When I was newly married, I kept a very slim pantry. Not only did I not know what I should stock, but we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on groceries, so I only bought what I knew I would use for the week. What I always had on hand were very basic baking supplies.
One morning when we were trying to figure out what to eat for breakfast, my husband suggested I make nothin’ muffins. I had never heard of them before; apparently, my mother-in-law would serve them to her family with butter and jam.
She made them not from a lack of ingredients, but because her young sons were picky eaters and didn’t like muffins that had anything in them. Nothin’ muffins became her go-to muffins.
Her recipe came from Betty Crocker, but at the time I had a brand new Better Homes & Garden cookbook that I was excited to use. So I flipped to the bread section and found a recipe simply called “Muffins.” I tweaked it over the years and it’s become my family’s nothin’ muffins.
I like to think of these muffins as rustic. They have a cracked, golden brown top—the outer edge is deeper in color and crispier than the top of the muffin because of the heat from the hot pan. Barely sweetened, nothin’ muffins have a similar flavor to a baking powder biscuit or scone.
I make these muffins for a quick breakfast, after-school snack, or easy side dish. Serve them with butter and jam as my mother-in-law did or eat them warm with nothin’ at all. They’re also well suited as a dinner bread—they’re quicker and easier to make than dinner rolls but serve the same purpose on a plate alongside roast chicken and a green salad.
Keys to Success
Don’t overmix: These simple muffins are exactly that: simple. The only pitfall is overmixing. It’s very easy to overmix and end up with tough muffins riddled with holes. Mix until the flour isn’t visible any longer and then stop—the batter will be thick and lumpy, similar to a pancake batter.
Skip the liners: I recommend not using muffin liners; bake them directly in the tin. The muffins tend to stick to the paper and have a lighter color and less crispy edges when liners are used. Instead, grease the tin with either butter or cooking spray.
Different cook times: For mini muffins, start checking after 7 minutes, and for jumbo muffins, start checking after 20 minutes.
Ingredient swaps: Make them dairy-free by swapping out the milk for a non-dairy one, or use melted butter in place of the oil. I recommend letting the milk come to room temperature and letting the butter cool slightly before whisking together. This will keep the butter from solidifying and the egg from scrambling.
Make them either sweet or savory: Below are a few ideas for add-ins that make these muffins sweet or savory. Add them to the dry ingredients.
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped black olives
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried herbs, such as rosemary or thyme
- 1 tablespoon citrus zest and 1 tablespoon poppy seeds or chia seeds
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, chopped strawberries, or raspberries
- Sprinkle with a mixture of 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon before baking
- 1 cup chocolate chips or chopped nuts
More Muffins, Please
- Bran Muffins
- Blackberry Muffins
- Apple Cider Donut Muffins
- Cream Cheese Zucchini Muffins
- Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven. Grease each cavity of a muffin pan with cooking spray or butter.
Mix the dry ingredients:
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and any additional add-ins (if using) in a large bowl.
Whisk wet ingredients and combine:
In a small bowl, whisk the milk, oil, and egg until combined.
Pour the milk mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture. Use a flexible spatula and mix just until no flour is visible. The batter will be thick and lumpy. Resist the urge to mix until it’s perfectly smooth, you’ll end up with tough muffins instead of tender ones.
Fill each muffin cavity halfway (about 2 heaping tablespoons).
Bake in the center of the oven until the tops are slightly golden and firm when lightly pressed, about 15 minutes. Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes and then move to a cooling rack.
Serve the muffins warm or at room temperature with butter and jam. Store remaining muffins in an airtight container on the counter for up to 2 days.
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