This is a very special post in which my Uncle of the Heart, Uncle Ray, learned to make blueberry muffins using The Muffin Method.
Uncle Ray is no longer with us, but he loved Ritz Carlton Blueberry Muffins so much that, when his wife could no longer make them, he wanted to make them himself.
Post updated with new photographs, June 25, 2017. Since I wrote this post, all three of these dear people have left us, but we keep their memory alive in so many ways. Thank you for visiting, and enjoy what are, according to Uncle Ray, the best Blueberry Muffins in the world.
For ease of browsing, you can also check out all my muffins and quick breads in one place.
How This Post Came About
I have written about my family of the heart, Uncle Ray, Auntie Ev, and Ev’s sister Eileen in my post about Chicken Noodle Soup, and some of you may have read my tribute to them in my post Anniversaries and Alzheimers.
Once we moved back to North Carolina from Florida, we only lived about one and a half hours from Ev, Ray, and Eileen, so we would visit as frequently as we could. On one occasion, I went down to see them and my parents, and Uncle Ray was in the end stages of making Ritz Carlton blueberry muffins.
A neighbor of theirs had come over to Supervise, but alas, she was either not Proficient in The Muffin Method or not up to the task of making Uncle Ray do it correctly. More likely the latter. The man needs a Strong Hand, I’m telling you.
At any rate, they ended up with some impressively chewy muffins that kind of rose like bread.
I told him not to worry, that The Beloved and I would be back down soon, and I would take him In Hand and help him make some Truly Excellent Muffins.
Uncle Ray was pretty excited, and when I asked him to write a guest post for me, he said sure. And here we are.
The rest is his story of how we made the Ritz Carlton Blueberry Muffins, except for Italicized Parentheticals–those are my notes:
How To Make Blueberry Muffins, by Uncle Ray
Blueberry muffins have been a favorite of ours since our son’s college days. (He is now 61 and I am 93, moldering away though not yet senile).
Our son went to Emerson college where he majored in theatre and communications. Will say with some pride that he today is quite a communicator and a very good actor, but not in the theatre world.
When his Mom and I visited him in Boston we would stay at the Ritz Carlton Hotel which in that day was famous for its dining facilities. It was there that we were served with the most good looking and delicious blueberry muffins known to mankind, but when we asked for the recipe, we were told that it was almost a state secret and if they gave it to me, they would then have to assassinate me.
Not yet having a death wish, we thanked them for their courtesy, left a minor tip, and gently stole into the night.
Lo and behold as they say in our hymnals, not more than one month later, the recipe appeared in the NYTimes which by virtue of some legerdemain, had procured said recipe and printed it in large bold type.
It now must be stated that I am neither cook nor chef and I have the kitchen dexterity of a rag doll, but suddenly I had the urge to create this delicacy as my dear wife Evelyn had done for many years.
(Not to be maudlin, but Evelyn now has Alzheimer’s, and can no longer create kitchen works of art, so in memory of her better days I decided to step in the act.)
My first attempt was fair (too much mixing, mainly), but certainly not great (I’m still chewing), so when Jenni heard that story, she asked if I would like her to step in and she would guide me through the shoals of proper Blueberry Muffin baking.
I would have to be the class idiot to turn down such an offer, so just this past Saturday she and her Beloved graced our home with one of their visits, and I got all the fixin’s to make the muffins (I brought the lemon and a Microplane).
They turned out superbly and due solely to her (Very Stern) guiding and Julia Child’s touches (and encouragement and in general good teacherliness) that they were Muffins of great style, appearance and most importantly TASTE.
For those of you, proficient as I hear you are, I am outlining below the base recipe (I wrote it up in a recipe card at the end of this post) to which you should not substitute one smidgen of your own imagination, because you will break the spell and I might add, the Muffins. (Don’t listen to him–we made some of our own additions as we went).
Lots of good fortune and great tasting to you all.
Where They Went Wrong
When I quizzed Uncle Ray about how he and his neighbor mixed the muffins, he said that they put everything together in a bowl and mixed it with a mixer really well.
This activated way too much gluten, and they ended up with chewy muffins, which is not what you’re looking for. Muffins should be very tender.
The reason why you can put together a cake by tossing everything in a bowl and mixing it (although I am a strong advocate for controlling how you add the ingredients based on different mixing methods) and you can’t do the same with a muffin is this:
Unlike a cake recipe that may contain 2 sticks of butter, muffins do not contain enough fat to coat the flour and prevent too much gluten from forming.
The Sign of a Perfect Muffin
You will know you have performed the muffin method correctly if, when you slice a muffin in half from top to bottom and look at the crumb, you don’t see any “tunnels” or large holes.
These are the tell-tale signs of gluten development–the tunnels form when air bubbles work their way up through the batter and the gluten “records their passage” by leaving tunnels. Ditto for large holes. Muffin crumb should be loose, fairly coarse, and even.
If your muffin recipe starts with “cream together butter and sugar,” you have made a muffin with the creaming method. And that, my friends, is a cupcake and will have a completely different crumb structure.
What You’ll Need
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make these fabulous blueberry muffins, friends:
Note that I broke up the ingredients into different headings. Let’s take a look, shall we?
The dry ingredients provide the bulk and leavening in muffins. Here they are:
- all-purpose flour: you can also substitute cake flour here for an even finer crumb and less chance of “tunneling”
- baking powder: leavener for a batter that is balanced (not too acidic). Do NOT substitute baking soda
- sugar: provides some sweetness. Since these are traditional muffins and not (abominable) cupcake muffins, they don’t contain a ton of sugar
- salt: brings out all the flavors and balances the sweetness
The dry ingredients provide tenderness (fat), structure (eggs) and liquid to make a batter consistency (milk):
- eggs: You’ll need 5 large eggs, beaten. This is a lot more egg than “regular” muffins generally contain. I think this is part of what sets these apart as “Ritz-worthy muffins”
- melted butter: again, since these are traditional muffins, they contain relatively little fat. You’ll need 5 oz, or 1 1/4 sticks of butter, melted and cooled
- whole milk: you could sub 2% here if you like. Or get fancy and use half and half
- vanilla extract: provides just a hint of mellowness
This is just the fancy word for mix-ins. I thought you should know! Inclusions are generally things like nuts, berries, chocolate, etc. For an inclusion-ful muffin, check out my chocolate cherry buttermilk muffins.
- blueberries: 4-5 cups fresh or frozen. If using frozen, do not thaw, just gently fold the frozen berries into the batter right before panning them up
- lemon zest: not in the original recipe, I added it because blueberries and lemon are a lovely combination. You can leave it out if you want, but I love the brightness the lemon zest brings
Muffins are often topped with streusel. Ritz Carlton muffins aren’t–they’re pretty plain, letting the blueberries be the star of the show.
But I couldn’t reisist sprinkling just a bit of demerara sugar on top of the batter right before baking.
Modifications We Made to the Original Ritz Carlton Muffin Recipe
We added some lemon zest and a pinch or two of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg this time. The spices are totally optional. In fact, I left them out of the written recipe. Just know you can add some if you’d like.
The next time we can get Auntie Ev in on the action, putting the liners in the muffin cups and scooping the batter into them. (Sadly, we never did get Auntie Ev in on the action. Winter Leaves)
What To Do
In short, whisk all the dry ingredients together.
Whisk all the wet ingredients together in another bowl.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold gently.
Add the blueberries and fold until they’re evenly distributed but there are still some lumps.
Be careful not to over-mix. With less sugar and fat to prevent it, gluten can form pretty quickly.
Scoop your batter into lined jumbo muffin tins, top each muffin with a light sprinkling of coarse sugar, and bake in a hot oven.
If you have questions about this post or recipe, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can leave a comment on the post and I will get back to you within about 24 hours.
If your question is more urgent, please shoot me an email, and I will respond within 4 hours, unless I’m asleep.
Need a Gluten Free Blueberry Muffin?
I have another recipe for gluten free, egg free, dairy free blueberry muffins that uses a gluten-free flour blend, ground flax seed and water in place of eggs, and a soy yogurt you might enjoy. You’ll notice that aside from these modifications, the basic recipe is pretty similar to this one.
NOTE: Most of my recipes are written by weight and not volume, even the liquids.
Even though I try to provide you with volume measurements as well, I encourage you to buy a kitchen scale for ease of measuring, accuracy, and consistency.
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For the Base Recipe
- 3 and 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 5 eggs slightly beaten, (Use large eggs) (Uncle Ray had purchased Jumbo Eggs, so we used 4 plus one of the yolks)
- 1/2 cup homogenized milk
- 5 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 4 or 5 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 6 teaspoons coarse sugar
Optional Ingredients not in the Original Recipe
- zest of 1-2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- Heat oven to 425F.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and sea salt. Set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, melted and cooled butter and either of the optional ingredients (the vanilla or the lemon zest).
- Pour the wet ingredients into the center of the dry ingredients and then plop in all but a handful of the blueberries.
- Fold all together as evenly as you can. Work quickly and be thorough, but also be gentle. No stirring--just folding. It's a tall order, but you can do it. The batter will be very thick and scoopable, not pourable.
- Scoop batter by 1/2 cups into 12 jumbo muffin cups lined with parchment muffin tin liners
- Press a few blueberries into the top of each muffin and then sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of coarse sugar.
- Turn oven down to 400F, and bake until golden brown with an internal temperature of about 195F-200F, about 25 minutes. If the muffins get too brown before the insides are done, cover with foil.
- Cool in tins for 5 minutes and then remove to racks. Serve warm with a pat of butter.
Uncle Ray's Notes:
Remember these muffins have been in flux for 35 years, ever since Charles Bonino, the executive chef who retired in 1971 decided he wanted to make a better muffin. The Ritz Carlton has been serving some version of this muffin since it opened in 1927.
Good fortune to you all, and may your muffins rise to the occasion.
Uncle Ray the Muffin Man
Muffins are always best eaten the day they are made. If you can't plow your way through a dozen or don't have folks to share with, freeze them airtight (I put them in zipper freezer bags and suck out all the air before sealing). They'll be fine for a couple of weeks. Only take out the muffin/s you're going to eat, thaw in the microwave for a few seconds and then split and heat in the toaster oven for 3-4 minutes.
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Nutrition InformationYield 12 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 380Total Fat 13gSaturated Fat 7gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 5gCholesterol 104mgSodium 459mgCarbohydrates 65gFiber 7gSugar 40gProtein 7g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
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So, there you have it, Uncle Ray’s first hand account of the Importance of Using the Muffin Method when making Ritz Carlton Blueberry Muffins (or any muffins).
Auntie “‘Leenie” passed away on April 17. 2013. Uncle Ray left us to rejoin Auntie Ev on June 18, 2013. We miss all three of them very much.