Muffins
The only real difference between muffins and other quick breads is the pan you bake them in. But those little muffin cups allow for a lot more potential variation, depending on what you do at the last minute before baking.

Anything goes when it comes to varying this master recipe. See the variations below for more ways to spike the recipe.

Muffins, Infinite Ways

Yield: 12 medium or 8 large muffins Time: About 40 minutes
3 tablespoons melted butter or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, plus more for the muffin tin
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk, plus more if needed
  1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and line it with paper or foil muffin cups if you like.
  2. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat together the egg, milk, and melted butter or oil in another bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, combine the ingredients swiftly, stirring and folding rather than beating and stopping as soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but quite moist; add a little more milk or other liquid if necessary.
  3. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds full and handling the batter as little as possible. (If you prefer bigger muffins, fill 8 cups almost to the top; pour 1/4 cup water into the empty cups.) Bake for about 20 minutes (about 30 minutes for larger muffins) or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before taking them out of the tin. Serve warm.

Banana-Nut Muffins. These are good with half bran or whole wheat flour: Add 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts, pecans, or cashews to the dry ingredients. Substitute 1 cup mashed very ripe banana for 3/4 cup of the milk. Use honey or maple syrup in place of sugar if possible.

Bran Muffins. Substitute 1 cup oat or wheat bran for 1 cup of the flour (you can use whole wheat flour for the remainder if you like). Use 2 eggs and honey, molasses, or maple syrup as the sweetener. Add 1/2 cup raisins to the prepared batter if you like.

Sour Cream or Yogurt Muffins. Reduce the baking powder to 1 teaspoon and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to the dry ingredients. Substitute 11/4 cups sour cream or yogurt for the milk and cut the butter or oil back to 1 tablespoon.

Spice Muffins. Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon each ground allspice and ground ginger, and 1 pinch ground cloves and mace or nutmeg to the dry ingredients; use 1 cup whole wheat flour in place of 1 cup all-purpose flour. Add 1/2 cup raisins, currants, dates, or dried figs to the prepared batter if you like.

Blueberry or Cranberry Muffins. Try substituting cornmeal for up to 1/2 cup of the flour: Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the dry ingredients; increase the sugar to 1/2 cup. Stir 1 cup fresh blueberries or cranberries into the batter at the last minute. You can also use frozen blueberries or cranberries here; do not defrost them first. Blueberry muffins are good with 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest added to the batter along with the wet ingredients. Cranberry muffins are excellent with 1/2 cup chopped nuts and/or 1 tablespoon minced orange zest added to the prepared batter.

Sweet and Rich Muffins. Like cake: Use butter and increase the quantity to 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick); increase the sugar to 3/4 cup. Use 2 eggs and decrease the milk to 1/2 cup, or more if needed. In Step 2, after mixing together the dry ingredients, cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon or electric mixer and in a small bowl beat together the eggs with the milk. Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, then moisten with a little of the milk. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up, taking care not to over-mix. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but moist; add a little more milk or other liquid if necessary.

Lighter Muffins. A little more work, with noticeable results: Use 2 eggs and separate them. Add the yolks as usual; beat the whites until stiff but not dry and fold in very gently at the last moment.

Coffee Cake Muffins. Mix together 1/2 cup packed brown sugar; 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1 cup finely chopped walnuts, pecans, or cashews; and 2 extra tablespoons melted butter. Stir half of this mixture into the original batter with the wet ingredients and sprinkle the rest on top before baking.

Savory Muffins. Cut the sugar back to 1 tablespoon. Add up to 1 cup of cooked minced onion or leek and shredded cheese to the batter just before baking.