View Full Version : Another muffin failure

10-31-2001, 07:43 AM
Can anybody help me? I cannot make a decent muffin. Period. It's not that I can't follow a recipe, I cook successfully almost every day. It's not that I can't bake, I'm pretty good at most general baking. So what am I doing wrong? My muffins consistently come out dense, tough, and flat. They bear absolutely no resemblance to the light, fluffy things you find in a bakery.

Last night I decided to try some banana muffins to use up some very ripe bananas before it was too late. I used the generic muffin recipe from the Better Homes Cookbook (the red checkered one), making the adaptations they suggest for banana muffins. I was careful to only mix the ingredients until wet, because it warned me not to overmix. I used a standard size muffin tin. It's a dark metal tin, so could that be part of the problem?

Please help me!! I welcome any muffin making advice, as well as any fool-proof muffin recipes you might have. I'm not going to give up until I get this right!!!


Laura B
10-31-2001, 07:48 AM
I am by no means a muffin expert. In fact, I have only made muffins from scratch once or twice. One thing did pop into my mind when I read your post, though. Forgive me if it doesn't apply or make sense. How do you measure your flour? If you do not already, try spooning into the measuring cup and then leveling with theback of a knife or long spatula (as opposed to dipping the measuring cup into the flour). That is all I can think of that could be making dense muffins. It sounds like you do everything right. Good luck!

Oh, one more thing. You mentioned that your tin is dark metal. I am not sure how that would translate into flat, dense muffins, but you may try lowering your baking temp by 25 degrees. With glass and dark metal pans, temperature should be lowered.

10-31-2001, 07:48 AM
Although what you describe sounds like overmixing, I wonder also if your leavenings have gone bad. Buy new baking powder and/or soda and give it another go.

10-31-2001, 07:49 AM

Check out this article on Better Baking http://www.betterbaking.com/baker2/tech2mufftop.html
It's called "Mastering The Muffin" and it gives lots of hints, tips and recipes.

I cut and past the Tips and Methods section below:

Mastering the muffin

'...why don't my muffins look and taste like mall muffins!'

Commercial muffins, with their large caps, often resemble small cakes. These impressive specimens are the result of intense product development. Some varieties depend on special leaveners and disproportionate amounts of fat and sugar. The pros also have the use of commercial ovens where heat can be precisely tuned to give baked goods a 'jump start'.

All-purpose flour is best for muffins. Choose a bromine-free, unbleached variety of all-purpose flour. While all-purpose flour has more protein (gluten) than cake and pastry flour, it does not promote a coarse texture in the finished product. You may, if you want a more tender muffin, substitute 20-25% cake and pastry flour.

Measure flour using a dry ingredient cup. Liquid ingredients should be measured in an liquid measure cup. Ideally, ingredients should be weighed. Stir the flour in its canister to aerate it. Stirring is a reasonable compromise between scooping hard-packed flour and sifting, then measuring. Differences in flour weight can leave your muffins too soft and moist or too high, dry and tough.

A larger cap is a matter of physics. A weak foundation (i.e. a soft batter) cannot soar to impressive heights and stay there. Best flavor, texture and looks came along when the oven is properly preheated at a high initial temperature and then lowered after baking begins. Fill the muffin cups to the brim and baked in the upper third of the oven.

All grains need some sort of pre-treatment. When dealing with bran, corn meal, oat bran, wheat germ, etc. allow these grains to absorb the maximum volume of moisture. The best approach is to let the batter rest overnight in the refrigerator. The reward is a thicker batter, better flavor dispersal and higher caps.

Muffins can be made with almost any liquid. Juices add flavor and tang, milk and other dairy products add sugar and fat which assist with browning and moistness. Many bakers are partial to buttermilk in baking. I love it for the flavor it imparts and its reaction with leaveners. Frequently, a recipe will instruct you to mix the baking soda with the buttermilk. I suggest you reserve the soda's leavening power and add it to the dry ingredients. Saco Buttermilk Powder should be added to dry ingredients. Water or juice (usually one cup) replaces the liquid and is added at the point where the recipe calls for buttermilk.

Baked goods which contain oil keep longer, but solid fats produce a lighter muffin since the batter takes in more air when the fat is creamed in. Butter adds flavor and encourages a muffin to brown well. Shortening is neutral in flavor, has a higher burning point and can account for a distinct lightness of crumb. The suggested recipes were tested with oil, shortening, butter and a combination of shortening and butter. The oil worked quite well for some muffins, whereas for others, a combination was more appropriate.

You must blend your fats properly with a wire whisk or a whip. Start by blending dry ingredients with a clean whisk in a separate bowl. Use the same whisk for wet ingredients. For oil-based muffins, use a solid, heavy-duty whisk. Thoroughly cream the sugar, eggs and oil with your solid fats. Occasionally, you may find that the blended sugar, fat and eggs look curdled. If this occurs, add a small portion of the recipe's flour to help bind things. This also will help the remainder of the dry ingredients incorporate more readily. As the batter becomes thick and sticky, switch to a large rubber spatula or a wide wooden spoon.

Work your eggs and fats at room temperature. Chilled ingredients do not incorporate as well and a cold batter has to work harder to rise in the oven. Scoop batter generously.

Allow baked muffins to rest for about 5 minutes before removing them from the pan. Cool on a wire rack. Muffins which are allowed to cool in a hot pan will "sweat" and leftovers will stale prematurely. Cooled muffins can be stored in a brown paper bag at room temperature or frozen for another occasion.

10-31-2001, 07:57 AM
My muffins usually aren't the greatest,either!

I did make a great batch recently, and I think the following tip had at least something to do with it (the tip comes from the King Arthur Flour Company, I believe). I preheated the oven to 475, then dropped the temp. to 350 after putting the muffins in the oven. They claim that this results in the attractive "craggy" peaks on muffin tops. And at least for this batch of muffins, it did! My muffins were taller than they'd ever been, and they looked great.

I do think, though, that overmixing and the other potential culprits mentioned above are the things to address first!

Good luck!

10-31-2001, 08:06 AM
Most homemade muffins are more dense than the ones you get at the grocery store or mall. I like them that way, though!:)
How full do you fill the muffin cups? If you fill them 2/3 like most recipes say, you don't really get a top above the cup. I actually fill my muffin cups all the way full or even higher if the batter is thick enough to allow that. I've given up on making totally fat free muffins, because IMO, they turn out rubbery and tough. You really only need a small amount of oil in a recipe to get a more tender muffin. Other than that, overmixing (which you don't do) and old leavening agents are the only things I can think of.

Good luck.
Chrisi (muffin baking maniac :D )

10-31-2001, 08:09 AM
Something else you might try is getting an oven thermometer to see if your oven is really heating to the temp you are setting it to.

But I agree with spooning your flour into your measuring cup and leveling with a knife, and replacing your leavenings. I have had good luck with using a whisk to stir the ingredients vs. a spoon.

Hang in there and just keep trying! I'm sure it's like pie crust, where you just have to keep practicing!

10-31-2001, 10:46 AM
The first thing I thought of was your baking powder...I'm not much of a baker, so a can of baking powder can last in my cupboard for several years before I need to buy more. Imagine my surprise when Alton Brown told me that I should be replacing my baking powder every three months! :eek: I buy the smallest container I can! I'm thinking about buying it in bags from Penzeys or The Spice House and vac-packing it in a mason jar with my FoodSaver to hopefully preserve it longer.

Other than that, I would say the flour measurement! I'm no muffin expert either! :confused:

10-31-2001, 11:27 AM
I don't live too far from you (about 60 miles southeast) and I always use a rounded measure of baking powder and/or soda. The humidity plays a real factor here so in addition to making sure your powder/soda is fresh try adding a bit more (and store the opened container of baking powder in the fridge (with the top on) to keep it fresher longer.

10-31-2001, 11:28 AM
Hey everybody,

Thanks for the quick and helpful replies! All of them were good tips. I'm pretty sure it's not the measuring of the flour. I'm good about following all those guideines (using dry measuring cups, spooning into the cup, and then leveling off with a knife). The baking powder is another story altogether. I'll bet the can has been in my pantry for at least a year, if not two. I'll buy a new (very small) can and give it another go.

Anyone have a good recipe they'd like to suggest?

Thanks again for all your help!


10-31-2001, 11:36 AM
Sometimes I add walnuts to these muffins.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Totally Decadent Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins

Recipe By :
Serving Size : 12 Preparation Time :0:00
Categories : Breads & Muffins

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
3 very ripe bananas -- mashed
3 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
2 eggs
1/3 cup wheat germ
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 ounces miniature chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray muffin tins with butter spray. Combine bananas, oil, applesauce, sugar, yogurt, and eggs; mix well. In a large bowl, combine wheat germ, flours, baking powder and baking soda. Add banana mixture; stir until just mixed together. Stir in chocolate chips. Bake 18 to 22 minutes.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

NOTES : For Double Chocolate-Banana Muffins: add 1/2 cup cocoa to dry ingredients.

Happy Baking!
Chrisi :p

10-31-2001, 11:40 AM
Here's another good one. This one does make a dense, moist muffin. I always use vacuum packed canned sweet potatoes.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sweet Potato-Apple Muffins

Recipe By :
Serving Size : 18 Preparation Time :0:00
Categories : Breads & Muffins

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 1/2 cups oat bran
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Granny Smith apple -- peeled and diced
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
4 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine oat bran, flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, eggs, oil, and yogurt. Add the sweet potato mixture to the flour mixture. Stir just until ingredients are moistened. Stir in the apple. Spoon batter into nonstick muffin cups and bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

10-31-2001, 12:43 PM
For a long time I had these kind of problems with my muffins. While they didn't come out exactly like "Chinese fighting muffins" (the only thing I recall from "Charlie's Angels") they were pretty close. However, I have mastered muffins thanks to the helpful tips from CL and this BB. Here's my accumulated wisdom:

1. Temperature. An oven termometer saved my life, as it turned out that my oven temperature is very much off. I have a dark muffin pan, so if a recipe specifies 400F, I heat up the oven until the oven thermometer indicates 400. Then I put the muffins in the oven and lower the heat slightly to set it to 375F. The reason for this gymnastics is that my oven loses a lot of heat when open and gains it back verrry sloooowly (60's oven). If your oven works then I suppose you can just set the heat to 375F for the very beginning if you have a dark pan. A low temperature will not allow your muffins to rise.

2. Mixing. CL said that a good guideline is to stir with a whisk 10 times. It works.

3. Baking powder. It helps to be fresh, but I found that it lasts a lot longer then the recommended 3 months. After a year my current baking powder is still good (although I store it in the fridge so that might make a difference). Let's just say that it wasn't the culprit for any of my muffin mishaps.

4. Flour. Spooning instead of scooping and leveling with a knife is enough. I used to be obsessive about that but I discovered that whisking the flour before spooning it is unnecessary. However, when I use unbleached flour, my batter comes out wetter and I have to add a bit extra (maybe the bakers here can enlighten me why).

5. Time. With a dark pan, I take my muffins out 4 minutes before the recommended time. If you leave them for the recommended time they'll get a bit burned on the bottom, but they won't fall or anything.

6. Liquid. This doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I find that the muffins made with buttermilk are the fluffiest.

My favourite recipe is Blueberry-Cranberry Orange Muffins, from (March ?) CL. The muffins are very light and fluffy, with a great flavour. One thing I found helpful is to add the melted butter at the end, just before I stir the wet ingredients, otherwise the cold buttermilk solidifies the butter. Now, I'm sure this is wildly obvious to everybody else here, but it wasn't to me. Just goes to show how clueless I was when I started baking...

I'm posting the recipe below. Good luck with your muffins! I still remember my sense of accomplishment the fist time I made a good batch :)

Blueberry-Cranberry Orange Muffins

We loved the mix of dried berries in this recipe, but feel free to use only one variety, if you prefer.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup dried blueberries
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups;
level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4
ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl;
buttermilk and next 6 ingredients (buttermilk
through egg) in a bowl; add to flour mixture. Stir
just until moist. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups
coated with cooking spray, and sprinkle evenly
with 1 tablespoon sugar.

3. Bake at 400 degrees for 18 minutes or until
lightly browned. Remove muffins from pans; cool
on a wire rack. Yield: 1 dozen (serving size: 1

CALORIES 197 (23% from fat); FAT 5.1g (sat 2.8g, mono 1.5g, poly 0.4g); PROTEIN 3.9g; CARB 34.5g; FIBER 0.8g; CHOL 29mg; IRON 1.2mg; SODIUM 221mg; CALC 75mg

10-31-2001, 03:20 PM
I've had similar problems. I'm a huge muffin lover though, and have done everything I could to fix it. All of the above tips are valid. My saviour was the measuring of the flour. I read somewhere that the least amount of flour that you can use will creat the lightest muffins. I have indeed found that to be true, I never did the spoon into the muffin cup "thing", but now I do and it seems and maybe even put in a small bit less than called for and it has made all the difference. Good luck!

10-31-2001, 07:41 PM
I had always been confused by the statement "mix just until combined." I didn't know how to tell if it was overmixed. I finally read a detailed description in "Joy of Cooking." However, the most interesting part was that it said there may still be a few small lumps of flour. That was the key for me since I was not used to seeing floury lumps in any baked good.