We wanted to make poppy seed muffins with rich, full flavor as well as fluffy, tender interiors and golden crusts. We were amazed to find our go-to recipe had a whopping 22 grams of sugar per muffin, so we hoped our new recipe would work with a sugar content of only 11 grams.
We turned to Sucanat (whole cane sugar), which we ground in a spice grinder to ensure the tops of the finished muffins weren't speckled. Lemon zest seemed like a natural complement to the poppy seeds, but we could only add so much zest before the muffins started to taste soapy, and our muffins were still lacking flavor.
To fix this problem and to up the perceived sweetness without adding more sugar, we started by increasing the vanilla. This helped, but tasters still wanted more flavor, so we scoured the pantry for solutions. We found our answer in ground anise seeds, which had a sweet, subtle licorice flavor that rounded out the muffins perfectly.
Next, we needed to fix the texture of the muffins; they were a bit dense and tough. To create a finer crumb and a less chewy texture, we switched from all-purpose flour to cake flour. A combination of baking powder and baking soda ensured good rise and good browning, but we also increased the oven temperature and raised the oven rack to help achieve the perfect golden brown crust.
You can skip grinding the Sucanat; however, the muffins will have a speckled appearance. Low-fat yogurt can be substituted for the whole-milk yogurt, but the muffins will be slightly drier.
Anise and Poppy Seed Muffins
Servings: 12. Start to finish: 1 hour. From "Naturally Sweet."
• ¾ cup (4 ounces) Sucanat
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• 1 ½ cups plain whole-milk yogurt
• 2 large eggs
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
• 2 ¾ cups (11 ounces) cake flour
• 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ¾ teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon ground anise seeds
• ¾ teaspoon salt
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 F. Grease 12-cup muffin tin. Working in 3 batches, grind Sucanat in spice grinder until fine and powdery, about 1 minute.
2. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer browned butter to large bowl and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter until melted; let cool slightly.
3. Whisk yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest into browned butter until smooth. In large bowl, whisk ground Sucanat, flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda, anise and salt together. Using rubber spatula, stir in yogurt mixture until combined.
4. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking.
5. Let muffins cool in tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes before serving.