May 22, 2011

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin Taste Test

I like a lot of different types of muffins, but lemon poppy seed is among my favorites.  I can get a really good lemon poppy seed muffin at Smokey Row Coffee House on Cottage Grove in Des Moines, which is pretty close to my office, but for awhile now I've been thinking about making some of my own.  The problem was, I had a couple different recipes that looked quite good, but I didn't know which one to try.  Finally it occurred to me to try both, and see whether they were equally good, or whether one was a lot better than the others.

The first recipe I tested was one for Lemon Poppy Seed Buttermilk Muffins from My Gourmet Connection.  I've had mixed results with My Gourmet Connection recipes.  The site features a really diverse bunch of recipes, but I've found the occasional dud, and more often than not I've found myself using the recipes there as a point of reference for my own creations, rather than making them as written at the site.   That said, I'd recently made a different muffin recipe printed there, and that one had turned out great, so I wanted to give their lemon poppy seed recipe a try.  I figured the buttermilk would provide some extra tang that would go with the lemon juice and zest.  

The second recipe I tested was the Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins recipe form Annie's Eats.  I've not made very many of the recipes featured there, but the ones I've made have turned out well, and there are several recipes from that site on my "need to make this one of these days" list. 

I made one batch of twelve muffins from each recipe, following the recipes as written.  The only way in which I deviated from the published recipes was that I did not use paper liners to line the muffin pan as suggested in the recipe from Annie's Eats.  Juli and I then tried both muffins to see if one was better than the other.

It wasn't even close.

The first muffins I made, the ones using the recipe from My Gourmet Connection, were not very good at all.  They turned out dry and dense and weren't very flavorful.   The lemon flavor was quite muted, even with the use of lemon extract.  Indeed, the most notable aspect of the flavor of these muffins was that they left an unpleasant, slightly bitter aftertaste. 

After trying one bite, Juli said "I've made ones from a mix that are better than this."   For my part, I'd have to say these were among the worst examples of a lemon poppy seed muffin I've ever tried.

In contrast, the muffins I made using the recipe from Annie's Eats were just plain delicious.   They were light and moist and flavorful and full of lemony goodness.  Even better, they were topped by a glaze made of powdered sugar and lemon juice.  These were better than the other batch of muffins in every single way.  The picture below shows clearly how much more these muffins puffed up in the tin than did the other ones, even though both were made with approximately equal amounts of batter.

I'll definitely be making these ones again, and the only change I foresee making from the recipe as published on the blog is that I'll probably add a couple drops of yellow food coloring to the batter, in order to give the muffins a bit more color.

Making these two batches of muffins reminded me of how much I rely on a couple different tools.  Specifically, the Microplane Rasp Grater and our old Oster juicer.   I use the rasp grater all the time, for all sorts of things, but it most frequently comes into play when I need some citrus zest.  Those who have followed our blog for awhile will probably recall that I use citrus zest a lot, and this tool makes zesting a quick and easy task.  There's a reason why the various Microplane rasp graters are considered the best in class by America's Test Kitchen and pretty much everyone else.

As to the Oster juicer... well, it's old.  Really, really old.  But it still works like a charm.  This also sees heavy use in our kitchen, because fresh-from-the-fruit lemon, lime and orange juice beats the bottled stuff hands-down.  I hope it doesn't break down any time soon, because I doubt anyone makes a similar device that is half as sturdy and reliable as this thing.

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