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A Note from Marcy


The Muffin Basket and More

M is for muffins, the baker’s main squeeze on a chilly autumn morning. Enjoy a variety of muffins from our bulging collection. Lawsuit Muffins still rule but any of these are worth their weight in gold.  More muffins, from bran, to carrot, lemon poppy seed, even English Muffins, or any flavor under the sun are in the Recipe Archives.

Dear Fellow Bakers and Friends of BetterBaking.com,

Indian summer usually makes me mellow and traditionally, I get reflective in a good way: the harvest season being impetus for all sorts of baking. The sun streams into my kitchen just so and I feel energized with possibility. I flit from test baking new recipes for you all, getting ready for both Rosh Hashanah (simmering chicken soup as I write this and pungent horseradish is cooling its heels) and Canadian Thanksgiving (smoking a turkey, and hauling out batches of Parkerhouse rolls). There is also the on-going domestic baking duty:  making sure my sons are all stocked up with their favorite things: blueberry muffins, granola bars, pizza croissants, fried dough, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, layer cakes, fresh bread (daily) and pizza (almost daily) in every guise you can imagine (thick, thin, dry yeast, fresh yeast, starter dough, spiced dough, olive oil doughs, panko bottoms, semolina edges, three cheese, one cheese, meat, no meat, hot sauce, fresh garlic, roasted garlic, double crusted Chicago style, pan pizzas or thin and crisp and last but not least, baking powder and yeast pizza for those times we forget to put up a dough earlier in the day). That of course, takes care of one day’s baking agenda! No one ever told me that teenage boys consumer 2500 calories every 90 minutes. My kitchen is a busy baking hub which sees some 190 pounds of bread flour and 100 pounds of all-purpose effectively dispatched every month or so. Vanilla? Hah. A quart of the stuff becomes a rumor every few weeks. Butter and sugar seem to disappear the minute stocks are replenished. The kitchen, even in repose, seems to vibrate with activity or maybe it is the dialogue that is occurring between the new Viking toaster with the old Dualit toaster. I swear they are comparing slices of my bread and nothing is worse that two appliances gossiping.

This month, I bring you a selection of muffin recipes, which are in turn, representative of a muffin journey. I know I say this often but what you don’t know, and what I am still learning, about muffins, is a lot. Muffins have taught me as much about baking as life and legalities. What you need to know specifically about muffins can be found in my books.  But what you should know are some very basic things that might help.

Tons of batter makes bigger muffins. Forget the fill until 2/3’s full deal. If you want mall muffins, pile the batter high.

Use an ice-cream scoop to get nicely shaped muffins.

Bake on the upper rack for better muffin caps.

Buy a new tin of baking powder!

What else I can share about muffins with regards to this month’s essay, is another sort of baker’s upshot.

I do also thank you all for your understanding as BB evolves yet again. Closing the archives, and having to think of other ways to offer special recipes is frustrating in all sorts of ways but it is also another impetus to respond creatively. In the meanwhile, I wish you all a sweet New Year’s of high rising honey cakes and tender challot, and a most gracious and bountiful Canuck Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians. To all of you, north/south/east/west, either side of our borders, and to those on shores further still – but near in spirit, who are part of my greater baking family,  I wish calmer winds and calmer seas in this harvest season. 

Marcy Goldman
Baker, Writer, and Host
www.BetterBaking.Com

P.S. Don't forget The Pastry Chef's or Krispie Kreme Diet - finally revealed due to frantic demand from my test bakers!


The More You Know About Muffins or The Kindness of Karma
Marcy Goldman ©

Despite our digital age and mentality, equally in vogue is that new age sensibility that has found its way to wireless company and insurance commercials to bumper stickers. You know –the ‘everything happens for a reason’ mantra that I, and other people tend to tout when things go awry. No one ever says this when things go well – they just say- wow – great news. But when things are less than positive, that is the party line of those of us with some sort of faith and pretence or reality of a good attitude.  In fact,  two of my friends (and I guess three, if you count Oprah) often add another comment to the ‘everything happens for a reason’. They ask me, and as someone who is fertile with stories to share, I get this question fairly often:

 ‘What did you learn from that’ or “What was your Lesson from all this?” . This usually uttered on the occasions I report some sting or another, from copyright violations to burnt brioche to the ups and downs of romance at mid-life.

“Nothing’ is what I want to answer or “Nothing yet’. Because if you must know, I haven’t. I am not always sure it is about some sort of life lesson and if it is, if it all can be neatly applied at the Next Step of the Next Section of wherever you are going. Moreover, and this is really cogent, maybe there is a grandiose-ness about trying to make conclusions with such proximity to whatever the event was that made you crank up the “Everything happens for a reason’ recording. And more than this, it is not, and I mean this nicely, it is not always about you or us. We are no more (as even greater events are) but a minute stitch in our own lives; never mind, the bigger picture of the bigger work on the loom of life, as spun by forces beyond anyone’s reckoning.

I do believe things happen for a reason for the most part but lately, I have having more difficulty embracing as I used to.  That is a big admission for someone who has spent the last half of the last decade sucking back Decaf, Mocchachinio Caramelatto Lites at the Starbucks ensconced in my local Chapters (think Barnes and Noble, Borders) bookstore. It is also where I have inhaled a ton of Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, UTNE magazine, and umpteen books on compassion. If not for Style and Us magazines to break up the depth, I might not have had any sort of balance.  I think what made me question the ‘everything happens for a reason’ was not the bad things happen to good people sometimes, or Katrina, copyright violations of recipes or anything more striking than an email I received a few weeks ago from a motivational speaker. He wrote about baking and also shared with me some recent epiphanies he had had that led him to become a life coach. He helps people learn from their unhealed parts of themselves and shortcut to personal and professional life success. He sounded euphoric and had found his calling.

It was his belief that we invite people and events into our lives, as difficult as many are, to teach us lessons we need to heal and grow from. Lack of self-esteem is a prime symptom and indication of where healing is needed.
This is big stuff. It is also pretty cool until I began to think of the disaster of New Orleans. I am not sure anyone invited Katrina into their living rooms. Once there, I am not sure a lack of self-esteem was the trigger for a hurricane, which has devastated lives, a city, towns, and a whole nation. Stuff happens. Some we can control and some comes as the will of the wind. From such stuff, one can heal or grow or evolve and good things can and will take root. But suggesting that we are responsible for all negative things or they are some karmic and psychic result of unfinished business is edgy thinking. It resonates for me at times and other times, it has as sense of negative accountability to it. It places blame on victims (if you are swindled, are you at fault for not being vigilant or were you in the way of the path of someone with their own unfinished healing?). It also presumes we alone, are the cause and effect and negates the broader interplay, for which we are but a boutonnière on life’s suit. It is also cold comfort to tell a child, they invited abuse into their life to teach them a lesson they needed to learn from a past life or future test of their mettle. At what age, are we then accountable for ‘inviting’ unwanted spiritual guests into our ‘homes’?  These are big philosophies with much to offer. Whereas I have no significant tweaking to offer, as I am formulating so much as I go along, I do sense some of this popular approach, needs a bit of tempering.

My view, at this point in time, is that we are all born to stories in progress. I think we are only are fooling ourselves thinking we are a beginning and an end in some marvelous, wholly personal venture. It’s more like we step into a narrative that has been started long ago and simply take up our place and pace in it. We are each of us is a player in this incredible, unfolding life drama; part of the cast comprised of a multitude of actors, each one representing a distillation of nature, nurture, genes, history, and circumstance. In turn, each player offers a segment of a story with ten-fold permeations, depending on who is telling it. This on-going tale of us is like those apple peelings that have neither beginning nor end but twist this way or delicately coil and rewind, creating a special tapestry, those colors, at close view, are not always even describable. Like the best of complex embroideries, the best view of the design is from a stance somewhat afar. If you stare too close, like a Seurat painting, it is hard to see the overall work. Like the best of embroideries, the beauty is in its complexity - not its perfection.  Looking for lessons is wise but it’s best to allow for some retrospect before applying the all-conclusive life lesson bumper sticker or simply having some humility about our part of the greater mosaic.

Now, what I do like about the ‘everything happens for a reason’ thing is that, it comes from a positive place. Mining for gold out of the darkness is not a bad way to make a life. Using it, like peelings of vegetables to make a better soup stock, or old bread dough as the makings of an incredible sourdough, is brilliant.  Ascribing meaning is what we do and how we thrive. Taking strength from difficulty so we are better able to surf another wave of it, is wise. Seeing how change, even negative or how pain – can make us more beautiful, stronger, more authentic is something that gives ‘everything happens for a reason’ its reason. But it is retrospect and human resilience that does that as much as it is about meanings, myths and a spirituality beyond the Mind, Body, Spirit section at the bookstore. If there is a reason, it might reveal way down the line and often it is not the compact one we impose, like a sheet of Saran wrap, on a jiggly pudding simply to contain it.

Now, here’s a great baking example on this theme. Years ago, in order to get things baking faster and more reliably, the yeast companies (I believe) create a yeast powder so to speak – baking powder. This was a wunder product designed to make things rise faster and more reliable. It was is a chemical leavener versus leavening by fermentation. There was a huge outcry, the gist of which was bakers, pro and home alike feared that this Devil’s own ‘yeast powders’ would mark the end of legitimate, great, old-fashioned baking (actually, it was a 150 years later that this threat actually did come to be and it was Atkins, not baking powder, that caused it). This is sort of like that fear that said email would see communications dwindle and instead, everyone, even our neighborhood stray cat, has their own blog and more people write to each other, than ever before. Anyway, old-fashioned baking did not disappear. Instead, baking powder allowed for such things as carrot cake, pancakes, lemon loaf, and yes, muffins to thrive and in fact, baking powder, aka ‘yeast powder’ reinvented baking or birthed a whole new generation of amazing baking that is the foundation beneath such sites as mine. Everything happens for a reason is right ...albeit in retrospect. It is also simply true that things happen, good and bad because they are all changes and without change, nothing moves or grows.

Another baking example, closer to home front? Years ago, I created a muffin which took a bakery by storm. In turn, I lost my baker’s toque and my muffin recipe until I became a food writer which took the best of what I learned as a working baker and helped me re-invent myself as a baking writer. That led me to become a baking author and that in turn, led me to launch a baking website which in turn saw me share yet more baking and yes, lose some other recipes on the way. I also get to write about Lawsuit Muffins and muffins in general and far more besides. Hey, and maybe, without me knowing it, someone from New Orleans will get inspired while they browse this site and start a muffin shop in Houston and then one day say, Katrina was the reason they started a national chain of muffin stores and like, everything happens for a reason. Who knows? I won’t and that is part of the big plan. I suppose my initial chapter in my personal Muffin Story has become connective tissue and brought me to higher ground and it continues to do so. Did I need to learn about copyright protection or unethnical employers or learn it that way? Moot point. Better to just learn what you can and move on.

 Personally, I do prefer to think stuff happens for a reason because it is a tent peg of comfort. But until I know what the reason is or try and plaster on the best of my insights on an event or experience, it is best to just trust the powers that be, the universe and Mother Nature etc. I do this if only to buy some calm which might lead to some rationale which might lead to feeling better and doing better and making a change that perhaps I was avoiding. Meanwhile, I can dance on the spot until I heal from the ‘immediate’ lesson at hand. It is what we do with this stuff, and how it affects the next rites of passage we face, that becomes larger bumper sticker. I don’t know, in the midst of pain, if it serves me to think I erred three life times ago or I am picking up the tab on someone else’s karma or I asked to be dealt a blow. Comes a point, you just don’t believe, as yet another friend of mine says, that I want or need be taught all my lessons the hard way. In the end, things happen for a reason or in a season or for the sheer mystery of it all, whether in joy or whether in sorrow.  In the end, one day, all things being equal, we can step up to the plate of our own lives and create a recipe for which there is a copyright. It is a recipe of exquisite taste, of innate balance of spice, texture, salty and sweet. It is the best bread you will ever bake; a perfect pie, a tender cookie or a lofty, sweet muffin. This recipe is your life and it is indeed, unfolding for a reason - a reason all of its own.

Shana Tova, Happy Thanksgiving,  and always, sweet things,

Marcy Goldman

The Pastry Chef's or Krispie Kreme Diet
First time in print.

Blueberries and Cream Muffins
Hey Mr. Big Stuff? Who do you think you are?  Bold and bursting blueberry muffins, that’s what. These babies are huge but tender. They look like the pros but taste wonderful like homemade ,,,,, because they are.


Deluxe muffins with the fruits of the season.

Chocolate Chip Mandarin Zucchini Muffins
Perky orange flavor in a chocolate batter, studded with chocolate chips but oh-so-wholesome with the zucchini quota.

Little French Bakery Corn and Multi-Grain Muffin Recipe
Just one bite of these extraordinary muffins from a muffin shoppe nearby convinced me I had to make my own batch. The best thing next to Bird Seed Bread. These are fabulous and shame on you if you only make them because you think they are healthy. They taste stupendous and you will enjoy every last, totally delectable crumb.


A recipe request in a reprise. These are tiny gems of yeasted coffeecake, dolled up as a muffin. New Yorkers love them (I am told) and it’s easy to see why. Unique, big, redolent with cinnamon and butter – why should the Big Apple have these all to itself?
 

Plus Specialties of the Seasons….……
Canada Celebrates Thanksgiving now and it is also the time of honey and apples, for some of us – there is no end to the bounty

Honey and Apple Smoked Turkey
Walk on the wild side – smoke up a dream turkey for your dinner.

Spice 'N Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
A little cheesecake number to add to the pumpkin and pecan pies you’re sure to serve.
 
Canadiana American Thanksgiving Cranberry Family Tart
Well, what else could I call this treat, made for everyone north, south, east, west from coast to coast, spanning a huge, incredible, if-on-it-could-talk border? Thanksgiving now or later – this is the dessert of the day.

Sweet Pumpkin Spice and Cranberry Bread
Cut it thick and generous, slather with cinnamon cream cheese or serve this pure and simple.

Old-Fashioned Mulled Apple Cider Tea
Touch of cinnamon, touch of pumpkin pie spice, tea, pure apple juice and honey make a heart-warming brew. Just the thing after to rake the leaves. Keep the extra in a thermos for sheer cheer on tap.

Rosh Hashanah…….
All the best for the New Year is in my newly released A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. And if you hate honey cake, don’t forget, the only choice is my Majestic Honey Cake, over 1 million served and still counting…..

Garlic & Honey Texas Style Hickory Smoked Brisket
A salute to the state and the people in a Rosh Hashanah rendition.
Happy New Year, y’all.

Honey Apple Turnovers FREE !!!
Puff pastry from the freezer updates ‘Grandma’s baked apples’ bigtime. Quick, lightly cinnamon-and-lemon kissed, Pink Lady, Cortland or McIntosh apples are the ones to choose for this stupendous treat. Team these up with crème Anglaise or Brandy hard sauce for a Thanksgiving rendition (or Murray’s if you’re Canuck).


The Color Purple rises again. The taste of the vineyard and the accents of the season. Tart, sweet, gorgeous.

Strawberries and Honey Round New Years Challah
Dried strawberries and a kiss of honey makes this outrageous. Old Testament baking with new baker spin.

Ginger Ale Honey Cake
Spice and ginger ale, plus citrus equals a divine honey cake.
A honey cake for honey cake protesters. 


Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, Ive know the feeling; I know the place. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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