There is little that makes waking up more tolerable than the thought of a fist-sized, fluffy, sweet and soft muffin. With everything from blueberries and bananas to pecans and poached pears embedded within that heavenly cake, glassy sugar crystals, rolled oats and crumbly streusel sprinkled across the top, the beloved portable breakfast come in many a form. Here are seven of my favorites!
Two Little Red Hens
1652 2nd Ave (btw. 85th and 86th St.)
What looks to the naked eye like an ordinary blueberry muffin turns out to be a cylindrical lump of unadulterated joy. Those conspicuous marble-sized indigo berries are merely preludes to the fluffy cake, its texture lumpy and inconsistent in that exact way that separates the muffins from the cupcakes. While the hints of ginger in the cake are depth enough to render it a standout, it’s the pockets of lemon curd nestling like sweet-tart and potent surprises in the muffin’s nooks and crannies that propel it to the top of this list.
325 Bowery (at 2nd St.)
While it may sound jarringly unorthodox, the amalgam of buckwheat, rosemary and lemon marmalade that is the “Peel’s Muffin” just may be a touch of unexpected brilliance. The sticky-soft crust, embedded with shimmering sugar-crystals and garnished with sprigs of dried rosemary gives way to a fantastically dense and grainy (no doubt thanks to the bran) body. With ribbons of potent candied-lemon rind snaking through the rosemary-flecked batter, the sharp citrus perfectly rounding out the light rosemary, it just may be among the most complex muffins out there.
48 ½ East 7th St. (at 2nd Ave.); 632 Manhattan Ave. (at Bedford and Nassau), Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 81 Bergen St. (at Smith St.), Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
While the hard-to-pronounce vendor may be better known for its screwball ice creams than its baked goods, the small dome-topped muffins sitting quietly behind the counter may just challenge such an automatic association. The blackberry hazelnut muffin I tried sported a sugar-encrusted crust spotted with enormous, plump blackberries that burst with juice, a criminally moist and almost egg-y interior that was reminiscent of an extremely dense popover. And while hazelnuts were ground so finely into the batter they were difficult to spot, their sweet, earthy flavor was anything but.
401 Bleeker St. (at West 11th St.); 1240 Avenue of the Americas (at 49th St.); 200 Columbus Ave. (at 69th St.); Grand Central Terminal
Yes, it’s a cupcake place. But contrary to what anyone might (rightfully) assume, the tins of muffins that go virtually unnoticed are far more than unfrosted cupcakes. While my pumpkin muffin was cupcake-sweet (more so by far than any others on the list), it had a texture and flavor all its own. Far lighter than Magnolia’s super-dense cupcakes, and so sticky its crumbs could cling to a fork, the muffin feels exactly like something that might come out of your own oven. And, with its full pumpkin flavor, enhanced by the nutmeg and cinnamon speckling the cake, it tastes that way too.
260 5th Ave. (btw. Carroll St. and Garfield Pl.), Park Slope, Brooklyn.
It may be on the small side, but the mushroom-shaped confections churned out by Park Slope’s Trois Pommes are so rich this may be a good thing. The pumpkin muffin I sampled was sweet without being overpowering, its delicate pumpkin flavor enlivened with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and vanilla. And while there was little interruption in its smooth consistency, its rock-candy hard brown sugar streusel topping, and sprinkling nutty toasted pumpkin seeds supplied satisfying doses of crunchiness.
62 Stone St. (btw. Mill Lane and Hanover Sq); 3-4 World Financial Center (Battery Park City); 35 Cedar St. (10 Liberty Plaza btw. Pearl and William St.); 1211 6th Ave. (at 48th St.); Grand Central Terminal
See: www.financier.com/locations for complete list.
Only a French bakery could produce a muffin so buttery you can almost feel it coating the inside of your mouth. The cone-shaped apple muffin, a crusty streusel climbing up its sticky, soft top, was light, airy and sent a shower of spongey crumbs from its body with every bite. While the cake itself was relatively one-dimensional – sweet, buttery and with the texture of an exceptionally smooth cornbread –it was the perfect backdrop for slivers of tender caramel-y apple dispersed throughout.
Grey Dog Café
90 University Pl. (btw. 11th and 12th St.); 33 Carmine St. (btw. Bleeker and Bedford St.); 242 West 16th St. (btw. 7th and 8th Ave.)
When it comes to breakfast indulgences, bran muffins are probably not the first things that come to mind. And while Grey Dog’s bran muffins, what with the disks of banana and erupting blueberries splotched across their misshapen palm size tops, certainly look virtuous, one bite into the tender, sweet and nutty body that is fantastically buttery and has the consistency of a coarse and chewy cake reveals that a bran muffin does not have to equal a heap of tasteless sawdust.