniformly yellow. Whisk in butter, and continue beating until completely combined.

Add yogurt, milk, and vanilla to the smaller bowl and whisk into the egg and butter mixture until everything is happily combined.

Dump wet ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl and mix well. Add your berries and mix very well, hopefully crushing some of the berries enough that they stain your batter purple. If they don’t, you can’t rightly call the resulting muffins Purple Muffins, now can you? So beat those suckers in there and make that dough Technicolor. You know you want to.

With your hands, combine the remaining four ingredients by kneading it all together until it becomes a clumpy, crumbly mixture.

Either spray your muffin tins with baking spray or line with paper muffin cups. Or use silicone muffin cups on a baking sheet like I do. Using a large ice cream scoop (the kind with the ratchety thing that scrapes the scoop out of of the scooper), or a spoon, portion out the dough, which will be thick and heavy, into the muffin cups. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, run out and get one for this recipe–this is the best and easiest way to portion out muffin dough without making a godawful mess.

Sprinkle the tops with a bit of the streusel stuff, then pop your muffins in the oven.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, then turn the pans back to front in order to get them to brown evenly. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, for total of 20-30 minutes. (If you have a convection oven as I do, the baking time will be closer to 20 minutes. For a regular oven, it will be more like 25-30 minutes.)

Remove from oven and cool for a couple of minutes in the pan, then remove from the pan and allow to cool on a rack. These are good warm, but even better after they cool completely–then, they are irresistible, as the flavors have really melded together and the berries are no longer molten nuggets of hot death for your tongue.

Makes 12-14 muffins, depending on how large your muffins are. (If you have little loaf pans like I do and only 12 muffin cups, you can put the leftover dough into a loaf pan and make a wee Purple Berry Bread, but remember–that bread will take longer to bake than the muffins. The mini loaf I baked took about thirty-five to forty minutes total to bake.

4 Comments

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  1. Here’s a tip I learned at culinary school: Use frozen fruit (don’t rinse or anything). That way, your berries won’t bleed and you won’t have lavender blueberry muffins!

    (If you want to use fresh berries, and who wouldn’t these days, then just freeze your fresh berries first).

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers!

    Comment by CookingSchoolConfidential.com — August 20, 2009 #

  2. Uh, I don’t think you got it–the point of the muffins is that they are -purple-.

    And yeah, I know about using frozen unthawed berries. I do that if I care about the bleed–which I generally do not, but in the case of this particular recipe–I want them to be purple, so I go out of my way to make the berries bleed.

    Comment by Barbara — August 20, 2009 #

  3. SRSLY what’s with muffin-hating? Here’s a brief animated musical film on the subject:
    http://muffinfilms.com/finale.html.
    The whole series: http://www.muffinfilms.com/

    P.S. Hi Barbara, Zak, and family, this is Amber, Erika’s friend (and Amy L’s, too) from Maryland. (Borders’ Books/Silver Diner days).

    Comment by Amber — August 21, 2009 #

  4. Love the 2.1 versioning! If only berries are not so costly here in Malaysia

    Comment by rokh — September 8, 2009 #

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