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Breakfast cornmeal muffins with raisins.

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Muffins are the perfect little treat and they are far superior when homemade. Coffee-house muffins are overblown – often high in fat and calories, but low in flavour. A good muffin should be tasty, with a dense but moist interior and quite crumbly. Master a few details and you will be baking your own in no time.

To make a basic muffin, dry ingredients are combined in one bowl and wet ingredients in another. The wet is then stirred gently into the dry. Don’t overmix because that makes a dense, dry muffin. Don’t worry if there are a few lumps – they will bake out.

Use heavy muffin tins. Even if they are nonstick, it’s still best to grease them with a little oil or butter or to line them with paper muffin cups.

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First, measure the flour by spooning it into a measuring cup and levelling it off. Do not dip the measuring cup into the flour bin; you pack in extra flour that way. Most recipes use the spooning method even if they don’t indicate it. Because baking soda can be lumpy, I sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl. I also find this little bit of aeration makes a better muffin because the wet ingredients are easier to whisk in.

Once the wet ingredients are measured, whisk well to combine and then use a large rubber spatula or spoon to stir them into the dry. Don’t overmix; remember, the batter will be lumpy.

Distribute the batter evenly amongst the cups. I use an ice cream scoop, but a large spoon also works. If you have any empty cups, fill them with water. The muffins bake better with all cups filled. Fill ¾ full to give them room to rise. If you fill to the top, which is fine, you will have billowy topped giant muffins. In this case, remember to grease to tops of the tins, too, to avoid any sticking. Once baked, remove from muffin cups and cool on a wire rack or serve warm.

If you’re short on time, you can make the muffin batter the night before and refrigerate. Spoon into muffin tins in the morning and bake for a breakfast treat.

Store leftover muffins in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Muffins also freeze well and can be reheated in a 350 F oven from the frozen state for about 10 minutes.

Muffin pans vary in size, which affects baking time. Mini muffins take about 10 to 12 minutes; regular size take 12 to 18; and jumbo ones take about 22 to 25.

Get started with this basic muffin recipe. You can add in flavourings such as spices, grated carrots, grated apples, dried or fresh berries as you wish. I prefer the texture of muffins made with buttermilk, but if you only have regular milk, then omit the baking soda and continue. The texture is a bit different but good.

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In a large bowl, sift together 2 cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp baking soda and ½ tsp salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 eggs, 1 cup buttermilk (or milk, yogurt or sour cream), ½ cup sugar, and 1/3 cup melted butter (or vegetable oil). With a large spatula, combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients. Spoon into greased muffins cups and bake at 400 F for about 12 to 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Makes 12.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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