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Extremely Orange, Orange Muffins


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I am going to attempt this one more time before summiting a summary and final recipe. 

Wow. What a project! Please do add your final results to RecipeGullet.

And let me ask you this - once you've finally perfected the recipe, do you think you may be sick of orange muffins for a while? :wink:

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I am going to attempt this one more time before summiting a summary and final recipe. 

Wow. What a project! Please do add your final results to RecipeGullet.

And let me ask you this - once you've finally perfected the recipe, do you think you may be sick of orange muffins for a while? :wink:

LOL... You know, after creating my chocolate cake recipe, I was pretty much sick of chocolate cake for a good while, but orange muffins are just the best. I do not think I could ever get sick of them. :raz:

I do plan on donating the final recipe to eGullet's recipe file since it would not have been possible without everyone's help.

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Extremely Orange, Orange Muffins, take 13 results



This was a test using baking soda and powder, like that in version 10, that actually solidified the fact that pure baking soda is the ingredient of choice for leavening in the final recipe. I should have known given the fact all the liquid contains acid. Baking soda also aids in producing a darker, tender crust, something that did not occur here and something I miss. The darker crust in version 12 had a lot of flavor and added to the “muffin” texture overall.

Given the fact it did not rise, and actually sunk a bit in the middle as shown in the first picture, was a clue the baking powder with the 1/4 cup added cake flour was not working out. The crumb was more compact, yet still had all the characteristics, moist, butter and extremely orange flavored (more on that in a minute.) Oh, and I used the Kool-Aid in this version as you can tell from the nice orange coloring. I had not used it in awhile and it does produce a taste that resembled the original coffee house muffin perfectly.

I also learned from this version that previously I was filling the muffins tins to much. Here I only filled 1/2 full. One of the muffin tins from version 12 was only filled 1/2 full due to running out of batter. It resulted in the best looking muffin of the bunch, button topped with a little ridge around it, very cute. I don’t think that one showed up in the pictures though.

But the real contribution came from Ilene’s discover of an Asian product “Orange Juice” which was more like a concentration of orange and Patrick’s homemade version, of what I assume is very close to Ilene’s purchased product, using a recipe from RLB’s Cake Bible. I reduced 1 cup of orange juice to 2 T and added that to my glaze. I made a regular batch not using the orange reductions and used it on half the muffins, the other half using the glaze with orange reduction. The muffins with the orange reduction made my eyes roll back in my head with sheer orange ecstasy, just enough to send them and me over the edge. Thank you both for the suggestions. I have now added this method to my final recipe, which will again also include all baking soda. I also streamlined the ingredients as most flavored yogurt cartons come in 6 oz containers, just easier.

So, I will write up a summary in the next day or so with the final recipe for everyone to try.



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Extremely Orange, Orange Muffin Opus

The first muffin recipe came into print in the beginning of the 18th century and continued to flourish during the middle of the century until today. Muffins were not necessarily invented as much as they are an evolution of what happens when flour and water mix with some sort of leavening and shaped into something quite small and easy for an individual to transport and partake with tea, or as a breakfast meal in itself.

The American version differs from the traditional English version in a couple of ways. The American version uses a chemical leavening as opposed to a natural leavening such as yeast. Earlier English muffins were cooked on bakestones and later on hot griddles as opposed to the muffin tin. The American muffins tend to be a bit sweeter and it is this variation that sets the stage for my journey.

I found the perfect orange muffin sitting amongst many baked goods in a locally owned coffee shop in San Francisco in 2003. Once a week I would order one with a cup of coffee. They were large, round domed tops circled by a crusted rim, colored in a light tangerine-like color and glistening with some sort of oily moistness. The smell was intoxicating. The first bite overwhelmed you with a sudden hit of intense orange flavor that circled your tongue supporting a buttery rich oil that coated not only the inside of your mouth, but the tips of your fingers as well. The crumb was moist, resembled the softness of a cupcake, but held together to form a full morsel of muffin structure in every bite. They were delicious and a treasured find, a pure orange experience that was not tainted with nuts, cranberries or harsh grained flours. Unfortunately, the coffee house decided to no longer carry the orange muffin. They did however live on in my remembrance and will probably forever.

So where does one start in the journey of recreating a close facsimile to the coffee house orange muffin? The type of muffin was important. Many “true” muffins, the type that usually contains only one egg in their ingredient list, have a nice perfectly cracked, high domed top, but ultimately are more bread-like in their interior. Moisture and a tender crumb tipped the scale to more of a cupcake-like product. The problem with cupcakes and cakes is that their structure dissolves in your mouth, soft and airy. Muffin texture lingers and is slightly chewier with less immediate dissolve. The answer I was seeking was a hybrid, something with a golden brown crust for structure and a tender, light airy type of texture that contains no large holes and a higher fat content than muffins of the past. So, what ingredients would give me the perfect muffin?

Sugar, and a good amount of it, was important in providing the desired tenderness and browning in the crust. Two eggs provided the right amount of richness and structure, adding one more yolk treaded into cupcake land and one less created a denser bread product, more of a true muffin.

Most muffins use all unbleached all-purpose flour or self rising flour. Since self rising flour can at times prove difficult to find commercially, all-purpose was preferred. I found adding 3/4 cup of cake flour supported the hybrid type structure I was after, not quite muffin, or cupcake, but airy while dense. Moving on…

Fat was probably the second most important internal ingredient. Oil, such as vegetable oil, is purported to keep the moisture of a muffin for much longer, but I prefer butter. Butter imparts a better taste in the muffin and allows the flavorings to last longer in the mouth, serving as a base for flavorings. Tests showed that adding too much, 13 tablespoons, started to break down the bread/cake structure and yielded to strong of butter taste. The opposite yielded a dry bread-like product. Settling on 10 tablespoons was the perfect amount for a good amount of moisture without structural interference.

Finding the right liquid began to open the doors for flavorings. At first, milk was used to pick up a bit of flavor and a small amount of fat, but I knew there were better options. Orange juice, a typical ingredient used in many orange muffin recipes was also considered. Orange juice however was found to impart a note of sourness when baked. Tests showed that when most of the orange flavor dissipates during the baking the sour notes remained behind giving the muffin a deeper character. The end result was not the type of orange flavoring the original coffee house muffin contained. I was on a quest for a medium, even orange note. Sourness in any form did not fit the bill.

It was then that I found a recipe that used sour cream for its tanginess. I then turned to a combination of sour cream and buttermilk which provided for tanginess with even more butter rich flavor. The real discover though was in the supermarket aisle, a naturally flavored orange yogurt which would give me an even orange flavoring, a richer acidic liquid than milk and still obtain a bit of fat. With the addition of sour cream and/or buttermilk alongside, I had a strong liquid counterpart to the fat and flour.

The strongly acidic liquids paved the way for the type of leavening to be used which is baking soda. Baking soda must react with an acid to create carbon dioxide, air bubbles, to leaven the baked good. It also helps to neutralize the acidity in the product. Baking soda also acts as a tenderizer to the flour and helps in browning the crust. All of the things needed to support the main ingredients.

The last part was the most difficulty, the flavorings. I knew it was going to take quite a combination to mimic the intensity of the original coffee house muffin because the orange flavor came from many different sources. The first suggestion from the forum was to use a whole orange ground up and combined with all the other ingredients. I already knew that orange juice imparted a sour undertone, so that left the rest of the orange open for examination. The results revealed a bitter high note that emanated in the orange pith, just below the skin. So by simple elimination, the last part standing proved to be the best and most important flavoring agent of the muffin, the skin of the orange. Inside contained all the orange oil just waiting to be ground up and extracted.

The next flavor layering was provided by using orange zest and extracts. Zest from one orange was perfect. Any more and the zest filled the muffin with tiny bits, invading the structure itself. You could feel them in the bite. Orange extract provided another, subtle layer. Vanilla in any baked good is a flavor enhancer, so a small amount was definitely needed for support. It was the next two ingredients though that brought the flavorings full circle to aid in replicating the original muffin.

Orange oil is an extracted oil from the orange skin, highly concentrated and neither bitter nor sour. Its use would work inside the muffin and in the finishing glaze. However, none of the options besides the little coloring from the orange yogurt would actually color the muffin orange. Remember, the original muffin was a light tangerine color. The answer would lie in a non-natural flavoring agent, Kool-Aid orange flavored drink mix. In place of the orange oil inside the baked muffin, it provides for both an intense flavoring and coloring agent. I surmised that the original muffin used some sort of drink mix or colored their product with food colorings. The option of using orange oil or a flavored mix is left in the recipe for the baker to decide.

The glaze was the last ingredient to add a blanket of moisture and flavor to the muffin. Concentrating orange juice by boiling it down and then reconstituting it via adding it to more orange juice and sugar is one way of achieving a good glaze. The other is by adding a tiny bit of butter to aid with prolonged moisture and a bit of orange oil or more zest for extra kick. The end product is pored over a punctured muffin to permeate.

Lastly, I can not forget the simple mixing procedure that combines all these ingredients and brings the process home. Muffins are one of the easiest bread products to over-mix. In fact, if you have combined the ingredients into a smooth batter, you muffin is more than likely to fail, unless you are using a creamy method like most cakes and cupcakes use. The problem with this method is that it tends to aerate the butter and sugar and form a lighter, fluffier cake-like structure, not desirable. The traditional method is a one dump method, one bowl, adds dry to wet or vice versa. All of my tests using this method yielded uneven results in the final product. The pastry method was the answer. Butter is added to the dry ingredients to coat the flour and protect it from forming gluten when the wet ingredients are combined. Also the number of folds to combine the wet and dry ingredients is very important, no more than 15 total. You will see large lumps and sprays of flour. It all comes together during baking. The end result is consistent and maintains the muffin’s true form. With all the pieces in place the orange muffin was once again gracing my presences and enjoyed immensely.

Final cook’s notes

If you can not find naturally orange flavored yogurt, feel free to substitute sour cream, buttermilk or plain yogurt, but use instead 1 cup total or combination of any of the three and omit the 1/3 cup of extra liquid.

You can use a mixer such as a KitchenAid with a paddle attachment to combine the butter into the dry ingredients. Run on low after adding the butter until it resembles fine cornmeal like structure, about 5 to 7 minutes. Do not however attempt to mix the wet ingredients with the mixer. Remove the bowl and fold together by hand.

Turning them over and letting them fall while hot onto the counter will cause the tops of the muffins to sink in, so use a crab fork to pry muffins free from the tins after removing from oven.

Thank you for all the support and suggestions from the eGulletors. Without you, this recipe will not have been possible. It will be dedicated to the eGullet recipe file.

Extremely Orange, Orange Muffins (Final Recipe)


2 medium-size oranges

3/4 cup (6 oz) naturally flavored orange or orange-cream yogurt

1/3 cup sour cream, buttermilk or plain yogurt

2 teaspoons orange extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon orange oil* or 1 package Kool-Aid® Orange Drink Mix

2 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes


2 medium-size oranges

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoons of butter

1/4 teaspoon orange oil* or the zest of one medium orange

*Orange oil can be found at specialty gourmet food stores or online.

Preheat oven to 350F and grease muffin tins with unsaturated oil.

If not using orange oil in the glaze, then zest one orange and reserve zest. Squeeze the juice of two oranges through a strainer/sieve over a small pot on the stove. Over medium-high heat, bring orange juice to a boil and continue to cook uncovered until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Thinly peel third orange with a vegetable peeler (peeler works best using light pressure) or sharp knife. Try not to cut into the white pith of the orange. Place peels in a food processor.

Add the yogurt, sour cream, eggs, extracts and orange oil or Kool-Aid® into the food processor and pulse on/off for 40 seconds; set aside.

In a large bowl, add the sugar and zest of the fourth orange. With your fingers or a pastry cutter, work the zest into the sugar, allowing extraction and distribution of the oils into the sugar. You can do this step a day or two in advance to allow for better penetration of the oils.

Next, sift flours, baking soda, and salt into the large bowl with the sugar mixture.

Add butter cubes to the flour mixture and with a pastry cutter or your finger tips, mash ingredients together until a fine cornmeal like texture occurs. Form a well in the center of the flour and add the liquid mixture. With no more than 14 or 15 strokes, fold the ingredients together. The mixture will appear lumpy with large sprays of flour.

Fill the prepared muffin tins 1/2 full using a large spoon to carefully place the batter into each tin. Do not pour the batter. Bake muffins for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with crumbs on it, but with no visible wet batter.

Meanwhile: Cut one of the remaining two oranges in half and extract the juice from the two halves through a strainer/sieve over a liquid measuring cup. If the orange juice does not equal 1/2 cup, use the juice from the second orange until the level is reached.

Make the glaze by combining the orange juice and sugar in a small pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Bring to boil, and then on low heat simmer for 5 minutes with a lid covering the pot to prevent sugar crystals. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Cool slightly, and then stir in orange oil or reserved zest and the 2 tablespoons of orange reduction.

When muffins are finished baking, remove from the oven and immediately (in less than two minutes from the oven) take them out of the tins and place on a wire rack. When cool enough to handle, using a toothpick or skewer, poke several holes through the muffin tops into each of the muffins. Spoon glaze over muffin tops to saturate, allowing the liquid to sink down into the holes and any excess to drip back into the bowl, continue the same for the next muffin. Repeat this glazing once more, only this time spoon glaze over the bottom and sides of the muffin, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Place on wire rack to cool completely.

Edited by RodneyCk (log)
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Update to final recipe....

I was playing around with the leavening a bit and found that indeed a little baking powder does work well alongside baking soda, just not as much as I was previously using. I am updating the recipe to reflect the change and to add a "stir to combine" when adding the dry ingredients to the sugar.

I will make the change to the recipe in the eGullet recipe file along with a picture as I can not edit the above post. There must be a time limit on posts re editing.


1 tsp baking soda


1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda


Next, sift flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the large bowl with the sugar mixture and stir to combine.

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Did you think about calling the coffee house, finding out who used to supply the muffins, then calling them, and asking for the recipe?

Or would that be too easy? :laugh:

Kudos to you for all the hard work you've put in, you've done a great job!

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Did you think about calling the coffee house, finding out who used to supply the muffins, then calling them, and asking for the recipe? 

Or would that be too easy?  :laugh:

Kudos to you for all the hard work you've put in, you've done a great job!

And miss out on all the test tasting and gut wrenching frustration? Geeesh. :biggrin:

I actually thought about it. I was afraid they would tell me it was a Costco or Sam's Club muffin, or some other horrible retail mass produced product. Sometimes, not knowing is better.

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Did you think about calling the coffee house, finding out who used to supply the muffins, then calling them, and asking for the recipe? 

Or would that be too easy?  :laugh:

Kudos to you for all the hard work you've put in, you've done a great job!

:laugh: I was thinking the exact same thing!

Rodney - props to you for both unwavering persistence and unending patience. I am duly impressed.

What might be good as a "gilding the lily" addition would be Wilbur Cinnamon Chips. I add these to muffins of all sorts and they're delicious.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I was watching Alton Brown's Muffin episode this morning and got a few interesting hints from the segment.

1. He explains that muffins need to begin in a preheated 380 degree F oven and then increased to 400F during baking. I think Madeleine Kamman suggest a 375F to 400+ range for muffins as well. The reason is because heat is needed for the baking powder to create more bubbles in its second activation, thus producing a more rounded dome. I am going to try this as I was using 350 degrees straight through.

2. Alton gave a better hint for releasing muffins from their tins. Cook's Illustrated suggested the crab fork. This is fine for muffins that are kept in the tins, which I don't recommend, neither does Alton. Krammer says anymore than 2 minutes from the oven, the muffins will start to stick to the tins (thus the crab fork.) Alton says if they stay in the pan, it creates a soggy bottom. Regardless, best to take them out asap.

He suggests covering the tin with a tea towel and turning the tin upside down to allow the towel to catch the muffins. The tops are not hurt by any wire racks and you don't burn your fingers, a big plus.

I will test these two theories and update accordingly.

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