Reader Mark writes:
My question is, why do you get big holes in muffins when you mix the batter a lot? That seems to be contrary to what I’ve generally assumed, that more mixing usually means smaller holes.
Great question, Mark! Mixing a lot does yield smaller holes and tighter crumb in the case of cake layers and brioche. However both of those preparations are quite high in fat, so the mixing doesn’t result in a lot of activated gluten, primarily because the starches get coated in fat and have a hard time latching on to one another. Muffins are quite a bit leaner, which means that when you mix the batter a lot, you get a relatively strong gluten network.
That microscopic network catches and holds steam bubbles as the muffin bakes, creating extremely large and/or long bubbles (“tunnels”) in muffin’s crumb, and a tell-tale conical peak on the top. The peak is the result of the added volume (the center heats last and the expanding batter has nowhere to go but up).
Muffins with a high peak should be avoided since they’re bound to be rubbery on the inside. The same goes for tea breads that look like treasure chests. The big hump means a tough interior. Now I should say that I go round and round with a couple of commercial baker friends on this issue, one of them a very opinionated Brooklynite who insists that “rubbery” is what God intended a muffin to be.
Hogwash. Tenderness is the very soul of a quality muffin or tea bread. And ye shall know them by their low, gently sloping crowns. Thanks Mark!