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Making The Best Muffins And Scones

Scones and muffins are easy enough to make. Yet, how you choose to make them will determine if folks come back for seconds. No one knows this better than the gastronomic sleuths at Cooks Illustrated magazine. Their latest, "Inside America's Test Kitchen," is the 2004 companion book to their PBS cooking show.

Chris Kimball, the magazine's founder and editor, visits The Early Show Tuesday to talk about the book and prepare Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones and Corn And Apricot Muffins with Orange Essence.

The following are the recipes:

Corn Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Whole-grain cornmeal has a fuller flavor than regular cornmeal milled from degerminated corn. To determine what kind of cornmeal a package contains, look closely at the label.

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) fine-ground, whole grain yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a standard muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to combine; set aside. Whisk the eggs in a second medium bowl until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add the sugar to the eggs, whisk vigorously until thick and homogenous, about 30 seconds; add the melted butter in 3 additions, whisking to combine after each addition. Add half the sour cream and half the milk and whisk to combine; whisk in the remaining sour cream and milk until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients; mix gently with a rubber spatula until the batter is just combined and evenly moistened. Do not over-mix. Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, divide the batter evenly among muffin cups, dropping it to form mounds. Do not level or flatten the surface of the mounds.
  3. Bake until the muffins are light golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes, rotating the muffin tin from front to back halfway through the baking time. Cool the muffins in the tin for 5 minutes; invert the muffins onto a wire rack, stand the muffins upright, cool 5 minutes longer, and serve warm.

Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones
Makes 8 scones

This recipe was developed using Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour; best results will be achieved if you use the same or a similar flour, such as Pillsbury unbleached. King Arthur flour has more protein; if you use it, add an extra 1 to 2 tablespoons milk. Half-and-half is a suitable substitute for the milk/cream combination.

1 1/2 cups (4 1/2 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats or quick oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

For Glaze
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the oats and 1/2 cup chopped pecans evenly on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes; cool on a wire rack. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper. When the oats are cooled, measure out 2 tablespoons (for dusting the work surface and the dough) and set aside.
  2. Whisk the milk, cream, and egg in a large measuring cup until incorporated; whisk in maple syrup; remove 1 tablespoon to a small bowl and reserve for glazing.
  3. Pulse the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until combined, about four 1-second pulses. Scatter the cold butter evenly over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, twelve to fourteen 1-second pulses. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl; stir in the cooled oats. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the liquid ingredients until large clumps form. Mix the dough by hand in the bowl until the dough forms a cohesive mass.
  4. Dust the work surface with half the reserved oats, turn the dough out onto the work surface, and dust the top with the remaining oats. Gently pat into a 7-inch circle, about 1-inch thick. Using a bench scraper or chef's knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges and set on the parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Brush the surfaces with the reserved egg mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes; cool the scones on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove the scones to a rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Serve.

To Finish
When the scones are cooled, whisk 3 tablespoons maple syrup and 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar in a small bowl until combined; drizzle the glaze over the scones.

Chris Kimball is the founder and editor of "Cook's Illustrated" magazine as well as the author of: "The Dessert Bible," "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook," "The Cook's Bible," "The Kitchen Detective," "Restaurant Favorites at Home."

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