It's been a really, really long time since I've made muffins to share with you guys on the blog. I have no idea why, since muffins are really an excuse to eat cake for breakfast, and I love anything that lets me eat cake at all times of the day. My main issue with muffins is that I find them hard to photograph for some reason. I know, that's not really the most legitimate reason to avoid making delicious muffins and getting the opportunity to eat cake for breakfast, but I'm pretty sure that deep down, that's the real truth. Give me a dozen muffins and I'm just not really sure what to do with them. Granted, I still feel like I'm still pretty much winging it whenever I take photographs for the blog, but muffins are something else. I kinda sorta know what to do with brownies and other bar cookies, and I really like photographing thick slices of cake and big scoops of ice cream, and super tall stacks of pancakes. I'm typically pretty happy with the way those photographs come out, but with muffins...that's a whole other story. I'm usually putting things together and more or less crossing my fingers that my photographs will come out somewhat interesting, but more often than not, I'm usually a little indifferent about them. They're nice, sure, but not much more. Muffins, while delicious, just don't have the same visual appeal that a frosting swirled cupcake has, even though I'd honestly rather eat a muffin than a cupcake about 90% of the time. Muffins have always been my nemesis when it comes to food photography subjects, but hopefully this will change one day!
The other day, I went to a small cafe around the corner from the office where I'm working right now to buy myself some lunch. I ordered a half sandwich/half soup lunch combo, and while I was standing at the front of the cafe waiting for my order to be prepared, I saw that they had a muffin sitting on their counter. It had already been split and was sitting out to be eaten in the form of free samples by customers, so I felt obliged to partake in the muffin sampling. The cinnamon muffin that had been left out, while certainly not the best muffin I've ever had, was still pretty decent. Anyway, that one bite of a just-decent cinnamon crumb muffin left me craving cinnamon muffins of my own...better muffins! It didn't matter that I'm always apprehensive about photographing muffins. My mind had been made up, and I knew I needed to make a batch of muffins over the weekend.
I knew I wanted to make cinnamon muffins. That wasn't even an issue. I had been inspired to recreate the cinnamon muffins from the cafe and make them loads better, and cinnamon muffins are great because they only have really simple ingredients that I always have on hand in my kitchen. These snickerdoodle muffins, as I'm calling them, incorporate cinnamon a total of three times. They have a nice dose of cinnamon mixed into the muffin base, are studded with lots of mini cinnamon chips, and are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar on top. I happened to have a bag of cinnamon chips on hand because my sister got them for me at the King Arthur Flour shop up at Dartmouth, and I knew this would be a perfect time to finally get around to using them. This is really the only "specialty" ingredient in these muffins, but oh man, these little chips are such a great ingredient! They look just like regular mini chocolate chips, but are much lighter in color. They bake just like regular chocolate chips, so you can feel free to add them into your favorite recipes without having to worry about anything. These chips were the perfect addition to make the muffins something really special...or that's what I thought...
As I was pulling out the eggs, sour cream, and milk that I needed for the muffin base, my eyes landed on a lonely bar of cream cheese, just sitting there in my fridge. Immediately, I thought, "OHMAHGAH, these snickerdoodle muffins NEED a cheesecake center." Now that truly brought these muffins over the top, and what was so great about it was that the cheesecake addition didn't even add too many extra steps or over complicate the recipe. The muffins were still a breeze to mix up! Like in most muffin recipes, you start out by sifting together all your dry ingredients in one bowl, and then mix up the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. To make these muffins just a little more special, I decided to brown some butter to add a nutty dimension to the muffin batter. Seriously, browned butter is one of the best tricks to keep up your sleeve when baking, because it makes everything just taste extraordinary, and these muffins are no exception. Simply mix together the browned butter with the sugar in a bowl (all you need for this is a wooden spoon!), and then mix in the eggs, followed by the sour cream, milk, and a little vanilla extract. Then, make a well in the bowl containing the dry ingredients, and pour in the wet ingredients. Gently mix them together, but make sure to stop only once the ingredients have been incorporated! Lumps are totally ok when we're making muffins, so don't fret! We just want to make sure that all the dry ingredients have been mixed in. Gently stir in the cinnamon chips, and we have ourselves an awesome muffin batter. The cheesecake mixture is really simple, all you need to do is beat together some cream cheese, an egg, a little flour and a little sugar in a bowl with a hand mixer until smooth. Some layering action of muffin and cheesecake filling then takes place, and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar finishes off the muffins. Easy stuff!
These snickerdoodle cheesecake muffins are without a doubt the BEST muffins I've ever made. There were just too many wonderful things about them. They were moist and fluffy, and had a muffin top that had just the right amount of crisp in its crust. Tiny specks of cinnamon chips dotted the interior of the muffins, and a lovely white swirl of cheesecake filling broke up the muffins in half. This muffin recipe is so simple and perfect that it could be used as the base for any muffin flavor your heart desires. Simply reduce the amount of ground cinnamon in the ingredients, and omit the cinnamon chips and cinnamon sugar topping. Chocolate chips, blueberries, cranberries...all of these and more would be fantastic additions! If you want to make these muffins even more over the top (if you really wanna go crazy), just add a cinnamon crumb topping to the muffins instead of the cinnamon sugar. If that's not a crazy good muffin, then I don't know what is! I'm so happy with how these muffins turned out, and I'm actually pretty happy with how these photos turned out too! I guess this means that I'll have to start baking up more batches of muffins from now on!
muffin recipe based off Ina Garten
For the Muffins
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 scant cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1 cup cinnamon chips
For the Cheesecake Filling
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
For the Cinnamon Sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
In a large skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, continue to heat and cook the butter until it turns a deep brown color and begins to smell nutty. Once the butter has browned, remove it from the heat (including all the little brown bits) and set aside to cool slightly as you prepare the remaining ingredients. Keep an eye on the butter, because it could go from brown to burnt in seconds!
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the brown butter and sugar, and with a wooden spoon, stir to combine. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the vanilla extract, sour cream, and milk, stirring until incorporated.
Form a well in the dry ingredients, and pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. With a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients together until just combined. Don't overmix; it's ok if there's still lumps! Gently mix in the cinnamon chips until evenly incorporated.
To prepare the cheesecake filling, beat together the cream cheese, egg, sugar, and flour in a bowl (I used a handheld electric mixer to make this easy). Beat the mixture until smooth.
To assemble the muffins, fill the muffin cups about halfway with the muffin batter. Add about a tablespoon of cheesecake filling, and then top off with a little more muffin batter. It's ok if the cheesecake layer isn't fully covered by the muffin batter. I actually made this really simple by using a cookie scoop. I used 2 scoops of muffin batter on the bottom, followed by a tablespoon of cheesecake filling, and finished off with 1 scoop of muffin batter on top. Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, and sprinkle this cinnamon sugar over the tops of the muffins.
Bake the muffins in the preheated oven until the tops have domed and a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center, about 25-27 minutes. Let the muffins cool slightly in the pans, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy!
Makes 20 muffins