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Making Muffin Batter Ahead

by Elizabeth Skipper | December 14th, 2015 | Ask the Chef
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bran muffin (400x400)To save time on Christmas morning, I want to make muffin batter the day before and then bake them first thing on Christmas Day. I have two questions. Is it fine to refrigerate the batter overnight? Does the dough need to come to room temperature before baking, or can it be placed in the oven when it is cold?

There’s a bran muffin recipe which has been around for years that is supposed to keep refrigerated for six weeks. I’ve never tried it because it sounds suspicious to me; apparently others like it. But maybe you’re not interested in bran muffins – which sound suspiciously earnest and healthful for a holiday morning – and you’re not looking to make them up that far ahead, anyway.

I wish I knew the recipe you want to make because there are two different procedures for making muffins. The basic muffin method is to sift together all the dry ingredients in one bowl, and all the wet ingredients, including melted fat or oil, in another, and then combining the two. The other procedure is the same as that used for some quick breads, cakes, and coffee cakes. This calls for creaming the fat and sugar together, then adding the eggs and lastly, the dry and wet ingredients alternately. Because part of the leavening is achieved by incorporating air into the batter during the creaming, you can see where the second method won’t lend itself to your needs. The batter will deflate as it sits.

There’s a problem with the first method, too. This method relies more on chemical leaveners – baking soda, baking powder, or a combination of the two – than on eggs. Once these chemicals have been activated by liquid, the batter needs to be baked promptly or the muffins won’t rise well. You could increase the amount used, but then you’ll be getting into the balancing act that’s such a big part of baking. Too much baking soda will make things taste soapy, which will need to be neutralized by some kind of acid…no, you want to keep it simple.

There is an easy solution. Simply mix up the wet and dry ingredients in their separate bowls the night before. Refrigerate the wet ingredients, because they’re perishable. Prepare the muffin tins. You can use liners if you like; I prefer greasing the tins and not using liners. Muffins rise better and have a better shape and crust without them. Just be sure to grease the tins well so there’s no difficulty removing the baked muffins. Take your choice.

In the morning, preheat the oven. When it’s reached the proper temperature, combine the contents of the two bowls, taking care not to overmix the batter. It shouldn’t be smooth. Too much mixing will develop gluten in the batter, resulting in tough muffins, and possible tunnels. Over-mixing will also deflate the gas bubbles created by the baking powder/baking soda, resulting in a poor rise. The fact that the batter will be cold from the refrigerated wet ingredients doesn’t matter. Fill the prepared tins one-half to two-thirds full, and pop your muffins in the oven to bake. The house will smell heavenly, and you’ll have freshly baked muffins with minimal early morning effort. Merry Christmas!

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