I've been baking a lot recently, mostly because I have delicious jam in the fridge and need to come up with things to smother it on. I've been doing a lot of lemon & poppy seed combinations (my fav) and made around four batches of lemon poppy seed muffins last week (I gave at least half of them away) trying to perfect the recipe. It hasn't happened yet, but they were still really, really good. Coconut oil to keep them moist and extra-lemony icing drizzled on top. They were just a mere step away from being cupcakes. Anyway, in the meanwhile, I learned some tricks to get great muffin tops and I thought I'd share them.
5 tricks to get fluffy, high-domed muffins:
1. Spoon your flour carefully. Baking isn't forgiving at all, so the right amount of flour makes or breaks your recipe. Scooping your measuring cup right into the bag of flour might pack too much in and you'll get dense, flat muffins. Instead, use a spoon and scoop the flour into your measuring cup and then level with a butter knife (unless the recipe calls for one "mounted" scoop). I learned this tip from my favorite baking blog.
2. Sift your dry ingredients. This helps the muffins get nice and fluffy once they're baking. I sift the flour into a mixing bowl and then sift all the dry ingredients together once more (twice, if I'm using gluten-free ingredients). I use a sieve, but a traditional sifter would probably work even better.
3. Fill your baking cups completely full. Up to the rim.
4. If the recipe calls for buttermilk, use buttermilk. If it doesn't call for buttermilk, improvise. For example, in one of my batches of lemon muffins, it didn't call for buttermilk, but I used the lemon juice that it did call for to sour the milk before I added it and ended up with really fluffy muffins. I shared a tip for buttermilk replacements in my pancake recipe. Something about the bubbles or something-something sciency. Whatever it is, it's great. Buttermilk is your friend in the baking world! Try not to use plain milk if you can help it.
5. Preheat the oven 100 degrees higher than your baking time. As soon as you put the muffin tins in, turn the heat down to what the recipe calls for. The blast of heat in the beginning is really what gives the muffin a high, fluffy top and is the most important tip.
I was pretty excited when I combined all those tricks and finally got fluffy muffins with a top that could pop right off. It's so obviously the best part of the muffin. Seinfeld, anyone?