When did the muffin morph into a cupcake? Don’t get me wrong, I like cupcakes, but if you’ve visited a bakery or coffee shop in the last couple of decades, you can’t help but notice that muffins and cupcakes are often similar in terms of sweetness. This wasn’t always the case. Although they may be baked in the same kind of pan, the versatile muffin wasn’t always as sweet as cake, and basic vintage recipes were often savory instead of sweet. My 1972 edition of the Joy of Cooking suggests adding nuts, dried fruit, mashed bananas, crushed pineapple, crumbled bacon, or cheese.
My dream home library would have multiple editions of cookbooks, which would allow me to see how recipes transformed over the years. My library is fairly small, so let’s examine a few different cookbooks from the 1950s to 1980s. This may be like comparing apples and oranges, but bear with me. My original thinking was this: during the low fat craze, recipes began reducing fats and increasing sugar content. Even as the low fat craze waned, Americans taste for sugar remained and so did the sugar content in most muffins. The phenomenon of increased sugar in the American diet is well-documented, but what do the muffin recipes show?
Here’s what I learned from my cookbooks: The 1953 Mennonite Community Cookbook recipe for “Plain Muffins” calls for 2 tablespoons sugar, three tablespoons melted fat and one or two eggs. My 1959 Fannie Farmer has the “Twin Mountain” muffin recipe, which lists a range of acceptable sugar amounts from two tablespoons to 1/2 cup. Fats include one to two eggs and 1/4 cup melted butter. The 1972 Joy of Cooking‘s basic muffin recipe calls for 1/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and 2 to 4 tablespoons melted butter. The 1989 Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook lists 1/3 cup sugar, 1 egg, and 1/4 cup cooking oil. This was deep in the low fat craze of the 1980s when butter was taboo.
If it wasn’t for that pesky Fannie Farmer, the recipes would show a steady increase in sugar. Fannie’s 1/2 cup sugar, however, is recommended for berry muffins. Depending on the type of berry, I guess I can see that you might need extra sugar. What do you think? If you are a cookbook collector, do your vintage cookbooks show a steady increase in added sugar, and a corollary between the decrease in animal fats and increase in sugar in the muffin?
After pondering various muffin recipes, I decided to try the 1972 Joy of Cooking recipe with a few adaptations. Although my goal was not to reduce the fat, I like experimenting with different fats. I substituted a combination of olive oil and whole milk Greek yogurt for the butter. I also added a cup of chopped strawberries to the basic recipe. Strawberries may not be the most flavorful this time of year, but they were on sale for Valentine’s Day and baking them into a muffin seemed like a good way to utilize their color and subtle flavor.
Untwisted Strawberry Olive Oil Muffins
(Adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
3/4 cup milk
1 cup chopped strawberries
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, olive oil, yogurt, and milk.
- Make well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well.
- Mix until just combined.
- Fold in the chopped strawberries.
- Grease muffin pans or ramekins with olive oil, and fill with the batter until about 3/4 full.
- Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes.
I liked this recipe. The muffins were moist and not overly sweet. They were best eaten warm from the oven, and I recommend reheating them if you have leftovers. I also recommend spreading them with a little salty butter or peanut butter, but I’m a sucker for the sweet and salty combination.