A bakery hack for sky-high muffins

Repeat after us: No more flat muffins. No more!

Published September 12, 2021 6:59PM (EDT)

Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Fodo stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Julia Gartland / Food52)
Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Fodo stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Julia Gartland / Food52)

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There's an infinite number of ways to achieve a perfectly perky muffin, from not overmixing batter to using jumbo molds or fancy industrial ovens. But as a former professional baker, I'm here to share one more trick that helps muffins rise to the occasion. And it all has to do with how you fill — scratch that — how you don't fill the muffin tin.

I learned this clever practice when I worked at Levain Bakery in New York City. Instead of filling every cavity, like most recipes tell you to, use every other cavity. At the bakery, we'd generously spray the pans with Pam, add fat plops of batter, and be rewarded with super-domed muffins. Kind of like an Alice in Wonderland toadstool, only made of tender cake and studded with jammy blueberries.

Though I never got access to Levain's top-secret cookie recipe, learning this muffin trick was the next best thing. It's missing from most cookbooks I've read — have you seen this anywhere before? Let me know in the comments — but with enough digging, I found a couple mentions from sources who take their muffins very seriously.

"Alternate the filled muffin openings with the empty ones as much as possible to allow space for the tops of the muffins to spread," writes cookbook author and pastry chef Elinor Klivans in her big-top corn muffins recipe featured in "Fearless Baking: Over 100 Recipes That Anyone Can Make."

In "Good to the Grain," Kim Boyce details using the skip-a-space strategy at Campanile in Los Angeles under the helm of esteemed chef and baker Nancy Silverton. "We'd alternate the cups, filling every second cup and leaving the others empty. This meant that there was enough room for the muffins to have rounded tops and crusty edges without crowding into each other." Boyce goes on to explain that due to better air circulation, all the muffins baked evenly.

* * *

A few more helpful tips for reaching new muffin heights 

Rest the batter

In her recipe for Levain Bakery Blueberry Muffins, Michelle Lopez lets the batter sit at room temperature for 1 hour. At the bakery, we'd chill it overnight. Either way, "the starch molecules [in the flour] are absorbing the moisture, so the batter becomes more thick and viscous. You'll notice after you rest and scoop, it holds its shape much better," Lopez explained when I reached out about the mechanics of Levain's muffins and her reverse-engineered version. What's more? Resting allows for two more reactions in the batter: The gluten relaxes and the leavening agents stretch their rising abilities. The result is a mountainous exterior with a sleeping-on-a-cloud interior.

Use a big scoop

Forget what you've been told about filling each muffin hole two-thirds of the way. Instead, imagine the most perfectly round scoop of ice cream perched atop a wafer cone. The bakery tool to achieve that is a 4-ounce disher scoop, like this one. The batter should mound slightly above the lip — if your intuition tells you the cavity is overfilled, don't listen!

Start the oven on high

Bake your muffins at 400°F for the first 5 minutes, then drop the temperature to the more standard 350°F for the remainder of the bake time. This method sparks the leavening agents (especially baking powder) in the batter to react quicker, creating that gorgeously risen top.

Granted, by using these pro tips, you will produce a smaller yield than what a recipe states (instead of a dozen, you'll probably get nine.) But riddle me this: Would you rather have 12 meh muffins or nine stud muffins?

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By Justine Lee

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