Best Blueberry Muffins
Like many of my obsessions, my quest to reverse-engineer Levain’s blueberry muffin started on Instagram (see: muffin mayhem on my Instagram account). But long before that, Instagram had idly served me this photo of their blueberry muffins from Levain’s account, causing me to literally gasp and stop the mindless scrolling. I’d never seen a blueberry muffin look so enticing, with its extra wide muffin tops that were crackled with sugar. Were these the best blueberry muffins ever?
Levain Bakery Cookies
Unfortunately, I couldn’t immediately answer the question—despite having lived in New York for a few years, occasionally even in the same Upper West Side neighborhood as Levain Bakery itself, I had never tried Levain Bakery’s muffins. Why??? Because of their damn chocolate chip cookies!
If you’ve been living under a rock in the last 15 years or so and somehow missed this, Levain Bakery’s chocolate chip cookies are famous. Their chocolate chip cookies are made with such thick mounds of dough that they could almost pass for scones. They are also so gooey in the middle that they can almost be mistaken for being raw/incredibly underdone. I am personally not a fan (it’s an unpopular opinion, I know). I like my chocolate chip cookies on the thinner side (but not too thin to be crispy), with crispy edges, the centers that are chewy AND fudgy, and made with chopped chocolate that melt into puddles throughout the cookie and nothing else. Because did I mention that Levain’s chocolate chip cookie recipe is made with WALNUTS? There is no option to get the cookie on its own without nuts. Like, why???!
As a result, I boycotted the bakery and only reluctantly dragged myself there when friends from out of town insisted we go. And every time, much to my disappointment, we would order a Levain chocolate chip cookie. Nobody ever wanted to branch out, because really, none of us knew any better (including myself). Now here I was years later, foolishly kicking myself for never trying anything else from the bakery—specifically, Levain’s blueberry muffins.
Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins
Convinced that I had missed out on the best blueberry muffins, I decided to reverse-engineer them at home. I’d already done a lot of the legwork last year, when I dutifully tested some of the most popular and much recommended blueberry muffin recipes as research for developing my own blueberry muffin recipe for #weeknightbakingbook. One of the most beloved recipes was for Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins. These muffins originated from a Boston-based department store, Jordan Marsh, that went out of business in the early 90s. The flagship store contained a bakery whose blueberry muffins had a cult following. It was a pretty solid recipe, with lots of blueberries to keep the muffins incredibly moist and flavorful.
Almond Flour Blueberry Muffins
Although I liked the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin recipe a whole lot, one of my goals for #weeknightbakingbook was to develop breakfast pastry recipes made with alternative flours and nutmeals. I’ll talk about this more in the book itself, but it’s mostly because, well, for years, when I worked in tech, I would often treat myself to a pastry from the bakery around the corner for breakfast. An hour or so later, I’d crash from the sugar and find myself starving and furiously counting down the minutes until lunch. I eventually found that stuffing my own breakfast pastry recipes with whole wheat flours and nuts kept me going until lunchtime.
My #weeknightbakingbook blueberry muffin recipe is a variation of the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin recipe, but with a twist: almond flour. I’ve added an entire 1/2 cup of almond flour to the original Jordan Marsh muffin recipe. Not only does the almond flour help keep me full until lunch, but it also adds a wonderful toasty flavor to the muffins and gives every single muffin a generous, sky-high dome close to (but not quite as dramatic, because look at them!!!) Levain Bakery’s blueberry muffins.
Blueberry Muffin Tops
Although I’ll never know what the real Levain Bakery blueberry muffin recipe is (fingers crossed they’ll eventually come out with a cookbook—I’d buy it JUST for the muffin recipe alone), I was confident enough in the taste and quality of #weeknightbakingbook’s blueberry muffin recipe to use it as a starting point for my experiments. Besides—I knew that the Levain blueberry muffin was all about the muffin top, anyway.
I knew from all those countless chocolate chip cookie tests that sprinkling white sugar on each muffin top would likely cause the batter to spread more. Besides, this was something they had already confirmed doing so on Instagram. The only question left was how much sugar. I found 1 teaspoon per muffin to be the perfect amount—t’s a generous amount, yes, but anything less won’t leave the signature sugar crackle top of their appearance.
And finally, because so much sugar is sprinkled on top of each muffin, their tops WILL spread generously, well beyond the space of each muffin cavity. That means that if you fill every muffin cavity in the pan, their tops will spread, touch each other, and stick to one another. Getting them out of the pan will be a near impossible task, and cause many of them to break. It’s important to leave space between each one. Again, this method was confirmed by Levain’s Instagram account too. In addition to preventing the muffin tops from sticking and breaking, leaving every other cavity empty allows more heat and air to circulate between the full cavities, leading to more browning (you’ll notice that Levain’s blueberry muffin is pretty brown) and doming in the oven (as high heat makes muffins dome better).
Best Blueberry Muffin Recipe Tips
- For this recipe, tools are important. You’ll need two muffin tins, a 1-tablespoon OR a 3-tablespoon cookie dough scoop, and an offset spatula (preferably with a short, metal blade). The cookie dough scoops are for filling each cavity with muffin batter—to get tall domes, you’ll need to fill each one with SIX tablespoons of batter. It works best if you’re precise. Anything more will cause the muffins to overflow, and anything less will result in squat muffins. You’ll then need the offset spatula to “unstick” the wide muffin tops from the pan.
- Use cooking spray to spray the muffin tin in order to turn the muffins out of the pan easily and quickly. Levain doesn’t use paper liners for their muffins; in order to be #authentic, I didn’t either in the recipe below. To make it work, you’ll need to spray the inside of each cavity with a GENEROUS amount of cooking spray—and when I say generous, I mean generous. You’ll be uncomfortable with the amount of spray used. You’ll also need to spray the outer border around the cavities. And FYI—butter won’t work, and will cause the muffins to stick to the pan. Use cooking spray!!!
- The recipe instructs you to rest the blueberry muffin recipe for one hour at room temperature; technically, this step is optional. You can bake the batter immediately after making and end up with some pretty damn good muffins. But if you want super domed muffins with seriously tall tops, rest the batter for an hour! This will allow the flour to hydrate and absorb the liquids in the batter more fully, leading to taller domes. Don’t stick the batter in the fridge—chilled batter will cause the muffins to stick in their cavities. In fact, make sure ALL your ingredients are at room temperature before using in the recipe. Again, this is one of the secrets to super tall blueberry muffin tops.
- If you have a convection oven, now is the time to use it! When I was researching muffin recipes for #weeknightbakingbook, I discovered that muffins dome really well when first baked at a high temperature like 425 (F). Doing so encourages the baking powder in the batter to react faster, causing the muffins to rise more quickly in the oven. These recipes then instruct you to lower the oven temperature to 350 (F) to prevent the muffins from burning and drying out. It’s a lot to keep track of, and I found it hard to imagine that the pros at Levain Bakery doing that sort of fussy tinkering in a busy setting. So instead, I baked the muffins at 400 (F) and found that it worked just as well, but found that it worked even better on the convection setting (as the convection fan was more effective in getting heat evenly and consistently between the muffin tin cavities).
Levain Bakery Blueberry Muffins
For the Levain Bakery Blueberry Muffins
- 2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (1.75 ounces) almond meal or almond flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) whole milk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups (13 ounces) fresh blueberries, at room temperature
For the Garnish
- 9 teaspoons granulated sugar
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt. In a small liquid measuring cup, whisk together the milk and the vanilla.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter Beat on medium-high until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume, 2 to 3 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the mixer to low and add the eggs one at a time, adding the next egg only after the previous one is fully incorporated, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.
- With the mixer still on low, add the the dry ingredients in three equal parts, alternating with the wet ingredients in two parts. Beat until just combined, then scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once more, then beat on low for an additional 30 seconds. Take 1/2 cup of the blueberries and crush them with your hands so they are juicy; add to the batter and increase the mixer speed to high for 5 to 10 seconds to encourage the berries to release their juices even more. Immediately reduce the mixer to low and add the rest of the berries, mixing until incorporated evenly throughout the batter, another 30 seconds.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
- While the batter is resting, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 (F) using the convect setting (if possible). Prepare two muffin tins by spraying the inside and border of every other cavity in the muffin tin generously with cooking spray.
- Use a 1-tablespoon or 3-tablespoon cookie dough scoop to fill each sprayed cavity with 6 tablespoons of the batter. The first muffin tin will have six cavities filled, whereas the second muffin will will have three cavities filled. For the second muffin tin, you'll need to pour water into every other cavity to mimic the placement of the batter in the first muffin tin. Sprinkle the top of each cavity, aiming for the batter and avoiding the pan, with 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar each.
- Bake each muffin tin for 18 to 22 minutes, or until the muffins are domed and golden brown around the edges. A skewer inserted into the center of a muffin should come out with a few crumbs attached. Cool the muffins in their muffin tin on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then use an offset spatula to run underneath the edges of the blueberry muffin tops to prevent them from sticking in the pan. Be careful to just run the offset spatula under the edges—you don't want to accidentally cut into the muffin bottom and decapitate the muffin from its top!
- After unsticking the muffin tops, keep cooling the muffins in the tins completely to room temperature. DO NOT TRY AND TURN THE MUFFINS OUT WHILE THEY ARE STILL WARM. Because these muffins are so top-heavy, you’ll run the risk of accidentally pulling the tops and bottoms apart if the cake is still warm! Wait until they are cooled completely before turning them out of the pan. Run the offset spatula underneath each muffin top once more and gently tilt the muffin upwards to turn it out of the pan. The muffins are best on the day that they’re made, but can be individually wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.