The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

"Proofing" Muffin Batter

  • Pin It
Khadija's picture
Khadija

"Proofing" Muffin Batter

I've recently become familiar with the theory that resting muffin batters (or other chemically leavened batters) prior to baking increases "doming" during the baking process.  

For years, I've been trying to create muffins with bakery-style caps at home.  It seems I've tried every trick in the book, usually with only modest success.  High heat, thick batter, and filling the cups generously seem to be key to getting volume, but I can never the particular shape of dome I wanted.

Frustrating, especially given that I've worked at a bakery where I consistently produced countless muffins with the dome I had in mind.  However, when I used the bakery formulas at home, the results were not the same. I started to believe that commercial convection and commercial crown muffin pans were necessary for proper muffin caps.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that the muffin batters in the bakery were always made ahead of time and chilled.  Then, after some googling, I found posts by other home bakers who had unintentionally left muffin or cupcake batter to sit before baking, and found that it domed a lot when baked.  That the resting would produce doming makes sense.  The flour has time to hydrate and thicken, and develop a modest amount of gluten.  This means more structure.  Also, the leavener has time to do some work, and so the batter goes through a kind of "proofing" process.

I have heard many home bakers insist that chemically leavened batter will die if not baked immediately.  This is a piece of popular wisdom that, on reflection, seems unsupported by my experience.

This weekend, I plan to make a few muffin batters and baking after various stages of resting.  But, in advance, I'm interested in feedback from you folks, who have so much knowledge about leavening.  I am wondering if it is possible to think of chemical leavened batters as on a continuum with yeast-raised doughs, as opposed to putting them into entirely separate categories.  Put a different way: is it possible or even desirable to include "proofing" time in a muffin formula?

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Eggs are the magic you're looking for.

Eggs will give you domes, but it's a delicate balance: too much egg, and you'll dry out the product. Also, eggs add hydration, so you'll have to decrease hydration or increase dry ingredients to compensate.

Try adding one egg at a time. When you get the profile you want, try reducing by 1/2 egg until it reverts.

That should get you where you want to be.

Temperature is important too, but that's another variable. Try for room temp. ingredients.

-

There's not much value to proofing ingredients. A short rest could help if your leavener is not time sensitive. Too long a rest, though, and the gluten in your batter will overdevelop. Too much batter strength = dense product.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I have not "proofed" dough for any length of time but I have found that "resting" a chemically leavened dough for 10-30 minutes at room temp makes my cakes significantly  higher. I don't make muffins but I suspect it would be the same. I would also suspect the chemical leavening would fizzle out if kept at a prolonged time at room temp but the chilling would probably make that time longer. There are probably production tables for that sort of calculation in professional baking texts. The trick is finding them.

Easist thing is to try it and see with a small batch of dough.

Khadija's picture
Khadija

Thanks for these replies!

thomaschacon, I do of course include eggs in my muffin batters, but of course there's room to fiddle with the amount included in the formula.  I am dubious that the amount of eggs in the batter is key to bakery-style muffin caps.  I have worked in a bakery, where I successfully produced large capped muffins, and the batter formulas did not include significantly large quanitities of eggs.  I've also used the bakery formulas at home (without resting the batter) and did not get large caps.

clara123, your experience with cakes doming after resting the batter is consistent with other things I've heard around the internet.  I am bringing up the term "proofing" here (as opposed to "resting"), because I am wondering if the activation of the chemical leavener during the resting of a muffin batter is like a very quick proofing process.  I'm not suggesting that we should ferment muffin batters in warm places for long periods of time.  But I am wondering if something like a short "proof" helps with the doming effect (maybe producing something like "ovenspring").

I do suspect that temperature and chilling of batter matter to some extent.  It is standard practice for commercial bakeries to make huge buckets of muffin batter and store it anywhere from 24 hours to several days in advance of baking.  I am guessing that the refridgeration stalls the chemical leavener, in the same way that refridgeration stalls yeast.  In my copy of Michel Suas's Advanced Bread and Pastry, the muffin formulas include lines that says the batter can be stored and used for a few days.  I will check other books on this issue.

 

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I didn't mean to imply you weren't using eggs. One assumes you are when making muffins (or tofu, which works marvelously).

I meant that it's the quantity of egg in proportion to liquid and fat.

Increase the egg per liquid/fat % and you'll get muffin caps.

(I love them too, so always redo every recipe that doesn't produce them).

It's challenging to get a very moist product AND muffin caps, but not impossible. Plenty of bakery chemicals and emulsifiers make that possible. The challenge is getting both moist and muffin cap without chemicals and emulsifiers; and, egg being thee natural emulsifier, that means fiddling with your egg ratio.

It's not the only variable, but it's an important one.

Also, 3/4 full.

Khadija's picture
Khadija

This is so interesting.  Seems like I need to look at a comparison table of muffin batter formulas (in baker's percentages) and then do some testing.  I was concentrating no ratios of flour to fat, ratios of dry ingredients to wet ingredients, types of fat, types of dairy, and leavener.  Probably the only variable that I hadn't thought about much was egg.

proth5's picture
proth5

on the nature of your chemical leavening.  If you are using a double acting baking powder you will get an intial raise just from contact with liquid and then a second one in the oven.  Letting the quick bread rest 20 mins or so is used to avoid cracking in things like nut breads that use double acting baking powder.

If you are using baking soda and an acid (like buttermilk) as the sole leavening - then you will want to get the batter into a hot oven pretty quickly as there is only one rise available.

Chilling batter will firm up ingredients like butter or shortening so that  they will spread less prior to the flour firming up the shape of your baked good.  Many chemical reactions slow at lower temperatures, so you could let the breads rest longer in the refrigerator (like the popular recipe that lets you mix up a lot of muffing batter and bake it off over several days - I don't have this recipe at my fingertips, but I have used it.)

Since I haven't had a "bakery" muffin in decades I'm not sure what kind of top you want, but I tend to get rounded tops when I get the liquid to flour ratio correct and bake in a hot oven (425F).  I bake at 5280 ft above sea level, so I have more problems with quickbreads rising too fast - so I tend to mix a little dryer than sea level folks (this is one area where altitude really does matter.) You can get the tops higher by overmixing - but I don't think that's what you mean.

Khadija's picture
Khadija

The point about which leavener seems a good one, although I'm not clear on whether one leavener should be preferred in favour of another.  I read an article in Fine Cooking about make-ahead muffin batters, which suggested increasing the amount of leavening, and using both baking soda and baking powder.  The article also suggested that it is important to chill the batter, in order to stall the action of the leavener.

I should clarify that my motivation to ask these questions has a lot to do with curiosity.  I'm really not a huge fan of eating muffins, but I bake a lot of them for others.  

If we get right down to it, I think boutique bakery muffins with large caps tend to be tougher and drier than home-style muffins.  I imagine this has to do with excessive gluten development (either from overmixing the batter or letting it hang out for a long time) and overbaking.  The bakery muffins have a huge crust-t0-crumb ratio that people love (especially when it's sugary).  I am pretty convinced the bad reputation of "stumps" has to do with most commercial muffins just not being very good.  

I have in the past been tempted to think that the huge caps on bakery muffins were just the result of commercial production techniques that just do not lend themselves to moist flavorful muffins.  But I'll do some more testing this weekend!

 

 

ssorllih's picture
ssorllih

There is substantial similarity between muffins and pancakes. I make both with some regularity. Pancake batter with hold for a couple of days in the fridge. I add an extra egg to corn muffins to help hold them together. I don't measure carefully enough to be able to observe great differences but the filling of the cups has the most influence on the shape of the top and a batter that is too wet will always make flat top muffins.

proth5's picture
proth5

I use, I use both baking soda plus acid and baking powder.  It is usually quite obvious to me that leavening has taken place even before the muffins are baked.  I do not chill my muffins

I was also reading one of my older cookbooks and it seems like there is more than one kind of baking powder.  There are tartrate based (brands are listed, but I can recognize none of them), calcium phosphate based (e.g.,Rumford), and phosphate based (e.g., Calumet) .  One used double the amount of a tartrate or calcium phosphate based baking powder than if one uses a phosphate based baking powder.  Or at least my 1936 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook tells me. (I do not know the science involved here - so anyone who does should chime in, because I'd love to learn.)

So, I looked at my can of Rumsford baking powder and in the ingredients section I see "Monocalcium Phosphate" - so if you brand wasn't around in 1936, you can determine the type of baking powder that you are using by looking at the ingredients and work accordingly. 

Since I work with some of these old recipes - old baking tins (and an old baker) I really get a kick out of them.  My current favorite bran muffin recipe (delicious when made with triticale bran or whole triticale flour...) claims to make 12 "large" muffins.  To get twelve muffins - I need to use a very small muffin tin - and here in the 21st century, no one would call them large.  Not even distantly related to the small cakes I have seen for sale in places like airport kiosks.  An interesting glimpse into our food attitudes, I think...

Anyway, I hope this is helpful.

ananda's picture
ananda

Hello Pat,

The difference in the amounts of these powders called for in recipes is due to a couple of factors.   Obviously, different product types utilise different amounts of leavener to generate expected amounts of gas.   For instance, pancakes need less CO2 than muffins, as described here.

Most critical, however, is the taste of the final product, and every attempt to eliminate unpleasant soda taste.   This is achieved by seeking to neutralise the soda chemically, by adding acid at a rate to neutralise it [pH7].   Different acids need to be added at different rates to neutralise soda.   For example Cream of Tartar is added at a rate of twice the amount of Bicarbonate of Soda, whereas Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate [SAPP, a slow-reacting base] only requires 1.33 times the amount of Soda used.    Upshot is you would expect to use more of a Baking Powder using Tartar than one which used SAPP.

Delayed-action baking powders are widely-favoured in the baking industry today, for many of the reasons under discussion here, namely allowing product to sit for whatever reason, prior to baking.   However, pre-leavening in the batters prior to baking is not really the goal.   The key to truly successful baking with chemical raising agents is the amount of leavening which is achieved during heat treatment [ie. the baking phase].

I hope this gives you a little more insight

All good wishes

Andy

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hi Khadija,

I'm by no means an expert on quick breads or muffins, but I've seen several recipes for batters that can stay in the fridge for up to several days, or even portioned and frozen. Most (all?) of these use baking powder in conjunction with baking soda as leavening agents.

However, I was under the impression that the domed top is a tell tale sign of an overmixed muffin batter? The more gluten activated, the more gas is trapped in the muffin during baking, and the higher the rise. Even though it looks attractive, wouldn't the domed top be a sign of a chewy or dry muffin? I'm not really sure whether the "proofing" phase you describe would activate a lot more gluten in the flour, but I think baking a chilled instead of one that's room temperature can have some effect here: If the batter is chilled, it will take longer to heat up the core of the muffin; much of the exterior will be set once heat hits the centre, and this will push upwards, making a slight dome top.

Khadija's picture
Khadija

I often hear that the domed top is a sign of an overmixed batter, too, for the same reasons you mention.  Following this, I thought that resting the muffin batter would allow it develop some gluten, which would again lead to doming.

 

 

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

I am also seeking exactly the same answer to flat domes.  The last two batches of bran muffins I made had an extended rest- mainly to let the bran have time to absorb the liquid (or corn if corn muffins).  Doing so made the muffins evolve from a sort of chewy/bran type (if mixing and straight to oven) vs. the rest period and what truely becomes a very soft cake like muffin that that is now my preference.  

Thus the extended rest method will stay with me.    The first batch had a rest of  an hour, and the second 4 hours (due to a last minute need to be away for a few hours).  The results were the same, and positive for flavor and texuture.  In both cases I added the double action baking powder at the end folding it in just prior to putting into the oven.  My recipes use buttermilk and I think I am ok using three eggs per dozen and 1/4 cup of vegetable oil too so thinking I am ok with the egg/emulsifier issue mentioned above.  I also used baking soda, but likely not needed given double acting baking powder.  Also a hot oven (470° to preheat and 400° to bake) and 3/4 full. 

So was happy to discover that the rest period gave much better texture, rather soft vs chewy.   However, my domes have not been high which leads me to believe that the recipe was too wet as all other variables seem on point.  So next time a stiffer batter, an hour rest, leavening at the end, and will also fill the tins higher...

The chain from all above is very interesting and insightful!  A great discussion/topic.  For the pro bakers out there, do you use a premix 25/50 lb bag that has conditioners mixed in not available to the home baker?  If so any idea of what they would be?

Khadija's picture
Khadija

The point about the crumb softening after the rest is very interesting to me.  After being influenced by Reinhart's ideas about pre-soaking wholegrain flours in bread baking, I also began to think about the potential of using this method to soften the crumb of whole-grain quick-breads.

In general, I'm very interested in the extent to which bread-baker's knowledge can be transferred to other areas of baking.  That's why, I titled made reference to "proofing" quick breads in the initial post.  I'm wondering if chemical leavening is actually a little bit more like yeast than we may think.  That is, as in the case with yeast-leavened doughs, we can allow chemically leavened batters a window of time to proof, in order to jump start and increase the overall rise of the product.

Nickisafoodie, I'd be really interested to see what would happen if you added leavening before you rested the batter, as opposed to reserving it for after.  If my hypothesis is right, you should get higher domes (although you might need to increase the amount of leavening slightly).

I still need to bake-off the batters I made this weekend.

 

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

I think you may be correct re adding leavening at beginning vs. ending.  my question would be one of refrigeration.  The pancake houses make batter ahead, chill overnight using the same leavaning as muffins.  Those pancakes puff up on the griddle so I think this certainly would work. 

Also, there are times when I proof my bread overnight, call it two loaves that both won't fit in at the same time; one goes in cold and the other  after the first is out, say 50 minutes later.  I have seen greater spring in the loaf that went in cold than the one that was out for an hour.  Perhaps for muffins too.  And as I stated above, I use buttermilk for a portion not being sure if this would affect the gas release given the acid.  So adding leavening before, and either chilling or not (plus a stiffer batter) would seem logical choices for experimenting...  That said, adding it at the end is not a big deal, it folds in easy.  So to chill or not...

Khadija's picture
Khadija

When I worked in a bakery, we made muffin batters in the middle of the day, store the batter in buckets in the fridge.  In the wee-hours of the next morning, the batter would be scooped into tins and baked.  This is standard practice in bakeries.

When I started baking muffins, I was instructed to let the batter come to room temperature before baking.  I did as I was told at first, but after time, began to notice that the muffins rose higher when the batter was colder.  I guessed that this was because the butter was cold, and so the batter took longer to spread.  I've wanted to try using a chilled oil-based batter as a way to test this theory, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

Khadija's picture
Khadija

When I worked in a bakery, we made muffin batters in the middle of the day, store the batter in buckets in the fridge.  In the wee-hours of the next morning, the batter would be scooped into tins and baked.  This is standard practice in bakeries.

When I started baking muffins, I was instructed to let the batter come to room temperature before baking.  I did as I was told at first, but after time, began to notice that the muffins rose higher when the batter was colder.  I guessed that this was because the butter was cold, and so the batter took longer to spread.  I've wanted to try using a chilled oil-based batter as a way to test this theory, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

JennsBread's picture
JennsBread

Reading thru these posts, for me, is like reading Greek!

what is "chemical leavening" ??

:-/

I'm so SO new at this.. have only been doing breads from fresh milled hard white wheat.. I am afraid to branch out and try "new stuff" without hard and fast recipes that are PROVEN to work for muffins, cookies, and the like!

Give me a pot of spaghetti sauce any day! A "baker" I am not! (but I am trying!)
;-) 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

You can fix most cooking, but not baking (unless you catch the error very early). If you fail with baking, it's usually a spectacular failure. Makes for good stories.

The upshots are (a) you never make the same mistake thrice (or maybe 45 times, depending on the person) and (b) you learn from your mistakes (or not).

If you're afraid of everything but tried-and-true, then welcome to The Fresh Loaf, but please get yourself a steady supply of vodka and some heart medication, because tried-and-true we are not. We do, however, know what we are doing (even when we don't).

:)

JennsBread's picture
JennsBread

:-)
so... I will ATTEMPT (maybe) my cookie recipe tomorrow... at the least sometime this week... just got off a 28 loaf baking spree, all but 3 of which loaves have new homes outside this one LOL so I know at least I have not failed at THAT!
bring on the vodka LOL
I need to find Sucanat apparently - or else figure out the equivalent substitute for sugar in the raw and / or raw honey (thats no longer really liquid LOL, but still works just fine for my breads!) 
Walmart does not have sucanat. Will try Fry's (kroger) but it seems the stuff is rather pricey! 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

But if you pay $10.80 + shipping for 1 lb. of sugar, that sugar better come with a free subscription to cable television.

http://www.amazon.com/Sucanat-Sugar-1-lb/dp/B00015UC84

-

A better deal, but you have to buy 12 lbs:

http://www.amazon.com/Wholesome-Sweeteners-Organic-Sucanat-16-Ounce/dp/B000EA3M92

Jane Clark's picture
Jane Clark

Thomaschacon, you are so right! I came from a large family so there were always plenty of guinea pigs to test my so-called failures. If a cake failed, I just called it a dessert pancake. Loaf of bread too dense and heavy; that's because it was "supposed" to be for bread crumbs. Everything always got eaten so I never admitted a failure, but I sure did learn! Unless you're in a commercial environment where mistakes get expensive, every mistake you make you a better baker.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Ha ha! It's supposed to be for breadcrumbs! It's dense for a reason!

Failures still get me just angry enough to persist. If I fail, I'll do it again almost immediately. I'm down to two attempts (one fail, then success). It used to be A LOT worse.

The one that still gets me angry is the loaf that collapses just before it goes in the oven. All that work for naught. Reminds me of this trumpet video:

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hello Khadija,
I came across this article today and remembered reading your post; here is a link to the article, in case you find it helpful:
http://www.finecooking.com/articles/how-to/make-ahead-muffin-batters.aspx

There are some pointers about ingredients and mixing technique in the article, and links to three muffin recipes at the upper right of the page.
:^) breadsong

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

Giving muffin or cupcake batter a rest before baking is a well-known way to get more rounded tops.  Because the chemical leavening reacts during the rest, and there is less leavening to react in the oven, it has a similar effect to reducing the amount of leavening in the formula.  So if you don't want to bother with the rest, you can tinker with the quantity of leavening and get the same effect.  A hotter oven will also help produce domed tops.  

I suspect that the rest does almost nothing to gluten development, because of the high level of sugar.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

Dome success!  Mix was made the night before and left overnight, and included the leavening. The muffins rose higher than ever and the leavening clearly did its job.  I added the standard amount called for in the recipe.  The only caveat is the next morning they stiffened up quite a bit.  I should have added more liquid- guessing 10-15% more so more like thick pancake batter. 

But it was easy to fix on bake morning,  I simply added more water, folded in to the right consistency, and into the oven they went.  Unfortuantely I left this batch in a bit too long and at a hotter oven than I intended.  That aside, I am convinced overnight is the way to go...