Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country


Pure-Madness Yeast Muffins



If I live to be a hundred, my tongue will always remember the feeling of the concave metal spokes of the beaters on the electric hand mixer my mom used to make cookies when I was little. I don’t remember what the mixer looked like–maybe avocado green?–but I do remember the unalloyed pleasure of licking the blend of butter and sugar and flour and eggs from along the beaters’ sharpish ridges. No worries about raw eggs, much less refined sugar or saturated fat or, least of all, gluten. The tiny traces of cookie batter that I would lick from those beaters sublimated into pure joy in my little-girl mouth. I had earned it, with all my sitting patiently on the countertop without tipping off the edge and avoiding getting my fingers tangled up in the beaters while they whizzed around and I purloined little licks from the belly of the bowl. Simply making cookie dough seemed to take forever, and the dough, once it included the dry ingredients, seemed so stiff I marveled that my mother must be stronger than she looked to maneuver that electric mixer with just one hand.

Maybe I’ve gone wrong somewhere along the way because my own children don’t have much passion for cookies, and I doubt they’ll have the same sensory memories of perching on the countertop and stealing tastes from the edges of the bowl. I’m not sure whether to blame the stand mixer (which steals all the glory for ingredient transformation) or my vanity (which discourages me from baking as much I should for optimal memory-making), but my kids don’t go crazy for cookie dough the way I once did.  In fact, they don’t seem to care much about any kind of baked goodies–except for bread.

Before I launch into a recipe for yeast muffins that will blow your mind, a gratuitous tangent (not unrelated):

For my littlest guy’s birthday each year, I bake him a carrot cake because he won’t eat the cake anyway, so I may as well bake something the grown-ups like. Here he is, a couple weeks ago, turning five:

If he looks worried, it’s probably because he’s afraid he’ll be forced to eat a bite of cake along with his frosting.

Now, back to the yeast muffins…

My mom has always made rolls, which my older son describes as “creamy and buttery,” and the first time I made this recipe, he asked if these were Nana’s rolls. Sometimes she does make her rolls in a muffin tin, so he could be forgiven for confusing their looks. But it’s also true that this child, as I’ve often said, is a walking sensory antenna. Smells, tastes, and textures all hit him loud and clear.  And these muffins, still steaming from the oven, said to him, “Yeasty, buttery, creamy, yummy.” So he thought, “Nana’s rolls.” And he really wasn’t far off–at least not in effect.


“Nana” with her only granddaughter. (Happy birthday, Mom.)

So is this a muffin or is it a roll? Is it a quick bread or a yeast bread? And can it really be both? I just don’t know. But that’s why I’m saying these will blow your mind. I mean, wow. They’re what you can make when you suddenly think a bit of bread would be just the thing with that pot of soup you have simmering or that you could really use a little yeasty indulgence with your dinner salad in order not to feel deprived. They whip up as quickly as a batch of muffins, but straight from the oven, they look, smell, and taste exactly like a yeast bread. We’ve started calling them ruffins, in honor of their hybrid nature (because we obviously couldn’t call them “molls.” Duh.)

Years and years ago, I wrote down a version of this recipe which I found on Allrecipes (I think). It was called “Spoon Muffins,” but that never seemed right to me. I know spoonbread, people, and these have nothing to do with that. But the recipe has mutated so much anyway that it’s now a different thing entirely, and the orange paper is all scribbly with corrections, translucent with drips of butter, and crusty with dabs of batter.  That’s a good sign of a well-loved recipe. But, seriously, try not to drip on your screen.

Pure-Madness Muffins (“Ruffins”)



1 tsp. yeast

1 cup room temperature water

2 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

6 tablespoons butter, melted + more butter, unmelted, for serving

2 tablespoons sugar

cinnamon-sugar (optional)

frozen blueberries (optional)


  1. Mix the yeast with the water in a liquid measuring cup. Let the yeast wake up for a minute, while you get the other things ready.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. (I have a theory–which I’m afraid to test–that the baking powder is completely unnecessary. Somebody who doesn’t mind throwing away a batch of flat muffins should try it out.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  3. Add the melted butter (slightly cooled, or you’ll kill the yeast) to the water-yeast mixture and then whisk in the egg and sugar.
  4. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry and give them a good swift mixing with a wooden spoon. The goal here is to develop a little bit of the gluten so you get that lovely, pull-apart, chewiness in your bread.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  5. Then scoop equal portions into a muffin tin that you have sprayed with cooking spray.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  6. If you have 30 minutes to spare, cover them with plastic wrap and pop the pan in a warm spot to let the batter rise a bit. If you don’t have time to spare, don’t sweat it. They’ll rise in the oven anyway.
  7. If you want to, just before baking, poke about 10 blueberries (thawed, if they were frozen) into some or all of your muffins and then sprinkle the berry ones with cinnamon-sugar. I’ve been adding them to about half of them and leaving the other half unadulterated.  That way we have rolls to accompany our dinner and muffins for dessert!
  8. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until puffy and golden.
  9. I serve these with cinnamon-sugar butter (like they have at Texas Roadhouse…but better.)

    When they are straight from the oven, they will taste like rolls. If you leave them overnight or let them cool completely, their texture and flavor will be more muffiny. I like mine rolly. You do what you like.


In honor of evolving traditions, have a ruffin, would you?