I’m cross-posting this material on both the Intentional Happiness and the Intentional Hospitality blogs, as it’s applicable to both. So here are some words of wisdom gleaned from this sad experience:
2. Don’t take your eye off the ball. Part of the problem, I think, was that I put the cranberries into the food processor with the wet ingredients, turned it on, and then got distracted. I left the machine running instead of just pulsing it. The cranberries very quickly became almost liquefied instead of being chopped, so I think the batter was too wet. That extra liquid meant that there just wasn’t enough structure in the batter to sustain the rise.
3. Don’t think you can adjust the rules to suit yourself. In addition to the cranberry catastrophe, the other mistake I made was that I didn't follow the guidelines about switching between baking powder and baking soda, thinking that I could use both in amounts I came up with myself to get the results I wanted. Well, it didn’t work. The original recipe called for two teaspoons of baking powder but also included buttermilk, which is an acidic ingredient and therefore meant that the recipe should have used baking soda, not powder.
(Read this only if you’re interested in baking: Baking powder includes a dry acid and some cornstarch along with baking soda, so it’s much bulkier than plain baking soda. The cornstarch helps keep the acid and the soda separate until use. Baking soda doesn’t need the filler and isn’t made with an acid, so you need much less. The rule is that you use one-fourth the amount of baking soda that you do of baking powder. But you also need an acidic ingredient in your recipe to make the soda bubble, just as you need vinegar to mix in with the soda to make your child’s science fair exploding volcano. So any recipes that include buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream should use baking soda. If the liquid is something neutral, such as plain milk, then you need baking powder to supply the needed acid.)
Okay, I’m back. Anyway, I had tried substituting a teaspoon of baking soda for the two teaspoons of baking powder, but, according to the formula you just read in the parentheses, that was twice as much baking soda as I should have used. The muffins looked good but had a bitter, soda-y taste. So I tried a batch with one-half teaspoon baking soda and they tasted fine, but I still wanted them to rise more. So for this batch I also added one-half teaspoon baking powder along with the soda. That was obviously not the way to go. For the next and, I hope, final batch, I’m going to go back to the baking powder but use plain milk instead of buttermilk. I don’t know how long I can keep going with the seemingly-infinite series of experiments, but hey! It’s the recipe or me.
4. Don’t do stuff that’s not vital if you’re running low on time. I wanted to make these muffins with real maple extract, but the only item on the grocery store shelves was the imitation stuff. Truth to tell, it probably wouldn’t have made that much difference. (They say, whoever they are, that people can’t tell the difference between real and imitation vanilla once it’s baked into an item, and that’s probably also true for other flavorings, but I still refuse to buy the imitation.) So on Saturday afternoon, instead of doing what needed to be done, I went haring off to the Savory Spice Shop at Southlands Mall. What a lovely place! I always thoroughly enjoy going there. But . . . that little expedition ate up at least an hour all told. That was an hour I didn’t have to spare. Now I have the stuff, though, so next time I won’t have to do that. (At least not until I’ve used up the rather small bottle I bought.)
In the end it didn’t matter that the muffins were somewhat of a disaster. There was more food at that breakfast than you could shake a stick at, as my mother used to say. There was also a great crowd, and the event as a whole was a huge success. Now I guess we’ll have to do it every year! By the next time, surely, I’ll have perfected these decidedly imperfect muffins.