Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Blueberry Muffins | Image: Laura Messersmith

As inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts I’m following along with Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, in my tiny New York kitchen. Let’s see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “School Today”

The Set-up: Ina is showing students at East Hampton High School how a bake sale is DONE.

The Menu: Old Fashioned Banana Cake, Blueberry Muffins

0:32 – Since this is school I guess First Period is Old Fashioned Banana Cake 101.

1:14 – I love smushing up bananas for banana bread, but I just now realized how disgusting they look. Seriously, bananas, you’re grossing me out, not cool.

2:59 – Normally I’m 100% onboard with Ina’s use of zest, but in this case I just can get behind orange zest in banana cake. Doesn’t compute for me.

3:27 – Ina is making these cakes for the Bake Sale but like the ultimate “cool aunt” she’s saving the icing step to do with the students. Way to get in their good graces.

5:06 – Ina has made three cakes and three separate batches of batter – I’ve never understood the prevailing wisdom that doubling or tripling a recipe runs the risk of not turning out right. The answer is probably Science, but why?

6:41 – Anyway, enough of my mutterings. Back to the kids! We get a few minutes with the East Hampton High Life Skills Class as they work through grocery shopping for the Blueberry Muffins.

10:15 – Ina is in the classroom when the students arrive and she brought aprons embroidered with their names on the placket! She is obviously The Best, but this is so, so sweet.

11:33 – Second Period: Blueberry Muffins and Ina is walking the students through the process, which is pretty much my dream Home Ec class come to life.

12:48 – This is making me wonder if high schools still teach Home Ec or do mainstream students have too much Government homework to do?

13:10 – The students are kicking butt with these muffins, but who wouldn’t with a fabulous teacher like Ina to teach you how to fold in blueberries?

14:29 – The muffins look really good and I’m betting that they’ll be gone by the time the bake sale is over.

19:52 – Time to frost the Old Fashioned Banana Cakes – whoop! Ina tries to get them to promise not to eat all the icing, but I’m afraid that’s not something I can agree to…

20:33 – One of the students has already picked up on the Ina Approved Lingo and call the frosting “Fantastic!” Extra points for you, young man.

21:47 – Am I the only one who has trouble spreading frosting? So. many. crumbs.

22:26 – Cakes are frosted, muffins are baked, and brownies that Ina brought are sliced. Let’s Bake Sale, y’all.

23:58 – Bake Sale is over and the hordes of students and teachers appear to have purchased (and presumably eaten) all but 3 muffins and 2 pieces of banana cake. Proceeds go toward the Life Skills Class trip to NYC.

26:12 – School’s out and Ina is back in the barn for A.P. Cooking (aka ‘Ina Asks’) where she puts some culinary questions to a chef instructor Toni Dickenson at the International Culinary Center.

27:25 – Question 1: What’s the right way to sharpen a knife? I’ll try to summarize the answer: Place the tip of the sharpening steel perpendicular to a non-skid, flat surface. Hold the knife at a 20 degree angle against the steel and draw the blade back from hilt to tip 2-3 times. Repeat on the other side of the blade and wipe clean with a soft cloth.

28:31 – Question 2: Are you supposed to wash soft fruit, like berries? No, if you know that they’re pesticide free, but if you’re not sure then swirl them gently in a bowl of water and dry on a paper towel just before using.

29:54 – Question 3: How do you make spun sugar? 2 1/2 cups sugar + 1/2 cup corn syrup + 1/2 cup water cook to 300 degrees, then cool in a water bath to 275. Drizzle across a greased bowl in thin strands.

Final Thoughts:

It’s awesome that Ina uses her skills as a volunteer in her local community – I’m definitely inspired to do more.

I actually think that Home Ec is an important part of a well-rounded education – more people should know how to cook for themselves!

One thing I love about cooking is that there’s always more to learn, new techniques to master, even icing or in Ina’s case spun sugar…

Blueberry Muffins   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Blueberry Muffins | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:

I’d say that Blueberry Muffins are the Chocolate Chip cookie of the muffin world; which is to say that they’re a classic and in my experience usually the first to go leaving Bran and Oatmeal Raisin lonely. But, I’ve really never made them before – ridiculous right? So here was my chance.

This recipe doesn’t require a lot of special technique or cooking experience, which makes it a perfect gateway for the baking-averse. Truly, if you can measure with accuracy and wield a fork for mixing then Ina’s Blueberry Muffins are well within your grasp.

The only tricky part (and I brought this on myself) is fresh vs. frozen berries. I admit I was too lazy to make a special trip to the grocery store and since I had frozen ones on hand I decided to use them….

Great idea, except that they tended to sink a little in the batter which meant most of them were lurking in the bottom of the muffins when they came out of the oven. A tragedy? Not even close, but I would recommend dusting frozen berries with just a little flour (1-2 tablespoons should be plenty) before adding them to the mix.

Blueberry Muffins   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Blueberry Muffins | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?

Yes, no fancy equipment needed! I used two medium mixing bowls, two small bowls, a sieve, measuring cups (dry and liquid), a rubber spatula, small ice cream scoop, and two muffin tins.

The Verdict:

Even cutting this recipe in half I ended up with a lot of Blueberry Muffins which was good news for several friends and for us because we had lots of opportunity to test them. Let’s just say that none of them went to waste… Lovely light crumb with just a hint of sweetness nicely balanced by the tang of the lemon and blueberries. Please make these for your next houseguest, potluck brunch, bakesale – you will be the most popular kid in school.

Blueberry Muffins   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Blueberry Muffins | Image: Laura Messersmith