These muffins have so much going for them. Not only do they happen to be fat free, they’re also a cake, small and fruit filled. Thus they allow you to tap into the psychic pleasure of eating cake—a virtuous cake—for breakfast, with your nice cup of coffee. For the most stupendous results, make these muffins just a few hours before you serve them; they will be buoyantly fluffy, with only a tiny bit of pleasing chewy resistance before they melt in your mouth, leaving the amazing flavors of blueberries and vanilla lingering on your tongue.
If you somehow manage to have muffins left over, toast them before serving. They can even be frozen, then toasted. The toasted muffins won’t have that same airy texture, but they’ll still be tasty. In fact, Melissa likes to spread toasted blueberry muffins with butter-a good antidote if you miss the fat in angel food!
Yield: Makes 12 standard-size muffins
Nonstick cooking spray, for the muffin cups
2/3 cup cake flour (2.67 ounces, 76 grams)
½ cup confectioners sugar (2 ounces, 57 grams)
¼ teaspoon salt (1.25 grams)
¼ cups blueberries (6.5 ounces, 185 grams)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (8 grams)
8 large egg whites (7 ounces, 200 grams), at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
½ cup granulated sugar (3.5 ounces, 99 grams), plus 6 teaspoons additional for sprinkling
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
12-cup standard-size muffin tin
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly grease a standard-size muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray, or use ungreased paper muffin cups.
2. Sift the cake flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper and set aside. In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with the vanilla.
3. In a clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until frothy. Add 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar and beat at medium until soft peaks form. Beat in the remaining granulated sugar, and raise the speed to high. Beat until stiff peaks form. While the eggs are beating, preheat the oven to 375°F.
4. When you have stiff peaks, stop the machine and remove the bowl. Immediately sprinkle the dry ingredients and lemon zest over the egg whites and fold in with a rubber spatula, working carefully to avoid deflating the whites. Fold in half of the blueberries.
5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups so that each is two-thirds full. Top each muffin with a few more blueberries and sprinkle each with ½ teaspoon granulated sugar.
6. Bake on the center rack until the muffins are lightly golden and a cake tester inserted in their centers comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the muffins from the tin as soon as they come out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Serve within 4 hours.
In order to keep the muffins light, once you beat the egg whites to their peak volume, you don’t want to disturb the batter any more than necessary. That’s why I toss the vanilla and berries together in a bowl, then fold half of them into the batter and top the muffins with the rest, rather than mixing in the vanilla earlier and stirring all the berries in, as you might in a conventional blueberry muffin recipe. The goal is to avoid crushing the airiness—better to mix the berries in less evenly than to lose all that lift.
Meringue is the eighth wonder of the world, and a kitchen miracle. What other ingredient can expand ten times its volume? After all, it is 90 percent air! A few tips:
1. Egg whites a few days old make better meringues.
2. The bowl and the whites themselves must be impeccably clean, that is, no residue on the bowl and no yolks broken into the egg whites.
3. Room temperature whites yield meringue with a strong body.
4. A pinch of cream of tartar and a little sugar to start the meringue off are helpful, the cream of tartar (acid) loosens protein bonds and helps them to re-form as bubbles, with air trapped inside.
5. The smaller the bubbles, the stronger the meringue.
6. A good test for a stiff meringue is that it should hold up a coin (a quarter) on its surface.
7. Very stiff meringue will hold up an egg on its surface. The ultimate meringue is whipped by hand in a copper bowl. The finest mesh of bubbles and the strongest, creamiest meringue you have ever seen.