Coffee Cake Muffins

By Caroline Clough in Food on May 23, 2007 5:02PM

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There have been times, throughout Chicagoist's life, where we suddenly have an urge to bake something. Our baking fits never make any sense. We'll be sitting and reading a book or watching television and then suddenly think to ourselves: 'boy wouldn't it be fun to sift some flour and make a baked treat?'. Just last week this very thing happened to us in the midst of reading and there was nothing to do but bake. When we were a kid, one of the first things we mastered was the coffee cake and we found ourselves craving its straight-from-the-oven-warm goodness but in a smaller form. "Coffee cake muffins!" we cried (internally) and then got down to the work at hand. This post's recipe is not ours at all. It was found in one of our primary sources for cooking: Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. This is a book that any amateur cook should have in their library because the title ain't lying. When we decided to make pork butt a few weeks back we first went to Bittman before we went off on our own. The book will tell you everything you need to know about preparing a large variety of vegetables, meats and drinks not to mention countless other dishes. Bittman is also responsible for bringing kneadless bread to the masses. It is an amazing resource and you should get yourself one and then follow Bittman's instructions for extremely moist and satisfying coffee cake muffins ... or you could continue reading after the jump.

This recipe makes 8-12 muffins, depending on the size of your muffin tin. It takes about forty minutes.

What You Need:
5 tablespoons butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste (Bittman admits to not being a big fan of overly sweet muffins so if you are you should ramp it up a little bit)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teasponns baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk, plus more if needed

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans or cashews (we used walnuts and feel that they are the superior nut)

What You Do:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grease your tin good and proper.

2. In a small bowl, mix together your brown sugar, cinnamon and finely chopped walnuts and 2 tablespoons of melted butter.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together your flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.

4. In yet another bowl, beat together your milk, egg and 3 tablespoons of melted butter.

5. Make a well in your dry ingredients then add the wet and blend. Fold, don't beat until all dryness is eradicated. Then add half of the brown sugar/nut mixture right in.
Bittman says that your "batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but quite moist; add a little more milk or other liquid if necessary".

6. Spoon your batter into the muffin tins. The batter should fill about two thirds of each cup.

7. Sprinkle the rest of the brown sugar/walnut goodness on top of each batter cup.

8. Bake 20-30 minutes (you'll know they're done with a toothpick or small knife can be inserted in and removed from the muffin without bringing anything with it). Let rest for five minutes before serving.

A note/rumination about chopped walnuts and food processors:
We have an ulu knife that we like to pull out from time to time for small chopping jobs. We also have a Cuisinart food processor. For this recipe we went with the ulu knife. It took us about five, maybe even ten minutes, to properly chop our whole walnuts into a fine, fine powder. This is a task the food processor could easily to in about thirty seconds and yet the feeling of accomplishment of methodically cutting the nuts down to size was somehow gratifying and (dare we say it?) humbling. In a time when you can get a coffee, bathing suit and car wash in thirty minutes (we know we did it today) it's nice to slow down every once and a while. We find that cooking is where we slow down. We frown on most cake, cookie and brownie mixes because making them 'the old fashioned way' isn't all that time-consuming and you almost always come out with a better finished product. We don't really have a point, other than if you feel like slowing down chop your own nuts ... we also sifted our flour.