Muffins are transcendent food offerings. Why? Because they are essentially the perfect way to eat cake for breakfast. They are also handheld, convenient, portable vehicles for many (any!) different ingredients. However, as with any quick bread, they have the possibility of being dense.
To help with this issue, there is a special trick involving something that is already readily available in your kitchen. Hot water is that trick. By adding hot water to the two middle molds of a 12-mold muffin tin, you can supposedly create fluffy, airy muffins with a higher rise via steam, according to TikTok. Let’s see if it works!
What Is Steam Baking?
Using steam in cooking is nothing new, and very beneficial. Not only is it a great way to retain nutrients in vegetables, prevent burning, and promote even cooking, but it also helps in baking. Many commercial bake shops use fancy equipment like steam ovens to make sure their loaves of bread are crispy, light, and uniformly colored and cooked. The steam creates gases (water vapor) within the dough to expand granules. Bread tends to bake quickly in the first few minutes of baking and the water aids in slowing down the process just enough. Steam also helps with making a crispy crust. The steam helps gelatinize the starch granules and the excess moisture helps to form a crust.
What Makes Muffins Dense?
Like other quick breads, dense texture can happen based on that trendy buzzword, gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, and it acts as the building block of bread making. Once you have the trifecta; gluten, water, and some form of agitation (stirring), gluten does its job effectively. Ever seen a recipe that directs you not over-stir? That is a preventative measure to not overdevelop the glutens. Muffins are vulnerable to this same phenomenon. This is why steam baking can help create an airy texture inside.
We Tried It! Does It Work?
We put the steam trick to the test. A standard blueberry muffin recipe was used (you could also use a box muffin mix):
One batch of 12 muffins was baked at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), with every mold filled with batter. A second batch was baked, at the same temperature, with the two middle molds filled with hot water instead of batter. The texture and height were compared with both methods of baking.
The muffins that were baked with hot water did have bigger air pockets on the inside, resulting in a lighter and more airy texture. The height was compared with both muffins as well. The results were essentially the same, proving that the steam did little to nothing to create a vast difference in height in this case.
Regardless of how steam affected the rise, it was successful in helping to create an airy, fluffy texture. Steam baking is something that can create a lighter muffin.
Also, adding hot water to empty muffin cups is a perfect answer to running out of batter.