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How-To

A Muffin That Tastes Like a Doughnut

Enjoy authentic doughnut flavor in an easy to make muffin; best of all, there's no frying

Fine Cooking Issue 42
Photos: Steve Hunter
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I love doughnuts, but oh, the work involved in making them: the (sometimes yeasted) batter, the rolling, the shaping, and then, finally, the frying. It makes me think of that old Dunkin’ Donuts ad with the guy who, stumbling around in the wee hours of the morning, keeps chanting: “Time to make the doughnuts; time to make the doughnuts.”

Well, it is time to make doughnuts—doughnut muffins, that is. Aside from being much, much easier to make, these doughnut muffins, which we sell out of every morning at the Downtown Bakery, are simply delicious. A creamed batter yields a light, cakey interior, while a dip in melted butter mimics the satisfying “friedness” of a doughnut. A generous coating of cinnamon and sugar is the final irresistible touch.

Cream carefully for best results

In most muffin batters, the butter is melted and combined with the wet ingredients, not unlike pancake batter. The texture of my doughnut muffin is more cakelike than muffinlike (a doughnut-muffin-cake anyone?), and so I begin by creaming the butter with the sugar.

Creaming is a crucial step that too often gets short shrift. It incorporates air into the batter, which is especially important for mixtures such as this one that are too heavy to rely solely on chemical leavens, such as baking powder and baking soda. The sugar cuts into the butter, creating tiny air bubbles that get further expanded during baking by the baking powder and the heat of the oven. Proper creaming, therefore, gives you a nice, light crumb.

Start with your butter at room temperature. Here’s where a lot of people go wrong with creaming. Butter that’s too cold won’t blend with the sugar, and butter that’s too warm won’t hold the pockets of air. Butter that’s the proper temperature is somewhat firm but soft enough to easily poke a finger into.

For best results, use the paddle attachment on a stand mixer and beat on medium, starting with the butter and then adding the sugar in a steady stream.

Cream for longer than you think. The most common mistake is to cream too little; continue beating the butter until the mixture increases in volume, lightens to pale yellow, and the sugar granules no longer look obvious; this may take as long as five minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice during creaming.

Stop before the butter looks curdled. Although undercreaming is more common, beating the sugar and butter too long will result in a mixture that’s grainy and looks somewhat curdled. You can still use it, but the results won’t be as light.

Cream with care. Look for a lighter color, an increase in volume, and less obvious sugar granules.

Alternate the wet and dry ingredients

The golden rule of muffin making—don’t overmix—definitely applies to this hybrid. Overmixing creates gluten, which will toughen the muffin: an unfortunate rhyme but true nonetheless. It also encourages the dissipation of the gases produced by the baking powder; this early dissipation can result in flat muffins.

I mentally divide the dry ingredients into four additions and the wet into three. These small amounts, added gradually and evenly, prevent overmixing.

Alternate the dry and wet. Adding the wet and dry ingredients alternately helps keep muffins tender.

Dip and roll for doughnut flavor

While the muffins bake, melt the butter for dipping. If you like to keep things neat, you can dip just the tops of the muffins into the butter and then the cinnamon sugar; that way you can use the bottom as a handle and keep your fingers from touching the butter or sugar. But I like to brush the melted butter over the entire muffin and then roll it in the cinnamon sugar. After all, we’re trying to dress up a muffin to seem like a doughnut, and it’s much more convincing if the entire muffin wears the disguise.

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