NPR logo Say It With Flour: Muffins, Scones, Waffles For Mom

Say It With Flour: Muffins, Scones, Waffles For Mom

Belgian-style waffles on a plate, with a pitcher of maple syrup and a bowl of orange whipped cream on the side
T. Susan Chang for NPR

Dads and kids across the country are planning ahead for Mom's annual breakfast in bed. Or, being dads and being kids, they're not. Still, they'll give it a go when the time comes. That's the thing about rituals — even if you ignore them, they have a way of reasserting themselves at the last moment, to the sound of wet pancake batter being mixed, spatulas scraping the griddle and plates musically clattering onto the breakfast table.

My husband Randy's pancakes are better than mine — crisp and golden on the outside, tender and puffed within. I could ask him to make them for me. But it's not called Wife's Day — it's called Mother's Day.

So in an ideal world I like to imagine it would be my kids, 4 and 10, who tie on their aprons, make the breakfast and ascend the stairs to the bedroom that Sunday. I will lie there, oblivious to the sounds of manufacturing below, with ears only for the sweet sound of spring songbirds and the silence of me not vacuuming.

Noah holds an oven-ready pan of Big-Top Blueberry Muffin batter (recipe below). T. Susan Chang for NPR hide caption

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T. Susan Chang for NPR

Noah holds an oven-ready pan of Big-Top Blueberry Muffin batter (recipe below).

T. Susan Chang for NPR

But in truth, the idea that my kids might attempt to make pancakes alone does not inspire any sort of serene anticipation. Pancakes are actually rather difficult to make, especially if you're a kid. They require close temperature regulation and a certain amount of confidence in the flipping department. Both of these skills come with experience, the commodity least likely to be found in kids.

And neither of my kids has yet gotten a license to drive an open flame. There are many things I can imagine wanting to do on Mother's Day, but tracking the smell of smoke and burned butter and calculating the odds of salvaging my favorite skillet is not one of them.

For an equally delicious but less peril-fraught special day, baked goods such as muffins and scones are the ticket. The batter or dough can be made before it goes anywhere near the heat. There are no knives or open flames for you (or your spouse) to worry about. You can use fresh fruits or frozen or dried ones, if that's all that's around.

And finally, baked goods hang out in the oven for 35 minutes or even longer — which gives someone time to sweep the flour off the floor and make some coffee, and someone else time to wash sticky hands and break out the crayons for a card.

About The Author

T. Susan Chang regularly reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe and and the cookbook indexing website Eat Your Books. Her first book, A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories from a Well-Tempered Table
(Lyons Press), will be released in fall 2011. Visit her blog, Cookbooks for Dinner.

A waffle is nearly as easy, since the waffle iron takes most of the guesswork out of the equation. The best waffle I know is a yeasted waffle that sits overnight, developing flavor and character; in the morning all you have to do is beat in the eggs and salt and plug in the iron. While the waffles cook, you might as well whip some heavy cream, doctor it up with orange extract and orange zest and serve it alongside the freshest maple syrup you can get your hands on.

It's true that the iron will require some adult supervision. But hey, that also means that the waffles might require some adult taste-testing. I often find that's the case, and I have no doubt Randy will make a similar finding.

Both of my children have been baking with me since they were small. Each, at the age of 3, received an apron of his or her own design (Noah chose a bold print with life-size lemons; Zoe went for lavender floral with a pink grosgrain ribbon). Each learned quickly to level out a measuring cup with a knife and to scrape every last bit out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Given sufficient apron coverage, guidance from their mom and a hand vac for spills, they are capable of turning out some spectacular results.

It actually is not uncommon for the kids to bake with me on Mother's Day weekend — but we're usually making a birthday cake, because Randy's birthday, inconveniently enough, falls right around then. Making muffins with Papa would be a distinct change of routine for my kids.

Nevertheless, being an optimist, I will hint broadly to all concerned that some baked goods for Mother's Day would not go unappreciated. Being a realist, I will not be brokenhearted if they don't quite manage to deliver the goods. And being a mom, I will love them just the same.

Raised Waffles

This is the recipe my family has always used. It's adapted, my aunt tells me, from the original 1896 Fannie Farmer recipe. It yields a lacy, buttery, high-rise waffle that's not too sweet. My waffle iron is the Belgian style, with deep, large pockets, but this would work well on a smaller waffle iron as well, probably with double the yield.

T. Susan Chang for NPR
Raised Waffles
T. Susan Chang for NPR

Makes about a dozen Belgian waffles

3 1/2 teaspoons yeast

2/3 cup lukewarm water

1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk (1 percent, 2 percent or whole)

1 1/2 cups seltzer

3/4 cup melted unsalted butter

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

3 cups flour

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water, and let stand for 5 minutes. Once the yeast has proofed (fine-bubbled foam appears on the surface after 5 to 10 minutes, "proving" the yeast is alive; if the mixture just sits, the yeast needs to be replaced), add the lukewarm milk, seltzer, melted butter, salt and sugar.

Beat in 3 cups of flour with a whisk. Cover. Let stand at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours, until spongy. (I've found that if you let it stand too long, it can overproof, losing some rise and souring a bit. You can chill it to retard the rising.)

Preheat the waffle iron. While the iron's heating, beat the eggs with the baking soda, then stir them into the risen batter. Cook the waffles in the iron. If the batter starts to push the iron lid up, hold it down by the handle for a more thorough rise. The waffles are generally done when the steam has completely subsided. If the batter starts to lose some of its leavening power as it waits for the batches of waffles to complete, you can whisk a pinch more baking soda into each portion of batter before you add it to the iron.

If you can't serve them immediately, you can hold the waffles on a rack in an oven preheated to 150 degrees for about an hour.

Orange Whipped Cream

1 cup cold heavy cream, straight out of the fridge

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon orange extract

Grated zest of 1 orange

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the cream on low-medium speed until it begins to thicken. Add the sugar and orange extract and beat to soft peaks, then fold in the orange zest. Serve with the waffles and warm maple syrup.

Big-Top Blueberry Muffins

I developed these to yield the classic "mushroom" shape — a vast domed muffin top with a lot of crunch, over a relatively puny base. They are almost twice the size of normal muffins, so although they are also delicious, go easy on them or you will have a muffin top of your own to contend with.

T. Susan Chang for NPR
Big-Top Blueberry Muffins
T. Susan Chang for NPR

Makes 6 big muffins

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsweetened butter (softened and warmed as much as possible without actually melting it)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Generous pinch salt

2 large eggs

1/4 to 1/2 cup milk*

2 cups fresh blueberries, stemmed but not rinsed (or rinsed and thoroughly dried), or frozen blueberries

*I think it's better to use less milk, but the amount will vary depending on the size of the eggs and the "thirstiness" of your flour. The final batter should be smooth, without flour crumbs or particles, but still as thick and stiff as possible.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 6 cups, spaced evenly, of a 12-cup muffin tin, especially on the top surfaces where the muffin tops will flow over the pan.

In a mixer, cream the butter and sugars together thoroughly with the paddle attachment (or you can do this with well-softened butter and a wooden spoon, beating vigorously until very smooth).

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a fork or whisk.

In a measuring cup, beat the eggs and milk vigorously with a fork.

Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately to the butter-sugar mixture, beginning and ending with wet. (Wet and dry should each have 3 to 4 turns.) Scrape down the bowl and beat thoroughly after each addition. Final batter should be thick, stiff and fairly smooth.

Fold in blueberries gently but quickly. (Work very quickly if you're using frozen blueberries, as the chill will make the batter hard to manage).

Apportion batter into 6 cups of a 12-cup muffin tin, alternating for even spacing. (If you went ahead and greased all 12 cups, you can put some water in the empty 6 to prevent burning.) Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until risen and a rich brown in color. Cool 10 minutes. To remove, gently loosen the muffin tops with a butter knife or offset spatula and invert the pan over a rack.

Millet Muffins

Here's a lighter muffin recipe I just discovered in Heidi Swanson's new Super Natural Every Day (10 Speed Press). The millet gives these muffins a crunchy texture (almost like nonpareils on a cookie, but savory rather than sweet!). Swanson compares them to corn muffins; I agree, but I think they're better.

Makes a dozen muffins

2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/3 cup raw millet

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

1 cup plain yogurt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup barely melted unsalted butter

1/2 cup honey

Grated zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan or line with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, millet, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, butter, honey, and lemon zest and juice until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, spooning a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each one, filling it to a bit below the rim.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the muffin tops are browned and just barely beginning to crack. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the muffins out of the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

Cranberry-Orange Scones

This recipe, adapted from Joanne Chang's Flour (Chronicle 2010), is a fairly standard formula. But I like it because the buttermilk and creme fraiche keep the scones moist, and Chang (no relation, by the way) takes the trouble to advise you to pre-score the dough — saving great headaches later. Chang says you might use sanding sugar or pearl sugar, if you have access to them, but granulated works just fine.

Zoe carries a platter of moist, tangy Cranberry-Orange Scones. T. Susan Chang for NPR hide caption

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T. Susan Chang for NPR

Zoe carries a platter of moist, tangy Cranberry-Orange Scones.

T. Susan Chang for NPR

Makes 8 very large scones

2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup fresh or dried cranberries

Grated zest of 1 orange

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 to 10 pieces

1/2 cup cold nonfat buttermilk

1/2 cup cold creme fraiche

1 cold large egg

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees .

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer), mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, granulated sugar and cranberries on low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-size pieces are still visible.

In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, creme fraiche and whole egg until thoroughly mixed. On low speed, pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour-butter mixture and beat for 20 to 30 seconds, or just until the dough comes together. There will still be a little loose flour mixture at the bottom of the bowl.

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. Gather and lift the dough with your hands and turn it over in the bowl, so that it starts to pick up the loose flour at the bottom. Turn over the dough several times until all of the loose flour is mixed in.

Dump the dough onto a baking sheet and pat it into an 8-inch circle about 1 inch thick. Brush the egg yolk evenly over the entire top of the dough circle. Sprinkle the sanding sugar evenly over the top, then cut the circle into 8 wedges, as if cutting a pizza. (At this point, the unbaked scones can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. Proceed as directed, baking directly from the freezer and adding 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time.)

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the entire circle is golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, then cut into the prescored wedges (the cuts will be visible but will have baked together) and serve.

The scones taste best on the day they are baked, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. If you keep them for longer than 1 day, refresh them in a 300-degree oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Or, you can freeze them, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 1 week. Reheat, directly from the freezer, in a 300-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes.