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Chinese Fortune

April 7, 2010

Who doesn’t love fortune cookies?

I’m smart enough to recognize they’re mass-produced, sugar-packed goodies made in some warehouse somewhere,  but those strange-looking treats still get me every time.  I tear it open and eat the cookie first.  (I was once told it was bad luck if you read the fortune before finishing the cookie.  It’s always stuck with me.  Yes, I realize that’s like saying stepping on a crack will break your mother’s back and breaking a mirror will result in seven years bad luck.  This is much less severe, so I just go with it and eat the cookie first.)

As I’m chewing the cookie, my fingers itch to snatch up and devour the fortune, almost as if part of my brain thinks one of those old, hunched-back sages with a furrowed face who lives at the summit of an isolated mountain wrote that fortune specifically for me and put it in the hands of that specific Chinese restaurant at that specific time.  (Can’t you just picture him trekking back up to his remote shack, clutching his walking stick, his eyes radiating for having imparted a piece of his long-mediated-upon knowledge upon me?)

And then THE MOMENT.  I turn the fortune over (because I always flip it over so I don’t accidentally read it before the cookie is devoured).  And usually find nonsense.

*Poof*  The old, wise mountain man dissipates, blowing away on the breeze in a whisp of cloud.  There’s no way he would’ve said “Good news will come to you by mail”.  He may live at the top of a barren, solitary bluff, but even he knows that these days, sending anything – especially something as valuable as good news – by USPS is a risky venture!

Of course, there are a few times I have gotten a fortune that served as a good reminder.  Such as the one I received a few years back and have had taped to my computer monitor at work since:

There is no secret to success except hard work.

Not earth-shattering, ground-breaking news.  Just a gentle reminder that the best things in life come at a price… the price of you having to put forth the effort to achieve them.

Such as these AMAZING muffins.  I wanted to make some muffins for my physical therapist a few weeks ago after joking I’d bring coffee to an early morning appointment.  I recognize not everyone likes coffee-flavored things (like Mr. S, who’s a champ and has taken to trying them for me anyway), so I wanted a “safer” option.

To me, “safer” usually means “boring.”  NOTHING to me is more boring than a blueberry muffin, but I also know this is a fairly common choice in flavors.  I’ve just never been a fan of them, though.  With said, if I was going to make them, I wanted the best blueberry muffin I could find.  So I set out on my own little trek to the oh-so-wise mountain-top guru to ask him what, in all his infinite wisdom and experience, was the best blueberry muffin.

Only I got side-tracked as I passed by Joelen’s Culinary Adventures.  Who knew I didn’t need to leave the Midwest to find the best blueberry muffin recipe you’ll ever find?!  Even I, the anti-blueberry muffin person, can’t wait to have these again.  Yum!

These muffins, for all their goodness, do require more work than your average blueberry muffin.  You make the streusel, you make the blueberry filling, you make the muffins, you swirl the filling through the muffins, and then cover with the streusel.  A few times while making these, I grumbled aloud “Joelen, are these really worth it??”

But you see… these aren’t just your average blueberry muffins.  Joelen, you were right… these were DEFINITELY worth it.  And I agree that they’re better than the Sara Lee ones.

Streusel-Topped Blueberry Muffins

Source: Joelen’s Culinary Adventures (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

Streusel Topping:

  • 3 T. granulated sugar
  • 3 T. dark brown sugar
  • pinch table salt
  • ½ c. plus 3 T. (3½ oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 T. warm, melted unsalted butter

Combine sugars, flour, and salt in a small bowl. Drizzle the warm, melted unsalted butter, using a fork to incorporate until mixture is evenly moistened and forms large chunks with some pea-sized pieces throughout.   Set aside.  (This turned out to be less of a drizzle and more of a “pour melted butter into dry ingredients” for me.  I think I may have added a little more butter as well because mine didn’t quite come out.)

Blueberry Filling:

  • 1 c. frozen blueberries (approx. half of a 10 oz package)
  • 1 t. sugar

In a small saucepan, mix 1 cup frozen blueberries and 1 teaspoon sugar.  Simmer over medium heat, mashing and stirring as they cook, until berries have broken down and the mixture thickens until reduced to ~¼ cup, about 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool while preparing the muffin batter.

Muffin Batter:

  • 1 c. frozen blueberries, picked over (approx. other half of a 10 oz package)
  • 1 1/8 c. (8 oz.) sugar
  • 2 1/2 c. (12½ oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. table salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 T. (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • ¼ c. vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
  •  1 c. buttermilk
  • 1½ t. vanilla extract

Note: The best way I found to avoid measuring odd amounts of flour was to measure out the full  2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) and then just remove the 1 Tablespoon needed to toss with the blueberries.

Allow all ingredients (unless otherwise noted) to warm to about room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425°; move rack to upper-middle position in the oven, if necessary.  Prepare muffin tins by spraying with non-stick spray or filling with muffin liners.

Rinse blueberries in cold water and dry well with paper towelling.  Toss dried berries with 1 T. flour.

In a large bowl, mix together remaining flour, baking powder, and salt with a whisk.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), whisk 1 1/8 cups sugar and eggs until thick and well-blended, about 45 seconds.  Continue whisking, adding in butter and oil and then buttermilk and vanilla until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened.  (Batter should be lumpy with some spots of dry flour; do not overmix.)

Divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (Joelen states to fill cups completely and even mound slightly; next time I make these, I think I’ll fill them ~3/4 of the way full as after adding the filling, I found my cups were too full and seeped over the edges of the liners.)

Dividing amongst filled cups, spoon cooked, cooled blueberry filling onto center of each cup.  Using a chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion. (I had a really hard time with this because my cups were too full; I ended up kind of folding the blueberry mixture into each muffin cup a little before trying to figure-eight.  The key here is you don’t want to mix the filling in entirely – just get a swirled effect.)

Sprinkle prepared streusel evenly over muffins.  (I had to mound it on and still had leftover!  After seeing them baked, I’d try to mound more on top and use it all up as the muffins rise enough that they could’ve used more streusel.)

Bake until muffin tops are golden and tester comes out fairly clean, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through.)

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