A muffin that works (for me)

Sarah's millet muffin 1

Millet tastes like it sounds, in a millet muffin: rolly and crunchy and new- and old-fashioned, all at the same time. Like the kind of old woman that can simultaneously wear orange Diesel sneakers and reminisce about living through the (other) Depression.

Before January, I’d never had a millet muffin. Frankly, a few little yellow grains don’t seem like enough to make a muffin something worth eating. But a couple weeks ago, my friend Rachel piqued my interest:

My favorite (okay, the only) bakery in Williamstown used to sell millet muffins that I loved. Apparently there weren’t enough of us, because the bakery went out of business after I graduated. I have unsuccessfully tried to track down the owner to ask for her recipe. I searched online, but I only managed to find ones that used millet flour rather than whole millet. Finally, I found one with 1/3 cup millet in the ingredient list. I printed it out, mixed the wet ingredients, etc., and then realized in the instructions section that it said “mix millet flour, whole wheat flour…”. Dang! I decided just to use whole millet and see what happened. It worked pretty well and I haven’t changed it since.

We all have these recipes—they’re the ones that work, the ones we’re used to. The ones we don’t have the energy to change.

Every once in a while, though, we wake up and realize they’re not really what we want. (Here’s the lesson, right up front: It’s okay to break up with your recipes, or ask them to change for you. Trust me, sometimes it’s for the best.)

That’s what Rachel did. One day, the fact that these healthy, whole-wheat muffins fueled her mornings wasn’t enough. She loved that they relied on vegetable oil for fat and honey as a sweetener, and that the millet’s crunch wasn’t outdone by other, fancier things. But her breakfast was tough around the edges, and her recipe called for buttermilk, which she didn’t usually keep around. And when she really thought about it, they just weren’t as good as the muffins from the bakery. Transportable, but tough. Less sexy. She needed a new muffin.

I’m looking for some combination of tasty, healthy, and holdtogetherness. (I can compromise some, but I want breakfast, not dessert.) Let me know if you can help!

Oh, how I do love a challenge. There’s nothing more pitiful than a healthy muffin gone wrong. I’ve been meaning to experiment with honey as a baking sweetener forever, and oh, didn’t I just buy a big bag of millet? Indeed. The millet experiment began.

I was a little aggressive, I’ll admit. In one fell swoop, I decreased the salt, substituted plain yogurt for the buttermilk (which is almost always an option), and increased the one egg to two (to add moisture and lift). I also changed the whole wheat flour to whole wheat pastry flour, in an attempt to lighten things up a little, and added a bit of joy, in the form of lemon juice, which is a natural tenderizer, too.

Now, before we get any farther, let me just say that I know I was acting out of turn. Most good recipe testers would agree that you only change one thing at a time, as an absolute rule. So especially without testing the original recipe, I had no business being so careless. But sometimes it feels good to live without rules. (I have a friend who once made lasagna with no clothes on, and that certainly sounds more exciting than regular lasagna, doesn’t it?)

Anyway. I kept my apron snugly tied around me (although it hardly fits anymore). And just a few minutes after pulling the honey-scented batch out of oven, I tucked into a millet muffin, smeared with cinnamon honey. It was durable, but not dense. Sweet, but not sugary. Crunchy and just a smidge lemony, but through and through a millet muffin, before anything else. And definitely breakfast, not dessert.

I loved it. I wrote Rachel with the recipe.

Here’s where it gets sad.

She tried them. It was a disaster.

Her muffins poofed up and out of control, sticking to the pan and each other. She had to pry the tops off, and use a chopstick to scrape the bottoms out. She said she liked the texture better, but the lemon just wasn’t her bag and oh, goodness, who wants to make muffins that don’t just come right out of the pan?

Giving someone a recipe that doesn’t work feels like lying. I make a point to avoid doing it, but when it happens, as these things do, I don’t like it.

I assumed it was me. I punished myself for changing too many things at once. Maybe I used the wrong measuring spoon for my leaveners, I thought, or maybe I used more flour than I thought. I baked them again, this time exchanging the lemon for two teaspoons of cinnamon, which Rachel loves. The acid in the lemon juice might have contributed to the rise of her plus-sized muffins, and I wanted to make something she’d like (and avoid the same explosion issues myself). And I only changed one thing.

That cinnamon version, though, it came out just as well. I tested it in both aluminum and nonstick pans, and by golly, those muffins had just the same height as the first batch – no higher – with the same moisture, and the same great crunch. I personally preferred the lemon version, but the cinnamon-tinged ones were just fine. I noticed that the muffins baked in the aluminum pan didn’t rise quite as well, and didn’t brown quite as nicely, but something was working for me that wasn’t working for Rachel.

millet muffin alum on left nonstick on right

So I did what I always do when I’m having recipe trouble: I called my mother. She loves her whole wheat baked goods, that one. And talented as she is in the kitchen (and outside), this woman is completely incapable of following a recipe to the letter. I figured asking her to test the muffins would introduce one more variable. Just enough to see if I was crazy, thinking the recipe really worked.

She didn’t let me down. Mom mixed the muffins in a stand mixer (which can make them tough, if you don’t stop mixing right when the dry ingredients have been incorporated), and changed the yogurt – she used Greek. And you know what? They came out just fine, too. She even sent me photos. And I didn’t hear from my dad the next morning with tales of eating the entire batch, like I do when Mom bakes something sweet, which meant the muffins passed the good-for-you test that was important to Rachel. (Dads make great barometers.)

Still. I couldn’t get past having given Rachel a recipe that didn’t work for her.

I dropped the last of my whole wheat pastry flour and a little sack of millet off at Sarah’s house. She’s a recipe follower—at least I thought she was—but she used a combination of key lime and strawberry yogurts. The muffins turned out well for her, too. She liked the crunch so much she dumped some millet into her cornbread last weekend.

So I emailed Rachel. I have no answer for you, I said. I hate that these didn’t work for you. They worked for me, and two other people. We went around and around about what might have gone wrong, to no avail.

So I failed Rachel. (For now, at least, because she hasn’t tried them again. I probably wouldn’t, in her place.)

I might never know why her batch didn’t work, which drives me bonkers.

But I do have a really good, healthy, easy, milletty muffin recipe that works.

For me, at least.


Millet muffin

Whole Wheat Millet Muffins (PDF)

Made with honey, vegetable oil, plain yogurt, and a healthy dose of crunchy millet, these lemon-scented muffins are meant for breakfast, not dessert. Serve them warm or reheated, plain or with a smear of butter or extra honey.

Look for millet in the bulk foods section of a natural grocery store.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 1 dozen muffins

Vegetable oil spray
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup (raw) millet
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
Zest and juice (about 2 tablespoons) of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray (including the flat parts), and set aside.

Whisk the flour, millet, powder, soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In another big bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter between the muffin cups, spooning a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each one. (The muffins will not rise much.)

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until browned and only barely beginning to crack. Let cool 5 minutes in pans, then cool completely on a wire rack.



Filed under bread, Breakfast, grains, recipe, snack

11 responses to “A muffin that works (for me)

  1. i love millet but have never made anything other than savory with it. i’ll definitely bookmark this for later cuz i’ve got a bag of millet in the cupboard waiting for something new!

  2. Love the idea of a millet muffin. Millet is so underated in the grain world. I once made a grain salad with millet and my mother actually accused me of feeding her birdfood. Be sure to keep that millet on hand, it’s one of the best first grains for babies 🙂

  3. Amy

    where do you find whole millet? Would it be found at pick n save, in the bulk section?


  4. Not sure about pick’n’save, Amy, but yes, usually it’s in the bulk section.

  5. Amy

    thanks I’ll look for it next time I’m at the grocery store ^_^ fun fun fun!

  6. SAWII (aka Sarah)

    Did I fail as recipe tester? I guess so. Just when I was so proud of myself for improvising… that was what you didn’t need.
    As you said, I’m now totally in love with those crunchy little balls even if they still seem like bird food to me.
    Ballard Market has WW Pastry Flour in bulk along with the millet (but no wheat germ, btw).

  7. Absolutely not, Sarah – the whole point is to see what comes up, and see if the recipe still works despite any changes! So you’re a star tester…

  8. ts

    Reading Bread Alone – the novel set in Seattle…recipe for pumpkin millet muffins in there!

  9. Oh I love Millet! This recipe looks fabulous and I can’t wait to try it. I’m a chronic recipe changer, but I’ll do my best to follow it to the T. I haven’t done much baking with millet, mostly just cooking. I think I’ll give these a shot over the weekend. Yum!

  10. Kristin

    Hi Jess! I’m roommates with Rachel in student housing and heard about this adventure first hand. (She is also responsible for introducing me to your blog – thanks Rachel!) I’ve been meaning to try these for a few weeks, and this evening I finally did. They came out GORGEOUS! I ended up eating one as an ‘appetizer’ because I couldn’t imagine waiting until morning to try one. Totally delicious. My own twists were to substitute about 3/4 of the oil with banana (because I had one that was on the way out) and to throw a few handfuls of raisins into the dry ingredients just before mixing (I also did the cinnamon version – worked nicely with the raisins). Anyway, thanks for the recipe and for your lovely blog. It is a wonderful part of my week when it appears in my Reader. Continue to take care of yourself!

  11. Pingback: A little something new «

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