These muffins are… how can I say this nicely? Kind of insane. Actually, that was a little harsh, because they’re delicious. But blue! So very blue. Blue, with a purple glaze. It’s craziness. None of the coloring is artificial – it all comes from blueberries. I don’t know why I decided these muffins needed to exist, but it provides me with an excellent opportunity to talk about something that I’m struggling with this year: flying blind, recipe-wise.
When I was a kid, I always colored inside the lines. I feel like a loser saying that, because it seems like anybody who’s anybody colored outside the lines. Those are the people who become the luminaries, the visionaries, the ones who can see past the boundaries artificially imposed on us by society to envision something creative and original. To make matters worse, I didn’t just color inside the lines. I first sought out a black crayon and drew a thicker, more pronounced outline, because I thought it looked prettier. Pathetic, I know.
And yet, this coloring-inside-the-lines tendency served me well when I was learning how to bake, because baking is basically just following directions. It’s simple logic: take a good recipe, follow it precisely, and you’ll almost always end up with a good result. Problems only arise when the recipe is flawed, or when you deviate too much. Baking is a far more precise science than cooking, so it tolerates less experimentation. Being good at following directions – or being the kind of person who colors inside the lines – is actually a desirable quality. At first.
But what happens when you’ve been baking for a long enough time that you start having crazy ideas? It starts at first when you see a recipe and you just know that you can make it better by tweaking it slightly – doubling the spices, browning the butter first, adding bacon, whatever. (Side note – if all you’re doing is adding bacon, it’s not that original. Everyone knows that bacon makes everything taste better.) But then the craziness expands, and you find yourself thinking, “You know what doesn’t exist, but should? Blueberry muffins with blueberries in the batter. Blueberry muffins aren’t unusual, blueberries can easily be cooked down into a sauce like applesauce, and this needs to happen.” This, in my experience, is where the trouble begins.
If you want to move forward with your crazy idea, you have three basic options:
1) Run to the kitchen and start experimenting wildly. This approach is NOT recommended, as it usually leads to fairly inedible results. If you’re going to go this route, at least make sure to figure out exactly what you want. Will you strain the cooked-down blueberry puree? Sweeten it? Flavor it with lemon juice or zest?
2) Accept the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 1:10 and the Barenaked Ladies: nihil sub sole novum/it’s all been done before. Google your crazy idea, and chances are, someone else has had the same crazy idea. Use their recipe. This might work, but it kind of takes away the fun.
3) Find a base recipe that you trust, deviate carefully, and be prepared to fail, tweak, fail again, tweak again, and then finally experience blueberry blueberry muffin nirvana.
Since I color inside the lines, I went with option 3. After my first try, I decided to add some lemon zest to the batter and some extra blueberry puree, since I didn’t think the muffins were moist enough. I also completely improvised the glaze, but I think it adds a lot, both in taste and in visual appeal.