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Recipe: Crumb cake muffins are a sweet breakfast secret

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                A hidden layer of crumbs makes these muffins feel like the best coffee cakes.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    A hidden layer of crumbs makes these muffins feel like the best coffee cakes.

The best muffins are the ones that veer into cupcake territory. Buttery, rich and occasionally glazed or iced, a muffin is intended to make eating cake acceptable for breakfast.

These crumb cake muffins do just that.

With their sour cream-laden batter, they’re about as tender and moist as cake gets. And the nubby blanket of cinnamon-scented crumbs on top is as sweet as icing, but crunchier, and easier to eat out of hand in the morning while the caffeine kicks in.

To get that cake-like texture, the batter does require an electric mixer, either hand-held or stand. I use it in a reverse-creaming method, which calls for mixing the dry ingredients first, then beating in the butter, then finally adding the eggs and sour cream.

I find that I get a slightly lighter, finer cake with this method (as opposed to the more traditional technique of creaming the butter and sugar first).

The butter does need to be well softened for the reverse-creaming method to work, so plan ahead, or be prepared to zap the butter briefly in the microwave on 50% power before you start mixing. It should be soft enough to spread easily on toast.

To bump up the flavor, I mix in a hefty dose of vanilla and a small amount of almond extract and lemon zest, just enough to brighten things without being obviously citrusy or almondy.

Next, I add more oomph to the crumbs. Instead of just melting the butter, I let it bubble and hiss until the milky foam sinks to the bottom of the pot and turns as brown as a pecan. That gives the butter a deep, caramelized flavor that make the crumbs arguably the best part — and extremely tempting to nibble off the tops of all the muffins as soon as they’re cool enough to pick at.

Because I know that temptation exceedingly well, I build in a safeguard. Hidden underneath the batter is a second layer of crumbs. So, even if, say, a few crumbs disappear off the tops as you’re moving them from the pans to serving platter, your muffin recipients will not suffer their lack.

Plus, that underlying layer of crumbs fixes the problem of gobbling the tops and leaving the bottoms. With this recipe, not a crumb will remain.

CINNAMON CRUMB CAKE MUFFINS

  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1-1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup (135 grams) sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch slices and softened
  • >> Topping:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1-1/3 cups (165 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Heat oven to 375 degrees and line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners.

Make topping: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter, then let it simmer until the foam on top falls to the bottom of the pot and turns brown, 4 to 6 minutes. It will smell nutty when ready. Immediately pour butter into a small bowl so it doesn’t get any browner; let cool 5 minutes.

Whisk together flour, sugar, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Add brown butter and stir, pinching mixture together, until crumbs form. Set aside.

Make batter: Whisk together sour cream, eggs, vanilla, almond extract and lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, use a mixer to combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt until combined, about 10 seconds. Add softened butter and beat 20 seconds to work it into the flour. Add egg mixture and continue beating until batter is very smooth, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle a scant tablespoon of topping crumbs into the bottom of each muffin liner. Spoon batter over crumbs, dividing it evenly.

Bake muffins 5 minutes to firm up tops so topping won’t sink. Remove muffin pan and lower heat to 350 degrees. Sprinkle remaining crumbs on top of each muffin. Continue to bake until muffins are springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Cool on a rack 15 minutes then lift muffins from pan. Finish cooling muffins on a rack. Makes 12 muffins.

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