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On Muffins

November 29, 2017

Comedy is funny. I’m not sure how much of it truly stands up over time. Some of the early George Carlin stuff about farts and the words you can’t say on television still get a laugh out of the kids. And really, that’s why I’m listening to comedy anyway. It’s for the kids.

Naturally, I’m happy to let them listen to comedians who are totally inappropriate for children. I figure all the sexy stuff just goes over their heads. And they know that the words they learn listening to comedy in the car stay in the car. They aren’t for school. Or grandma. Or the rabbi.

Lately we’ve been listening to Mike Birbiglia. A lot. And he does this bit about sleepwalking. Part of it has to do with a trip to the doctor where he’s told he can get a muffin. If you want to skip ahead to 2:50 in the video below, you can hear him talk all about the muffin.

This is the reason that muffins have become a running joke in our house. Which is funny, because we don’t really eat muffins in our house. But recently, we came into a variety pack of muffins from a local bakery.

That’s when I realized it’s been years since I’ve eaten a muffin. I had forgotten all about them. So biting into one, was like eating a muffin for the very first time. And I was surprised by my initial reaction.

Why does anybody eat these things?

I’m dumbfounded by the appeal. Because correct me if I’m wrong, but muffins are still widely sold across America. That means people must be eating them. They can’t all be destined for the trash. And if people are eating them, that must mean that at least a few people enjoy muffins.

What’s to enjoy? They are like big bland balls of mush. And don’t give me the “muffin top” nonsense, because the top is still without enough merit to justify its dietary impact. Muffins taste like what they are: white flour, sugar, and oil. The only upside are the little bits of fruit contained within.

Especially given the size of conventional muffins, they are terrible for you.

It’s not a more healthful choice than other treats in the pastry case because it contains a little bit of fruit. At least a cupcake is fun and full of folly, topped with colorful icing and made into decadent flavors. Even a donut has a lower calorie load than a conventional muffin.

I’d rather eat just about anything else.

Maybe back in the old days when more people were working physically demanding jobs and needed a lot of calories to sustain themselves, muffins made sense, especially given their portability. But as far as I can tell, a muffin is a crappy pancake that you can eat with your hands.

I’ve got no need for them.

If I’m looking for a sweet treat that’s a bit more serious than a cupcake, I’m going for the financier. If there is no financier, you might be able to tempt me into a well made scone.

Both of these treats have more going on texturally than the dreaded muffin. I love the juxtaposition of the crispy edges of a well made scone to the tender interior. And the combination of butter and nut flour in the financier gives me hope for humanity.

There’s this weird thing about soft foods in our culture. From mashed potatoes, to macaroni and cheese, to filet mignon, and sous vide everything. I want something with a little more oompf to it. Give me fried potatoes with crispy edges surrounding a light pillowy center. One of my favorite pasta dishes was tossed with butter toasted bread crumbs and ground up pieces of fried, dried peppers. I’d take a bone-in ribeye over a filet any day. And while I do enjoy a good braise, well cooked meat should not fall off the bone.

Muffins would seem to fall squarely in the camp of soft foods. And that makes them fine for kids, the elderly, and the infirm. For those of us with good teeth, I cannot see any reason to eat them.

But I want to hear from you. Especially if you are a muffin lover. What am I missing? What is the appeal? I’d love to be converted to the other side, because I hate ruling out wide categories of stuff that could be enjoyed.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    November 29, 2017 11:01 am

    While I’m by no means an avid muffin eater, I do enjoy them as a delivery vehicle for blueberries. I don’t know why, but the muffin seems perfectly designed to deliver the fruit – you get the tang from the berries, a little bit of sugar to sweeten them up and a cakey vessel to bind it all together. Sadly, there aren’t too many blueberry muffins that I’d buy of my own accord today. Back in the 90s on Lark Street there used to be a below street level place near the Daily Grind called MMmmmuffins (in fact I think it’s where part of Mio Posto is now). Now, they had great blueberry muffins (and chocolate chip as well). And Shades of Green was just across the street…

  2. November 29, 2017 11:04 am

    Not a fan, but there is a particular type of bran muffin that can tempt me. You’ve seen them: they’re a very dark brown and rather sweet. They trick you into thinking they’re healthy because they have “bran” in the name, but it’s probably a million calories. I can go for one of those now and then.

  3. Kerosena permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:00 pm

    My neighbor brought over some banana bread last week. I’d been having a bad day, so I ate some of it slathered with butter. I’d have done the same with banana muffins. Cake with butter definitely did the trick for my attitude! Homemade banana bread or muffins are in a different category than those crappy muffins you might see at a morning office meeting.

    Oooh, also the blueberry muffins from Woolfies in Cape Cod.Those are something special.

    I agree though, muffins in general are not great.

  4. Rhonda Rosenheck permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:04 pm

    I agree, except when the top is like crumb cake. In which case, eating the top makes me happy. Also, I like a diner corn muffin sliced and grilled, with butter. Though it can make my mouth itch a little.

  5. HokieMom permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:24 pm

    commerical muffins are totally different from a muffin you can make at home – store ones are just relabeled cupcakes w/out the frosting

  6. albanylandlord permalink
    November 29, 2017 9:23 pm

    Filet Mignon is my least favorite cut of beef – too soft. Like you I want some chew. If I do have to order filet It is the only cut I order cooked medium or higher so it isn’t so mushy.

  7. enough already! permalink
    November 30, 2017 5:00 pm

    Hokie mom is correct.
    I bake multiple varieties depending upon what’s in the larder, and rarely more than 3Tb sugar in the batch. Chock full of fruit, nuts, coconut, leftover oatmeal, etc. I’ve even made charoseth muffins, which were delicious (how there was enough left over, I don’t remember!) also half almond meal, half flour.
    Daniel, please find yourself a real muffin, not a cupcake.

  8. chrisck permalink
    November 30, 2017 5:38 pm

    Yup — the answer here is to make your own. Also, most muffin recipes are for normal sized muffin/cupcake tins so traditionally they weren’t insanely huge (and thus doughy). They should be tender, which doesn’t mean “soft.” They are easy to make (basically a quick bread) so there is a reason they were popular with home cooks before the marketplace bastardized and supersized them. I’ve made muffins for decades and my rule of thumb for everyday muffins is 50% whole grain (which do not make them leaden); no more than 1/4 c. sweetener (could be molasses, honey, or maple syrup); and the possibilities are endless with berries, nuts, dried fruits, pumpkin puree, spices; citrus zest, grated cheese. Mark Bittman has a basic formula recipe in his “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” but there are many tasty, healthy recipes out there.

  9. chrisck permalink
    November 30, 2017 5:44 pm

    p.s. The King Arthur brand of white whole wheat flour (from hard white winter wheat, not red winter wheat) makes a great tasting muffin that is whole grain.

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