Lemon Curd Buttermilk Ice Cream

Ask me what my favorite food is and I’ll interrupt with “ice cream!” before you’ve finished the question. When I was given an ice cream maker in 2017, I thought my life was going to be a non-stop joy ride from that moment forward. TBH, I barely looked at it for the next two years. The ice cream aisle and I are friends; why would I ruin that relationship? It was only when I was developing a lemon curd filling for Cauldron Cakes that inspiration really struck.

This recipe was born out of two no-churn ice cream recipes. The first I saw during my time at America’s Test Kitchen when the talented team behind Cook’s Country were performing the oh-so-difficult task of narrowing countless options to a mere 12 takes on a flawless no-churn method. They didn’t have to search far for willing taste-testers.

The second was in the Savory Spice Test Kitchen, where Michael Kimball blew my mind by developing vanilla ice cream using a buttermilk base. His recipe produces an ice cream that not only lets shy vanilla flavors shine but also has just enough tanginess to lighten and brighten. It’s an ice cream that feels like a fitting afternoon treat, not just a decadent evening splurge.

While I was inspired by these outstanding no-churn ice creams, I want to let you in on something: I prefer churning when I go through the homemade ice cream effort. It takes a little more attention and an extra appliance (ugh), but it offers a lighter, smoother texture as opposed to the denser and firmer results of no-churn. But, the differences are slight with this recipe, so do whatever makes you happy! Ice cream should only spark joy.

Regardless of which freezing method you choose, there are a few key steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the most from your base. The primary goal when making ice cream at home is to reduce the formation of ice crystals. Too much crystalline formation takes what could be lusciously scoopable ice cream and turns it into a solid, spoon-bending hunk of disappointment—and I’m speaking from experience here.

This recipe provides some insurance: both alcohol (here, in the form of bourbon or whiskey) and liquid sugar (in the form of corn syrup) help to discourage ice crystals. Incorporating air by whipping the cream gives you a head start against solid hunk-dom, but if you really want to ensure scoop-ability, remember to chill out.

Everything—from your ingredients, to the prepared ice cream base, to the final container it goes into—should be as cold as possible. A chilled cream base means less time freezing or churning, which means less time for ice crystals to form in the first place. When your ice cream is perfectly frozen and soft, transfer it to a chilled storage container so it doesn’t melt and refreeze all willy-nilly around the edges. Sound easy enough? Good! Let’s get started:

Lemon Curd Buttermilk Ice Cream Recipe

Lemon Curd

Recipe Inspiration: Pierre Hermé’s Lemon Cream, as described by Dorie Greenspan on Serious Eats
Makes about 2 1/2 cups lemon curd

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 5 lemons)
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pats

Preparation

  1. Combine sugar, lemon juice and zest, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk thoroughly until combined.
  2. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce heat to low and set the lemon mixture in its bowl on top of the pot (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the simmering water).
  3. Whisk constantly until mixture is thickened and coats the back of a spoon. It should reach 180°F on a thermometer. This could take up to 25 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter, a few pats at a time. Let each addition melt and incorporate before adding another.
  5. Filter through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd. Let cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator until cold, at least 2 hours. Curd can be made and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Lemon Curd Buttermilk Ice Cream

Recipe Inspirations: Michael Kimball’s No-Churn Buttermilk Vanilla Ice Cream for Savory Spice and Morgan Bolling’s No-Churn Ice Cream for Cook’s Country
Makes about 1 1/2 pints ice cream

Ingredients

  • 2 cups lemon curd
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon or whiskey (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • Remaining lemon curd, sprinkles, and/or strawberries for serving

Preparation

  1. In a medium bowl, combine lemon curd, buttermilk, corn syrup, bourbon/whiskey (if using), vanilla extract, and salt. Stir until combined and set aside.
  2. In a blender, whip cream until stiff peaks form, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Scrape with a rubber spatula as needed, every 15 seconds or so.
  3. Add lemon curd mixture to blender and blend until combined, about 30 seconds.

For traditional churning:

  1. Gently scoop mixture into a lidded container and chill until very cold, about 1 hour.
  2. Transfer ice cream base to ice cream machine. Churn according to your machine’s specifications, until ice cream is the consistency of thick soft-serve. In my setup, this took about 25 minutes.
  3. While ice cream churns, chill a lidded quart-sized container in the freezer. This will prevent any of the newly churned cream from melting around the edges when it comes out of the machine.
  4. Scoop ice cream into chilled container. Enjoy immediately as “soft-serve” or freeze until firm, at least 1 hour, before scooping into bowls or cones.
  5. Serve with leftover lemon curd, sprinkles, or sliced strawberries, if desired.

For no-churn method:

  1. Place a loaf pan or medium baking dish in the freezer to chill, at least 15 minutes. If you’ve already created the ice cream base, keep it in the refrigerator while the dish gets cold.
  2. Pour ice cream base into cold dish. Freeze until firm throughout, about 3 to 6 hours, depending on the depth of the dish.
  3. Scoop and serve with leftover lemon curd, sprinkles, or sliced strawberries, if desired.
  4. To store, cover baking dish tightly or transfer scoops of ice cream into a chilled, lidded container.


Cauldron Cakes | Harry Potter Recipes

I’ve been working on these for a while. Since I started this Harry Potter recipes development project, I have been thinking about what cauldron cakes from the wizarding world would look and taste like. I mean, except for the name, they’re never given much of a literary description. In searching the internet for other people’s interpretations, I found a lot of chocolate and overturned cupcakes–honestly, those just didn’t do it for me, and I thought I could do better.

Let’s start with the shape. The reason this recipe took me so long was my search for the perfect baking mold. I didn’t want to make just another ill-disguised upside down cupcake or a cake carved vaguely into the shape of–what is that? a lump? No, I wanted these to be pristine little half-domes with a clean, smooth coating. You know, like a cauldron. My solution: silicone. I bought these molds from the crafting store and started experimenting. I had used silicone for chocolate and Bavarian creams in culinary school, but never baking. Turns out, these silicone molds are not as nonstick as their cousins, Silpats, would have you believe. My first batch of cakes completely tore apart as I tried to remove them from their divots. Lesson learned–grease and flour them, and give your cakes plenty of time to chill in the molds before releasing them for clean shapes.

In the Harry Potter books, chocolate is found in the forms of frogs and wands and in big blocks (in case of Dementors, duh), plus Chocolate Cauldrons are specifically called out as the magical equivalent to filled truffles. Since cauldrons already have a chocolate version, I went another way for the flavoring: blackberry and lemon. The lemon curd topping makes these little cauldrons look like they’re filled with bright, golden Felix Felicis, but you could switch it up with whatever “potion” (okay, okay–jam or other sweet spread) you choose. The blackberry cake holds its vivid purple color exceptionally well during baking and is a charming little surprise after you bite through the chocolate coating.

Speaking of the coating, these little cauldrons are encased with white chocolate colored with–wait for it–charcoal. And you thought that fad was over. Yes, you can totally use a black gel food coloring but where’s the fun in decorating if you’re not cautiously twisting open activated charcoal capsules that you got in the supplements aisle, praying that you don’t stain anything in your kitchen black (again)? It’s a fun ingredient to use for adding natural coloring to food, even if it’s super unnecessary as a health supplement. It has the added bonus of creating a matte finish, which adds a lot of authenticity to the cauldrons.

Overall, these little cakes were unbelievably adorable and I couldn’t stop looking at them. Even my SO couldn’t keep the smile off his face when he admitted that they were “pretty cute.” Yes, the recipe is a bit of a project, but it could be simplified by using a boxed cake mix (either pre-flavored or with the homemade juice mixture stirred in). The blackberry and lemon together create a wonderful balance of fruity sweetness and tart citrus, but the cauldrons could be recreated with different flavor combos (strawberry cake instead of blackberry, chocolate cake with caramel sauce “potion,” yellow cake with cherry preserves, the list goes on). Even with my imperfect chocolate piping skills, they were forgiving enough to be one of the most enjoyable baking projects I’ve done in a long time.

But anyway, enough talking! Let’s get to it:

Cauldron Cakes Recipe

Cake Recipe Inspiration: Stella Parks’s Classic Vanilla Butter Cake on Serious Eats
Makes about 30 cauldron cakes

Blackberry Cake

Ingredients

Blackberry Juice

  • 1 (16 oz.) bag frozen blackberries
  • 1 cup water

Blackberry Cake

  • 1/2 cup reserved blackberry juice
  • 2 Tbsp. whole milk, room temperature
  • 5.3 oz. granulated sugar (150 grams; about 3/4 cup)
  • 3 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature (85 grams; 6 Tbsp.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 5.3 oz. all-purpose flour (150 grams; about 1 cup plus 2 1/2 Tbsp.), plus extra for flouring molds

Preparation

Blackberry Juice

  1. Combine blackberries and water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook uncovered until berries are broken down and juice is reduced and thick, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Filter out fruit solids through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing to extract juice. You should have just over ½ cup juice. It’s okay if yours didn’t reduce exactly to 1/2 cup. If you have over 1 cup, simmer juice for 10 to 15 more minutes to reduce further. If your juice reduced too much, add water until you have 1/2 cup.
  3. Let juice cool completely at room temperature.

Blackberry Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease silicone molds with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle generously with flour to coat. Gently shake out excess flour, then place prepared silicone molds right-side up on a baking sheet and set aside.
  2. Combine blackberry juice and milk and set aside.
  3. Combine sugar, butter, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric mixer). Beat on medium speed until light and aerated, about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through.
  4. Add egg and vanilla to sugar mixture and continue beating until fully incorporated.
  5. Add a third of the flour and mix on low until combined. With the mixer running, drizzle in a third of the juice mixture. Repeat with alternating thirds of flour and juice until all ingredients have been incorporated, stopping to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary.
  6. Do a final scrape of the mixing bowl with to ensure all flour has been incorporated into the batter. Fill each of the silicone molds with 1 scant tablespoon of the cake batter*.
  7. Bake for 11 to 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of several of the cakes comes out clean.
  8. Let cakes cool at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, then transfer to the freezer and chill for at least 1 hour. Carefully push cakes out of the molds and keep refrigerated until ready to decorate.
  9. Repeat baking and cooling process with remaining batter**.

Assembly & Decoration

Ingredients

  • 2 (10 oz.) bags white melting wafers (like Ghiradelli’s)
  • 6 to 15 capsules activated charcoal or gel food coloring***
  • About 1/2 cup prepared lemon curd or preferred fruit jam

Preparation

  1. Place white chocolate wafers in a medium glass bowl. Heat in the microwave until chocolate is melted, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 15 to 30 seconds.
  2. Carefully open charcoal capsules over white chocolate and stir to incorporate the powder (discard the capsule shells). Add charcoal (or gel food coloring) until the desired color of gray or black is reached.
  3. Pour chocolate mixture into a pastry bag or resealable zip-top bag and snip a small opening in the corner to pipe.
  4. Using the cleaned and dried silicone mold, pipe about 1 1/2 tsp. of chocolate coating into each space. Press chilled cakes gently into coating, just until the chocolate comes up flush to the top. Work quickly, as chocolate coating can set in the piping bag after several minutes (if this happens, reheat briefly in the microwave).
  5. Pipe a lip/edge onto the top of the “cauldron” with chocolate. Let coating set, about 5 minutes, before carefully pushing cauldrons out of the mold.
  6. If desired, lay out a piece of wax or parchment paper and pipe a small “X” formation that will act as the cauldron feet. Set the cake on top of the “X” and let chocolate set before peeling off of paper.
  7. Onto the top of each cauldron, spoon or pipe lemon curd (or jam “potion” of choice). You could also add sugar pearl sprinkles to emulate bubbles or any other decorations of your choice.
  8. Store cakes at room temperature for up to 6 hours and in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Notes

*My silicone molds held 2 Tbsp. of filling. If you have a differently sized mold, fill each divot about halfway.
**This recipe yields enough batter to make about 30 (1 Tbsp.) cakes, or enough for two molds. If you don’t have two molds (I don’t either), refrigerate the batter while you wait for the first cakes to bake and chill. Let the batter sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before baking the second batch. Alternatively–just make cupcakes with the remaining batter, cut out the centers, and fill with lemon curd before frosting or dipping the bottoms in chocolate coating. They’re like extra-capacity cauldrons!
***I used activated charcoal from the supplements aisle and twisted open the capsules to pour out the charcoal. You can also find powdered charcoal which you can sprinkle in, 1/4 tsp. at a time. Be careful not to get this charcoal on any plastic, wood, or clothing—it will stain. Don’t want to mess with charcoal? No shame. Black or gray gel coloring would work just as well.


Curried & Sweet Pumpkin Pasties | Harry Potter Recipes

At this point, it feels almost redundant to say that I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I mean, most of my generation is—we grew up reading the series, going to midnight premieres, and living in a worldwide obsession of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. As I get older, I still find so much comfort and meaning in reading the books and interacting with the enduring fan communities, like that of Harry Potter & The Sacred Text.

I’m rereading the series for the umpteenth time. Of course, I always get extra excited about all the magical food and drinks. A few years ago, I hosted a dinner with friends and made a few inspired treats, intermingled with some British staples of a Sunday roast.

But… I didn’t write any recipes down. I can recall just a few details of a pumpkin juice that tasted exactly like what I imagined or the aspects I wanted to change about the treacle tart. Since I can’t just wave a wand and make all of it appear again, I’ve decided to recreate my versions of the fictional favorites from Harry Potter—starting with how to make pumpkin pasties.

Curried Pumpkin Pasties

Last time I made pumpkin pasties, I came across a post from Bijoux & Bits where she made a sweet variety along with a savory one. The idea stuck with me, and I started thinking about what kind of flavors would be used in a snack like this one. It came to me almost immediately: curry. England has a reputation for their curry houses and tikka masala love—it makes sense that if pumpkin pasties were savory, they’d probably be spiced with an Indian-style curry blend.

So I started with a pie pumpkin (also called sugar pumpkins), which are meant for baking as opposed to the gigantic squashes that we carve up for jack-o’-lanterns. You could absolutely use sweet potatoes or butternut/acorn squash if pie pumpkins aren’t available. It should be roasted just until it’s soft and can be cubed, but not so much that it turns to mush when it’s mixed with sauteed onions and toasted curry powder. After baking, these pasties totally resembled baked samosas, with their super buttery crust and the warm, spiced squash filling. Perfect autumn snack!

I have to be totally honest though: I don’t actually think pumpkin pasties are savory. Although I’d love to think that the kids had a savory, salty snack thrown in with all the treats, it seems like most of the witches and wizards in the books have major sweet tooths. So I made a sweet version as well!

Sweet Pumpkin Pasties

Okay, let me come clean. This recipe uses half of a pumpkin for the curried pasties and a portion of a can of pumpkin puree for the sweet. It’s a crime, I know. Why did I commit this atrocity, you may ask? It came down to my stubborn imagination of a realistic shelf-stable sweet pasty. Pastries with diced veggies in them just aren’t going to stay fresh and edible for as long as ones with pureed fillings potentially could.

I know what you’re thinking: why not just puree the second half of that pumpkin we just roasted? I’ve got an answer for that too. Canned pureed pumpkin is actually made of closely related varieties of squash that have more concentrated sweetness and the “pumpkin” flavor that we’re familiar with, more so than the sugar pumpkins that you can find in stores. Sure, you could totally blend that other half and use it for your sweet pasties—but I strongly prefer the canned stuff when it comes to pumpkin puree. Don’t worry though! The other half of the roasted pumpkin is an excellent addition to cooked grains or pasta, chili, or a creamy pumpkin soup. The remainder of the canned puree can be used to make pumpkin juice or in any of these great suggestions.

For the spices in the sweet pasties, I didn’t want to just sprinkle in some pumpkin spice blend and call it good. I wanted these pasties to be lighter and brighter than the standard pumpkin pie filling. Yes, I did use cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, but the warmer flavors are balanced with zingy ginger and floral cardamom. Make sure you taste your filling—you can always add more of the spices to your taste!

Crimping

Okay, so we’ve made our filling and you’ve already prepared your pie crust (of course!). Now comes the hard part: crimping. I did a lot of research on Cornish pasties for this recipe, and found that there are two crimping styles: the top crimp and the side crimp. I loved the way the top crimp looked, but I think side crimping might be a tad more tradish. I compromised and crimped the savory pasties on the top and the sweet pasties on the side. If crimping by hand isn’t your forte, try the top crimp first as I had an easier time with it. If it’s still not working out, go back to folding them on their side and press the edges with a fork to seal. Don’t stress—do what works best for you!

I’ll be honest, my kitchen was warm on the day I made my pumpkin pasties. I kept all of the pie dough chilled except for when I was working with portions of it. Still, when it came time for crimping, it felt like the dough was “melting” almost immediately. It made getting a good seal on the pasties more difficult and the final product didn’t look as cute as they could have on a cooler day. One small way to avoid getting the dough too warm while you prepare the pasties is to dip your hands in cold water and dry them thoroughly before working with the dough. On the plus side, I made King Arthur Flour’s recipe using my food processor and, even though conditions were less than ideal, they still came out so flaky and buttery. I can’t recommend that recipe enough!

Curried & Sweet Pumpkin Pasties Recipe

Makes 8 curried and 8 sweet pumpkin pasties (16 total)

Curried Pumpkin Pasty Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 small pie pumpkin, about 2 lbs
  • Oil, to drizzle
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup finely diced yellow onion
  • 1 ½ tsp. yellow curry powder*
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the tough stem off of the pumpkin and cut it in half.
  2. Scoop out the seeds** and stringy “guts.” Place cleaned halves on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and flip cut-side down.
  3. Roast on the middle oven rack until a knife slides through the skin and flesh with slight give, about 30 minutes.
  4. Carefully flip pumpkin halves over to allow steam to escape and prevent continued cooking of the pumpkin flesh. Let sit until cool enough to handle.
  5. Remove the pumpkin skin (it should peel off easily when pulled). Cut 1 half of the pumpkin flesh into small cubes, about 1/2-inch (you should have about 2 cups). Reserve the remaining pumpkin half for other uses.
  6. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sweat until transparent and softened, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring often.
  7. Reduce heat to medium-low and add curry powder. Toast until very aromatic, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in cubed pumpkin and honey.
  8. Season with salt & pepper to taste and let cool to room temperature.

Sweet Pumpkin Pasty Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg (or freshly grated on a microplane)
  • 1/16 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/16 tsp. ground allspice

Preparation

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

Assembly

Ingredients

  • 2 unrolled pie crust doughs (enough for a double crusted pie)
  • 2 eggs, beaten (for egg wash)

Preparation

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Split each dough into 8 portions (16 portions altogether) and form each portion into a ball. On a floured surface, roll one ball at a time into a 6-inch circle (don’t worry about them being perfectly round). Keep all the dough except the portion you’re working with chilled.
  3. For 8 of the circles, fill with 2 heaping tablespoons curried pumpkin filling. Brush edges of circle with beaten egg, fold, and crimp edges to seal. Keep any prepared pasties chilled until ready to bake.
  4. Repeat with remaining 8 circles, using 2 scant tablespoons of sweet pumpkin filling per pasty.
  5. Place prepared pasties on baking sheet and brush the outsides all over with egg wash. Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. These are best when eaten within a day, but you can store leftovers in the refrigerator and re-crisp in a warm oven.

Notes

* There are so many curry powders. I stuck to a “standard” Indian-style blend (Spice Islands Yellow Curry Powder). Mine was pretty cumin-heavy, so I added 1/2 tsp. coriander and 1/8 tsp. ground ginger to the pumpkin mixture to brighten it up. Feel free to use your favorite bottled or homemade curry blend!
** To roast pumpkin seeds, rinse off all of the pulp and let them dry on a baking sheet. Drizzle them lightly with oil and salt or season as desired. Roast in a 375°F oven until they start to brown, about for 10 to 15 minutes (shaking the sheet every 5 minutes or so). Let cool and get snacking!


Golden brown apple muffins, covered in streusel and sitting in the muffin tin in their parchment paper liners

Apple Muffins with Browned Butter Oat Streusel

In the winter of 2018-2019, I completed an internship at America’s Test Kitchen. As a final project, we were challenged to develop a muffin recipe and write a short article in the style of Cook’s Illustrated. Here’s mine!

Mastering “Coffee Shop” Muffins

Imagine this: a cool Sunday morning at a cafe, sipping a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. If you’re like me, you also have a muffin on the table—the kind that is piled high with streusel and filled with bits of fruit. Modern coffee shop-style muffins are wonderful things, but can often be excessive in many ways: dessert-like sweetness, cake-like airiness, and big enough to serve two (or three!).

I decided to bring the classic apple streusel muffin into the kitchen and make a pastry that’s both easy to whip up and worthy of your Sunday morning at home. To do so, I paid key attention to the texture, sweetness, streusel, and the all-important apple.

A Talk About Texture

What sets muffins and cupcakes apart (besides frosting, of course) is the texture or crumb. A good cupcake is light and airy on the inside, whereas muffins tend to have a tighter crumb. This is accomplished largely through mixing. Cakes are often made using the creaming method, which works by beating butter and sugar together to create microscopic pockets of air in the batter, yielding a fluffy crumb.

By using the aptly named muffin method—whisking dry and wet ingredients separately, then gently stirring together—I ensured a muffin with a satisfying bite, fitting for a breakfast pastry. The batter is best when kept a little lumpy. By not mixing the batter until completely smooth, the gluten development is limited, thus guarding the muffins against getting tough or chewy.

Because this method uses a liquid fat—here, melted butter—it is important to make sure all the ingredients for the batter are at room temperature. If the eggs or yogurt are chilled from the refrigerator, they can re-harden the butter and prevent the batter from fully hydrating.

Speaking of yogurt*, it also plays a key role in texture. It is a great option to create moist baked goods because it is largely made up of an emulsion of protein, water, and fat. Keeping the water bound with other molecules helps to prevent drying out during baking, while the fat (even in low-fat yogurt) tenderizes and further adds moisture to the batter.

Lastly, yogurt also adds acidity which provides a trigger for the baking powder that works to provide the “lift” for these muffins, as well as a subtle tang that helps to balance the sweetness.

Sorting Out Sweetness

Another important distinction between cake and muffins is the ratio of sugar with other ingredients. I avoided an overly sweet muffin in order to let other flavors shine—and prevent the feeling of an impending 10 AM sugar crash. To do this, I kept the total amount of sugar below one cup in the batter and used both granulated and dark brown sugar. The extra molasses in the dark brown sugar adds subtle notes of caramel and helps round out any saccharine edge. In addition, it keeps the muffins moist even after baking through its hygroscopic characteristics (the tendency of sugar to attract and absorb moisture from the surrounding air).

By taking a few extra minutes to brown the butter, the muffins gain nuttiness that is complemented by the warm spice of cinnamon and nutmeg. This adds a deep complexity to the autumnal flavors. Less sugar in the batter leaves the opportunity to have a sweeter “pop” of apple and more of everyone’s favorite part of the muffin: the streusel.

The Struggle for Streusel

Whereas many coffee shop-style muffins have a sandy crumble, I wanted to provide this version with a crisp bite and toffee-like flavor. The comforting taste, reminiscent of warm oatmeal cookies, came naturally with the combination of browned butter, brown sugar, and old-fashioned oats. Surprisingly, achieving the crunch in the clusters of streusel is what proved to be the challenge.

I tried various ratios of butter, flour, and sugar but none hit the mark. Streusel that formed moist clumps when mixed ended up with the butter melting down the sides of the muffin during baking and caused greasy bottoms. Streusel that had enough flour to fully soak up the butter ended up powdery and loose. The seemingly counterintuitive solution? Add water.

Adding the melted browned butter to the mixture first helps to coat the gluten strands and keep the streusel chewy on the inside, but stirring in water at the end still allows for the formation of clumps that retained their shape throughout baking. A period of chilling allows the mixture to fully hydrate and further create distinct morsels. During baking, the water in the mixture steams and evaporates, leaving a crispy streusel.

One last obstacle was the issue of how to build beautiful piles of crumble on top of each muffin without having most of it end up on the flats of the muffin tin. By folding squares of parchment into muffin liners with tall, “lotus-style” sides, it allowed the muffins to bake tall and still hold a generous pinch of delicious streusel.

An Assortment of Apples

Even with all the talk of texture and streusel, the real star of these muffins are the apples. I tried five different sweet varieties: Gala, Golden Delicious, Cripps Pink, Braeburn, and dried apples.

After baking, diced Golden Delicious apples seemed to “melt” into the muffin. They exhibited a very soft texture and lackluster fruit flavor. Galas retained a decently firm texture, but again lost much of their flavor. Small pieces of dried apples completely absorbed moisture from the batter and caused the baked muffin to be chewy and dry. Braeburn and Cripps Pink apples were the clear winners, as they both provided pleasant bursts of sweet, ripe apple flavor while maintaining structural integrity. The Braeburn variety just edged out Cripps Pink with its superior apple flavor.

Even after all the testing, I maintain that the best part of these muffins is how they taste the next day. The harmony of browned butter, warm spice, and sweet apple develops even more overnight. So make your Sunday batch, but make sure to save one (or two) for Monday morning.

  • Apple muffins with dry, straggly streusel (attempt #1)
  • Apple muffins with spotty, melty streusel (attempt #2)
  • A row of apple muffins without parchment liners next to a row of muffins in parchment liners (attempt #3)
  • Golden brown apple muffins, covered in streusel and sitting in the muffin tin in their parchment paper liners

The slideshow includes a couple of shots from the development process. From my first batch, to streusel struggles, to the final muffin!

Apple Muffins with Browned Butter Oat Streusel

Crisp, sweet apples work best in these muffins. In tests, Braeburn apples yielded the preferred soft-but-distinct texture and fruity apple flavor, but the Cripps Pink apple variety (also called Pink Lady apples) are a good option as well. This recipe also uses parchment squares to create tall muffin liners; they allow for the muffins to bake tall and hold generous piles of streusel. Alternatively, lotus-style muffin liners can also be purchased and used.

Makes 12 muffins

Brown Butter Oat Streusel:

  • ¾ cup (3.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (2.25 ounces) old-fashioned oats
  • ½ cup (3.5 ounces) dark brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Apple Muffins:

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt, room temperature*
  • ½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces Braeburn apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces (1 ½ cups diced pieces)
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 12 6-inch squares out of parchment paper. Gently press and crease paper squares into a standard 12-cup muffin tin to create muffin liners with tall, folded walls. Paper may not fully stay in cups until they are filled with muffin batter.
  2. FOR THE OAT STREUSEL: Stir flour, oats, sugar, and salt together in medium bowl.
  3. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until butter is lightly browned and aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve ½ cup butter for muffin mixture and set aside to cool.
  4. Stir remaining 6 tablespoons browned butter into flour mixture until evenly combined. Add water and vanilla extract and stir until evenly moistened and mixture starts to clump. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 10 minutes, or until ready to use.
  5. FOR THE APPLE MUFFINS: Whisk flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk eggs, yogurt, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until no lumps of brown sugar remain. Stir in reserved browned butter and vanilla until smooth, then fold in diced apples.
  6. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to gently mix, just until no visible flour remains. Batter should be thick and slightly lumpy. Use a level ⅓-cup dry measurement to fill each prepared muffin cup. Use your hands to break apart streusel mixture and crumble evenly over each muffin, breaking up any clumps larger than a marble. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking.
  7. Let cool in tin for at least 1 hour. Cooled muffins can be stored in an airtight container or zipper lock bag at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Notes

*UPDATE 7/2/2020: This recipe also works when substituting buttermilk or acidulated milk (whole or 2% milk + a splash of white vinegar) for yogurt.