Not all muffin tops are created equal! We’re talkin’ about those cartoonishly puffed muffins you see in bakeries but maybe haven’t yet mastered at home. One great baker told us how it’s done—and gave us a knockout recipe.
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Muffin tops! Time to embrace the phrase. We are talking, friends, about those floofily hatted bakery muffins that you rarely seem to pull off at home. Why? We reached out to James Barrett, co-owner of Philadelphia’s renowned Metropolitan Bakery, who set us straight.

(A note for those of you who prefer flatter, crisp, sugary, almost burnt muffin top, Barrett suggests you scoop and refrigerate your muffin batter the night before and scatter sanding sugar, aka coarse dusting sugar, on top. The result won’t be quite as lofty if you chill the batter for that long, but it should be slightly crisp.)

Now, back to the regularly scheduled program—poofy muffins for those who love them.

First, if you see baking powder in a recipe, you’re on the right track to fluffiness. “Baking powder tends to cause lift, as opposed to soda which tends to cause spread,” said Barrett. (You’ll also spy baking soda in recipes with chocolate, buttermilk or cocoa, but that’s a chemical-balancing thing.)

Secondly, the height of the muffin is obviously dependent on the recipe (and Barrett kindly provided one of his fluffier recipes below), but it’s also about temperature. You always want room-temperature butter—which might be counterintuitive if you’re used to making biscuits. But lo! There is a reason: Soft butter melds more easily into sugar in the “creaming” method Barrett prefers (see below) for loft. You can more easily avoid over-mixing the batter.

Third, are you using the correct mixing method? Ideally you want a stand mixer with a “fabulous new scraper paddle,” says Barrett, which reaches all the way to the bottom of the bowl. You want to incorporate a bunch of air, mixing in flour slowly—if it calls for three additions, do it—and making “everything homogenous.” (Try to avoid having unmixed butter and sugar lingering at the bottom of the bowl.)

Fourth, make sure you’ve got some good, non-expired, double-acting baking powder. “Double-acting baking powder tends to react as soon as liquid hits it,” says Barrett. “Then once it hits the hot oven it will react again and cause the batter to lift.”

Fifth, Height snobs should know about the more rarely seen “foam” muffin approach, which Barrett says is “almost like a sponge cake method.” That employs separating yolks from whites, whipping those whites ferociously, and folding them in. If you spy a recipe that looks like a diva—“it’s a little more elaborate, he says—don’t despair: It should result in “a nice tall muffin.”

For the rest of us, here’s a fluffy muffin recipe Barrett swears by and sells oodles of at his bakery.

Metropolitan Bakery Millet Muffin

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups millet, lightly toasted and cooled (see “Toasting Millet,” below)
  • 6 large eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter two regular sized muffin tins (24 muffin cups).

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Stir in the millet. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla.

3. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. At low speed, add the flour mixture alternately with the egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, just until blended. Do not over-mix.

4. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Bake 15 to 20 minues, rotating the muffin pans between the upper and lower oven racks halfway through the baking, until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins in the pans for five minutes. Remove the muffins from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Toasting Millet

Millet, a grain that has been around for generations, is prized for its high protein content. Toasting it lightly will give this otherwise bland grain a crunchy texture and nutty flavor. To toast, preheat the over to 350 degrees. Spread the millet in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake on the center oven rack 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.