A Sweet Breakfast With a Secret

The best muffins are the ones that veer into cupcake territory. Buttery, rich and occasionally glazed or iced, a muffin is intended to make eating cake acceptable for breakfast.

These crumb cake muffins do just that.

With their sour cream-laden batter, they’re about as tender and moist as cake gets. And the nubby blanket of cinnamon-scented crumbs on top is as sweet as icing, but crunchier, and easier to eat out of hand in the morning while the caffeine kicks in.

To get that cakelike texture, the batter does require an electric mixer, either hand-held or stand. Here, I use it for the reverse-creaming method, which calls for mixing the dry ingredients first, then beating in the butter before finally adding the eggs and sour cream. I find that I get a slightly lighter, finer cake that way (as opposed to the more traditional technique of creaming the butter and sugar first).

The butter does need to be well softened for the reverse-creaming method to work, so plan ahead, or be prepared to zap the butter briefly in the microwave on 50 percent power before you start mixing. It should be soft enough to spread easily on toast.

Then, to bump up the flavor, I mixed in a hefty dose of vanilla and a small amount of almond extract and lemon zest, just enough to brighten things without being obviously citrusy or almondy.

Next, I focused on adding more oomph to the crumbs. Instead of just melting the butter, I let it bubble and hiss until the milky foam sank to the bottom of the pot and turned as brown as a pecan. That gave the butter a deep, caramelized flavor that made the crumbs arguably the best part — and extremely tempting to nibble off the tops of all the muffins as soon as they’re cool enough to pick at.

Because I know that temptation exceedingly well, I build in a safeguard. Hidden underneath the batter is a second layer of crumbs. So, even if, say, a few crumbs disappear off the tops as you’re moving them from the pans to serving platter, your muffin recipients will not suffer their lack.

Plus, that underlying layer of crumbs fixes the problem of gobbling the tops and leaving the bottoms. With this recipe, not a crumb will remain.

Recipe: Cinnamon Crumb Cake Muffins

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