In the realm of breakfast treats, muffins aren’t my go-to. I’m much more likely to spring for a scone, cinnamon roll, or danish; or spend the time making waffles.
But sometimes a lemon poppyseed muffin really hits the spot. And as lazy summer mornings turn into busy fall ones, there’s no denying the convenience of a portable muffin breakfast.
My muffin rules
For someone who isn’t a huge muffin fan, I do have some strong opinions about them. Number one: No creaming butter and sugar. That’s too much work for a muffin. Liquid fat all the way (whether it be oil or melted butter or a mixture of the two).
Number two: Moist muffins. Just say no to dry and crumbly. For these particular lemon poppyseed muffins, almond flour, sour cream, and lots of poppyseeds contribute to a moist and tender interior.
Number three: Nice domes. There are lots of tricks for getting bakery-worthy muffin tops. Some people swear by chilling their muffin batter overnight. I’m sure this works (if you try it with this recipe let me know) but I’m too impatient for that; so I just do the following three things:
Fill the muffin wells up to the top.
Only fill every other well so that each muffin has lots of air circulation around it, helping them to rise and set more quickly.
Start with a high oven temp to maximize that initial rise, then lower it to help them bake through without scorching.
Good quality lemon oil is one of my tricks for injecting lemon flavor into baked goods. I use Boyajian brand (if you’re in the US, I’ve bought it at Sur La Table). I can’t comment about swapping out with lemon extract as I’ve never found one I really like.
This recipe uses a lot of poppyseeds. Please make sure they’re fresh! Poppyseeds turn rancid fast so I always recommend storing them in the freezer (same goes for other seeds, nuts, and nut flours).
Don’t skip the glaze! These muffins aren’t overly sweet and the glaze really helps deliver an immediate lemon punch.
Bakery style lemon almond poppyseed muffins with a moist, tender crumb and lemon glaze.
For the Lemon Almond Poppyseed Muffins:
250g all purpose flour
50g almond flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
210g granulated sugar
Zest of 3 large lemons (~3T zest) -- reserve lemon juice for glaze
85g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
60g neutral oil
3 large eggs
3/4 tsp lemon oil, such as Boyajian
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
180g sour cream, at room temperature
60g whole milk, at room temperature
For the lemon glaze:
100g icing sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (+/- as needed)
Preheat the oven and prep the pan: Preheat the oven to 425F with a rack in the middle. For the most dramatic muffin tops, line two standard 12-count muffin pan with 6 muffin liners each, skipping every other well. Lightly grease between the wells. If you only have one muffin pan, you can either bake them all in one pan (the rise will be a little less dramatic, but the muffins will stilll taste great); or bake the muffins in two batches. The batter will hold fine at room temperature.
Make the muffin batter: In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt. Whisk very well for at least 30 seconds to ensure everything is well combined and lump-free.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest. Rub the zest into the sugar until fragrant and damp to release the essential oils from the rind, which will intensify the lemon flavor. Whisk in the butter, oil, eggs, extracts, sour cream, and milk until smooth.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and use a silicone spatula to gently fold the two together. When just a few streaks of flour remain, add the poppyseeds, stirring just to combine. Use a flexible spatula to scrape down the sides and fold from the bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is well-mixed and there are no pockets of unincorporated flour.
Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pan(s), filling each cup to the top -- about 90g per muffin. Fill any empty wells with a little water (less than half is fine), which will promote even baking.
Bake the muffins: Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 375F and bake for a further 10-12 minutes, or until the muffins are well risen and a skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
Carefully remove the muffins from the pan and cool on a wire rack before glazing.
Glaze the muffins: When the muffins have cooled, whisk together the icing sugar, salt, and lemon juice to form a smooth, spoonable glaze. (I needed 2 Tbsp of lemon juice to reach my desired consistency, but recommend adding a teaspoon or two at a time for the best control.) Use a spoon or fork to drizzle over the muffins. Let the glaze set for about 5 minutes before serving. Muffins are best the day they're made, but will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
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This has been the summer of the bar cookie. My kids are all very into helping in the kitchen, so for my sanity I’ve kept our bakes simple. A big lifesaver has been simply pressing cookie dough into the pan vs. individually portioning it out; because do you know how long it takes to get through a recipe with three children all wanting their turn for each step?
For the most part, I don’t mind. But I do have a renewed appreciation for the humble bar cookie. Focusing on tray bakes also reminded me of a few recipes sitting in my “to try” file, most notably carmelitas: a buttery oatmeal and brown sugar bar cookie filled with chewy caramel and chocolate.
Of course I had to put a little bit of a spin on it. First: brown butter! Since we’re melting butter for the crust/topping anyways, just take the extra couple minutes to brown it, thereby adding some delicious nutty complexity to these bars. Maillard reaction FTW!
Second, homemade caramel! Most carmelita recipes call for using either caramel ice cream topping or chewy caramel candies melted down with cream; but I think it’s worth it to make your own salted caramel sauce. You can control the darkness of the caramel (go dark! It helps tame the sweetness of these bars.), plus it only takes a few minutes. Seriously, once you start making your own caramel, it’s hard to accept anything less than homemade.
Since we’re only making a small amount of salted caramel, I strongly prefer the dry method (i.e. not adding water to the sugar at the beginning) for speed. Your sugar may clump and look a bit questionable, but it’s fine, everything is fine! Stirring is fine! Just turn down the heat if you need to and let any lumps liquefy, then turn the heat back up to get that caramelization going. As always, whenever you’re making caramel, have all your other ingredients measured out and ready to go before you start heating the sugar.
You can make the salted caramel sauce ahead of time (it lasts for ages in the fridge); just gently reheat to a pourable consistency when you’re ready to assemble the carmelitas.
Be generous with the salt, both in the caramel and with the garnish on top! These bars need it!
Cool and chill the carmelitas completely before cutting. I know it’s tempting to dig in ASAP, but if you cut these bars before they’re completely cool you will have a gooey mess on your hands. I like to pop the whole tray in the fridge for an hour or two to make cutting a breeze.
Brown Butter Carmelitas
Yield: One 8x8 pan
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours45 minutes
A delightfully buttery oat bar cookie stuffed with chocolate, salted caramel, and toasted nuts.
For the salted caramel sauce:
160g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp sea or kosher salt
45g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g heavy cream (35%), at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the base and topping:
150g unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g all purpose flour
100g light brown sugar
90g rolled oats (regular, not quick or jumbo)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
150g bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or a mix of semisweet and bittersweet)*
55g well-toasted nuts, finely chopped**
Flaky salt, for garnish
Make the salted caramel sauce: In a medium heavy-bottomed, light-colored saucepan, sprinkle the sugar in an even layer. Place over medium heat. Once the sugar starts to melt around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to drag the melted parts toward the center of the pan. Continue dragging and swirling the pan to make sure the sugar is melting evenly and not scorching. If the mixture gets very lumpy and grainy, don't panic! Turn the heat down and stir until the chunks melt. Once all the sugar has liquified, you can turn the heat back up.
As soon as the melted sugar turns the color of an old copper penny, remove it from the heat and add the salt and butter, stirring continuously. Be careful, as the mixture will bubble up! Whisk until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth and combined.
Still continuously stirring, add the cream in a slow, steady stream—again, taking caution as the mixture will bubble and rise. Return the pot to medium-low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently, to thicken the sauce slightly.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Transfer to a heat-safe container and let cool while you prepare the rest of the carmelitas.
Make the base and topping: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Line an 8x8 pan with foil or two criss-crossed pieces of parchment, leaving 2-3 inches of overhang on at least two of the sides for easy removal. Lightly grease the foil or parchment.
To brown the butter, place the cubed butter in a small, light-colored saucepan over low-medium heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir frequently with a heatproof spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as needed. The butter will crackle, foam, turn clear gold, then finally start browning. It’s done when the crackling subsides and you smell toasted nuts. This process takes about 8-10 minutes total, but the butter can go from browned to burnt in a flash—so keep an eye on it.
Pour the butter and all the toasty bits into a small bowl or glass measuring cup and whisk in the espresso powder (if using) and vanilla. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes (it can be warm, but not piping hot when you add it to the rest of the ingredients).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, and baking soda. Pour in the brown butter mixture and stir with a fork until all the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.
Bake the crust: Transfer about 60% of the mixture (~260g) to the prepared pan and use the bottom of a measuring cup or small glass to press it firmly and evenly along the bottom. (Reserve the rest for the topping.) Bake for 10 minutes.
Finish assembling and baking the bars: Remove the base from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate and nuts over the top. Pour the caramel sauce in an even layer over the chocolate and nuts. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top.
Bake until the topping is lightly browned and the caramel is bubbling on the edges, about 18-20 minutes. Cool at room temperature for an hour, then refrigerate for 1-2 hours until firm.
Cut into desired sizes and serve lightly chilled or at room temperature. Store leftover bars in an airtight container in the fridge or at room temperature for up to 5 days; freeze for longer storage.
*Chocolate chips are fine; I recommend something in the 55-70% cacao content range. I used a mix of semisweet chocolate chips and Callebaut 70% callets.
**I used almonds, but any nut you like will work here.
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Ah, key lime pie. It’s one of my husband’s favorite desserts, so I’ve spent time fiddling with the recipe in search of my ideal version. If I’m being honest, I’ve always found key lime pie…hmmmm, a little lacking? Now I wouldn’t turn down a slice, but the classic proportions feel off (not enough filling to crust, but if you double the filling it’s overload) and I get bored after a couple bites.
So, you fiddle. I’ve tried adding different dairy products, folding in egg whites, etc. but in the end I think the classic egg yolks + condensed milk + lime juice + zest can’t be beat for its combination of ease and taste. (But I do beat the egg yolks really well to get a nice airy texture.) I also prefer baking the pie as bars in an 8×8 pan for what I think is a better crust to filling ratio. Bonus: it’s also easier to slice.
And finally, I like to add some sort of extra layer. This time around I went with a mango gel layer for some color and sweetness; and I loved it! But you could go with straight lime curd to really lean into the tartness; and of course good old whipped cream is always a safe option. I also think a fresh berry layer could be fun! (I didn’t say I was done fiddling, did I?)
Whatever you choose, these key lime bars are a great, simple, make-ahead dessert anytime of the year. Enjoy!
I typically use regular old limes for the filling because juicing a couple dozen tiny key limes feels like punishment. Yes, that makes them lime bars instead of key lime bars. Oh well.
I don’t find my bottom crust gets too soggy even after a few days in the fridge (it does soften, but not in an unpleasant way). But if you want extra insurance, you can brush the baked crust with a layer of egg white and return it to the oven for 1-2 minutes. Then pour in your filling and bake as directed.
I am staunchly on team canned mango puree (or pulp). The texture, consistent flavor, and convenience is totally worth it for me. I buy either alphonso or kesar varieties at my local grocery store (look in the international aisle). You can also find it online. Look for something that has just mango pulp, sugar (or sugar syrup or sugar and water), and citric acid as the ingredients. Canned puree is typically lightly sweetened; so if you’re making your own puree you may need to add additional sugar to taste.
Key Lime Bars with Mango Topping
Yield: One 8x8 pan
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Additional Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours55 minutes
For the graham cracker crust:
175g graham cracker crumbs
12g granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
56 g unsalted butter, melted
For the key lime filling:
5 large egg yolks
1 Tbsp lime zest (from 3-4 regular limes)
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
170g freshly squeezed lime juice (from 6-8 regular limes or about 20 key limes)
For the mango topping:
35g cold water
7g powdered gelatin (2 1/4 tsp or 1 packet)
270g mango purée (I used canned and lightly sweetened)
5g lime juice
12g granulated sugar (might need to increase if using homemade purée)
Make the graham cracker crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with one rack in the middle and one below. Line an 8-inch square pan with at least 2-inch (7.5-cm) sides and line with two criss-crossed pieces of parchment paper, leaving about 2 inches (7.5 cm) of overhang on all sides for easy removal. Lightly grease the pan and parchment
Stir together the cracker crumbs, sugar, salt, and melted butter. The mixture should hold together if you squeeze it in your hand, but shouldn’t feel overly greasy. If the mixture doesn’t hold together, add more melted butter 1 teaspoon at a time until it does. If overly greasy, add more cracker crumbs, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you get the right texture.
Press the cookie crumbs into the bottom of the pan, using a measuring cup or shot glass to compact the crumbs firmly and evenly.
Bake until just set, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack while preparing the filling.
Make the key lime filling: Place the egg yolks and lime zest in a medium bowl. Using an electric handheld mixer, whisk together on medium speed until well combined. Add the condensed milk and whisk on medium to medium-high speed until pale and thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the lime juice and mix on low speed until combined.
Scrape the filling into the prepared crust and gently shake side to side to level. For the smoothest top, bounce a spoon over the top of the filling to bring up and pop any air bubbles that might be trapped in the filling.
Bake for 10-13 minutes, or until the center has just a slight jiggle. Cool at room temperature for an hour, then refrigerate uncovered for one hour before preparing the mango topping.
Make the mango topping: Pour the cold water into a small, shallow bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface and allow to bloom for 5-10 minutes.
In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, 70g mango purée, and lime juice. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until just steaming. Turn off heat, add bloomed gelatin, and whisk until dissolved. Add remaining 200g mango purée.
Carefully pour the mango topping onto the chilled bars. Use a skewer to pop any air bubbles. Refrigerate to set, at least 3 hours or overnight, before slicing.
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days. (The crust will soften with time.)