Little Black and Blue Berry Cakes (or the Postmodern Muffin)

It all comes down to this.  There are some very, very strong opinions on the matter of Muffin v. Cupcake. 

Nigel Slater alludes to this in his recipe for spelt and blueberry “muffins” in Ripe.  Note the quotes.  He first creams the butter and sugar together: giving his muffin batter the cake treatment.  He says:

Muffin makers will quickly spot that my blueberry muffin is a muffin only in looks, and bears little resemblance to the traditional recipe in either method or ingredients.  In some ways, it is more like a cupcake (the butter and sugar are creamed together here, rather than the butter being melted and added at the end) …

It is clear Nigel is well aware of the great muffin—cake divide.   (The quotes are his and his alone.)  I was curious as to what others thought about muffin semantics. 

Thus, I googled.   But I was left scratching my head.  A little more confused about muffins, cupcakes, and the people who eat them.

So my next step was to easel and Sharpie it out.  Here.  On this blog.  Fair warning.  The questions I raise are not for those who easily offend, have a strong muffin and/or cupcake propensity, spit at postmodernism, maintain a nervous disposition, or dislike Frank Zappa.

If none of the aforementioned applies to you, forge on.  It’s time to question The Institution of Muffin …

Does a muffin cease to be a muffin if it is iced?

If an overmixed muffin falls on the floor, will it thud? If there is no one there to witness this, did it thud?  Is it really overmixed?  And is it even a muffin?

Will a frostingless cupcake eaten for breakfast become a breakfast cake or a muffin? 

True or false?  There is naught—nor ought there be—nothing so exalted on the face of god’s gray earth as that prince of foods … the muffin! 

Where does one find a Perkins chocolate chip muffin?  When did we flashback to 1992? And where are my paisley print stirrup leggings?!

Why are muffins being made the size of enthusiastically filled water balloons?   And—for the love of this recent legging resurgence—will you please stop? 

How come women got muffin top and men got stud muffin?

Why do so many men claim to not like cake? How do men feel about muffins?  And is this a matter of frosting?

Can a woman named Candy ever be wrong when dealing in matters of cupcakes and muffins?  (Not likely, unless Candy is a stripper name.  Then all bets are off.)

Would I be someone who corrects grammar in an online muffin forum? (Answer: yes, yes I would.)

What is your “muffin” philosophy? 

Should they contain a crunch of demerara sugar?

Have you a special place in your heart for berries?

Do you prefer the term "little cake" over cupcake between the hours of six and ten am?

Might you enjoy a morning dose of wholegrain without over-the-top wholesomeness?

Would you fancy a breakfast that’s easily made and takes kindly to freezing?

If yes, this is your muffin  cake  whatever.  They’re good.

Little Black and Blue Berry Cakes
Adapted from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
scant ½ cup plain low fat yogurt (or buttermilk)
¾ cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
¾ cup black raspberries (fresh or frozen)
demerara sugar, for sprinkling
a dusting of oats


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Sift together the flours, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add in the salt.  Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer until it is pale yellow in color and light and fluffy, scraping down the inside of the bowl if needed.  Slowly add your eggs to the creamed mixture, one at a time, while the mixer is running on low speed.  Then add the vanilla extract and yogurt.

Slowly add in the flour mixture, while the mixer continues to run on low, and then turn off the mixer as soon as all the dry ingredients have been added in.  Use a rubber spatula to mix in the flour (be careful not to mix too much, only a few turns of the spatula should be needed here).  Fold in the berries.

Drop the batter into muffin tins lined with paper muffin liners.  (The batter will be fairly thick.)  Top each muffin with a little demerara sugar and a scattering of oats.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Makes a dozen muffins

-Any combination of berries will work here.  I liked the black and blue concept (plus those were the berries that were lurking in the freezer).  I’ve also made a triple berry version with some leftover frozen cranberries that was very enjoyable.  If you are using frozen berries, don’t defrost them before you add them into the batter.

-The original recipe calls for 1 cup spelt flour.  A number of whole grain flours would do well here.  I chose white whole wheat flour because I had it around.  It’s a whole grain, but it will produce a muffin that is lighter in texture compared to many other whole grain flours.

-These muffins have almost a biscuit or shortcake quality that I’ve become quite taken with.  They’ve quickly become a favorite muffin. Which, in this moment, is a term that I’m I am using interchangeably with little cakes.  Sigh.

-I’ve been on a bit of a demerara bender, I know.  If you don’t have any you could probably, ahem, borrow a few of those Sugar in the Raw packets from your local coffee joint.

-I am also on a bit of a Nigel Slater bender.  I don’t know when this will stop exactly.  But it’s not looking good.


  1. They look yummy, with just the right balance of healthy/tasty!
    My opinion on cupcakes? The worst thing to happen to baking ever! the ones I've seen to date are nothing but an excuse to consume a ton of sugar in the guise of an innocent cake! A well-made "little cake" doesnt need a mountain of icing to make it taste good. Rant over!

  2. I have never given muffins so much thought, yet they are so deserving of it. There is nothing like a tasty, moist, compact, well-flavored little muffin. These sound awesome! And, yes, why did men get stud muffin and we just get muffin top...

  3. i think a muffin is a muffin until it receives frosting; it then becomes a cupcake. regardless, i don't discriminate. :)

  4. This is absolutely awesome (as usual)! Thank you for referencing my favorite Frank Zappa song! And, if you'd like to add two more learned opinions into the cake vs. muffin debate, may I suggest looking up Alton Brown's thoughts on the matter (in both a tv episode and in his cookbook about baking). You could also check out Alton's standard reference material, the great Harold McGee. It's dense reading, but--if I understand correctly--it boils down to a the regularity of air pockets in the dough (thus affecting the crumb of the baked good). There's probably other aspects I missed...but whatever, I'll eat 'em both, whenever!

    And, indeed, why did men get stud muffin and women get muffin top?

  5. Ashley: (!!) I am beyond thrilled that you are familiar with "The Muffin Man" ... that song gets me every time! I will absolutely have to check out Alton and Harold. I was completely overwhelmed by the debate on the subject (as you can probably see).

    Grace: I'm with you ... I will eat whatever is put in front of me. (And if it's just a bowl of icing, I might eat that too.)

    Megan: I'm sure we are barely skimming the surface on the gender issues involving muffins, cupcakes, and the like. ;)

    Mimi: Loved your rant. It's good to have a strong pastry personality. ;)

  6. Fantastic!!! My lime green kitchenaid had her maiden voyage with this recipe. To celebrate, cupcakes for all… or if eaten in the morning I’d like to refer to them as muffins. I am a dietitian after all ;)