A pack of muffin liners and permanently lemon-laced taste buds and a can of baking powder later, I think I’ve finally perfected these healthyish lemon poppy seed muffins that take me back to Saturday mornings and oversized t-shirts and freckled noses and boxed muffin mix. Mini lemon poppy seed muffins were our favorite growing up. These aren’t so mini, but I’ve made sure they’re composed of all of my favorite parts of those muffins—tender yet dense, bright in flavor, good out of the oven, and even better the next day.
I wasn’t joking when I said I went through a whole pack of muffin liners. This recipe took forever to test. You see, I have a base muffin recipe that I love (as seen in The Minimalist Kitchen). It’s simple and comes together as quick as a craving hits, made with melted butter and pantry staples, things I always keep stocked.
Typically, I make said muffins with frozen fruit. The addition of those frozen morsels helps the muffins to rise and dome nicely in the oven and stay tender and moist outside of the oven. I had no idea dropping the fruit would change everything. Well, it did. After adding an extra 2 tablespoons of milk and testing every baking temperature and reducing the yogurt amount, we have a winner. My neighbor agrees. (I had to have unadulterated tastebuds confirm this finding.)
What makes these muffins healthy?
First off, I don’t like using words like healthy or healthier or healthyish because they mean something different to everyone. But after discussing muffin philosophies with Kev, I had to say it out loud so that you’d know what kind of lemon poppy seed muffin this is. When Kev eats a muffin, he wants it to be decadent and only eaten on special occasions. Basically, he wants cake. I can’t handle that much sugar early in the morning without feeling ill. For that reason, I want a muffin you could eat any day. Not too sweet, just right. Made with wheat, maple syrup, and whole milk yogurt. Healthyish.
So to start, I kept the sugar low, using a mix of cane sugar and maple syrup. The maple warms up the flavor while also helping to keep your blood sugar from spiking. The sweet crumble on top performs a bit of magic as it helps to enhance overall sweetness levels without greatly increasing sugar levels. When making baked goods, there’s a fine sugar line. Too little will leave you with a dry muffin. How low can you go? I think this is it.
The addition of the lemon zest also helps to embolden the sweetness levels. That plus a secret ingredient I landed on after watching Kev work on his all-natural candle scent experiment. (We have dreams of having homemade candles in The Minne Stuga.) It goes like this: paring a citrus scent with a warm scent, yields a harmonious, robust aroma. So I added a splash of almond extract into these citrusy muffins to round out the bright lemon flavor perfectly. It makes no scents, see what I did there, but just trust me.
How do you make a muffin top rise?
Before I turn you loose on these Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, let’s talk muffin tops. When I make muffins, I really want a muffin top. It’s a bit ridiculous the lengths I’ll go. But because of that, I have some muffin top training. Here are a couple of things to try:
Bump up your baking powder levels. This recipe has a generous 2 teaspoons, which is a teaspoon shy of a tablespoon. Shy away from adding extra baking soda to a muffin recipe as it will increase browning and add an overly salty flavor.
Increase your temperature. I like to bake muffins at 400°F or above. For these lemon poppyseed muffins, I started the oven even hotter, at 425°F, and baked for 8 minutes before turning down the temperature to 375°F to finish. Without frozen berries producing steam and helping the muffin to rise, these muffins needed extra help with heat. This allowed them to dome up right away and finish baking at a lower temperature to keep from drying out.
Don’t over mix. Let the batter do some work in the oven to fight and climb. An over-mixed batter will over-develop the gluten, yielding a dense, tough, low muffin.
Fill your cavity almost to the top. See image above. This works best for thicker batters. Thinner batters need a longer bake time at a lower temperature, meaning they may spill over using this methodology.
You can have too much muffin top. I can’t believe I’m saying this either. Taller muffin tops take longer to rise, creating the potential to over-bake the part of the muffin that sits in the tin. That was true of this muffin recipe. In general, there’s a balance between heat, sugar levels, and batter density to create muffin tops. This is especially delicate when you’re trying to pull off a lower sugar muffin. You can’t fall back on the sugar to add moisture back into the muffin post bake. For that reason, I settled on a lower muffin top for this recipe, but a muffin top no less.
Now that you’ve heard my TED Talk on muffin making, I hope your Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins take you to a memory you can’t forget, sweet enough, dense yet tender, with a generous muffin top. Amen.
These muffins come together quickly, are lower in sugar, and tender from the yogurt. They’re good straight out of the oven but even better the next day if you ask me, which is how I feel about most baked goods. Make the night before and serve the next morning. This rest allows the flavors to deepen and the muffin to soften. Note: this recipe uses 1 stick of butter divided between the crumble and the batter. To cut down on measuring utensils, use a 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup, a tablespoon, teaspoon, and 1/4 teaspoon.
Assemble the crumble. Place all crumble ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Prepare the wet ingredients. In a small saucepan, melt butter on low until half melted. Set aside to continue melting and cooling.
In a separate small to medium bowl, add all the remaining wet ingredients and whisk together until evenly combined, excluding the butter.
Prepare the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients until evenly combined.
Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, excluding the butter, and fold a couple times to begin incorporating. Then add the melted and cooled butter. (Note: because the butter is warmer than the other wet ingredients, adding it in this way keeps the butter from hardening as it will do in an effort to reach the same temperature as the other ingredients.) Fold together until just combined, no more. The batter will look slightly wet, but will thicken as it sets.
Meanwhile, line a muffin tin with 8 liners. Evenly distribute the batter using a 2-ounce spring release scoop, heaping each scoop. The batter will fill the entire cavity. Set aside.
Mix the crumble. Using your hands or a fork, mix together the crumble until you get a crumbly crumble. This is super scientific. Evenly sprinkle on top of each muffin.
Bake for 8 minutes at 425°F. The high heat will help the muffin to rise quickly. Then turn the heat down to 375°F to finish baking, about 8-10 minutes. The muffin is done when a light press to the middle springs back. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin to cool completely on a rack. Serve warm or store covered in an airtight container, once completely cooled, for up to 3 days. I prefer these made a day in advance.
A note on substitutions: I imagine coconut oil would make an easy swap for the butter in this recipe, however, I haven’t tested it. If you try it, will you let me know?
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