The muffin mix-off contest winner: Apple cinnamon muffins

We narrowed it down to four finalists, tested the recipes, and the newsroom voted. An apple cinnamon muffin recipe won the staff over with a swirl topping, moist texture, and complex flavors.

Marisa Raponi
One of our volunteer taste testers described these muffins as moist, crunchy, and delish.
'Flour, Too' by Joanne Chang (304 pp, Chronicle Books, $35)

The results are in! We're pleased to announce the winner of the muffin mix off contest is Marisa Raponi from Vaughan, Ontario, who submitted a recipe for apple cinnamon muffins. Ms. Raponi, who tells us she bakes muffins regularly and just finished a batch of zucchini muffins, will receive a signed copy of "Flour, Too" by Joanne Chang.

Over the past few weeks the Stir It Up! staff narrowed our contest entries down to four finalists, which in addition to Ms. Raponi's apple muffins included Dorothy Hensey's date muffins, Sue Lau's strawberry sweetheart streusel muffins, and Marguerite Core's whole wheat cranberry muffins with honey roasted almonds. Then we got baking!

This week, the Monitor newsroom participated in a muffin taste test, where each judge received 1/4 of each type of muffin and then voted for their favorite. It was a close vote, but the apple muffins came out on top with rave reviews like, "very rich, complex assortment of apple-sugar related flavors," and "very moist." There were no leftovers and compliments for all the muffins, but we suspect the swirl topping on the apple muffins with toffee bits was hard to beat.

At first glance, we were thrown off by some of the ingredients in this recipe (butterscotch pudding mix, we're looking at you) but the final product ended up having a startling unity of flavor and consistency. The yogurt took longer than expected to set in the oven, but it also kept the muffins moist long after they'd cooled. The orange zest kept many judges guessing, but in the baker's opinion,

"[The zest] puts this recipe over the top. The strong, bitter citrus flavor cut the sweetness of the swirl topping, and gave the muffins a pleasant aroma and after-taste."

The baker also recommended leaving the apple chunks a little larger so the flavor is more apparent.

But were Ms. Raponi's muffins better than Ms. Chang's vegan vanilla-mixed berry muffins? It's hard to say. Here at Stir It Up! we have plenty of room in our hearts for more than one "perfect muffin." But with fall just around the corner we're sure to crave that comforting mix of apples, cinnamon, and toffee again soon.

Thanks to all those who submitted recipes to our muffin mix-off contest!

Apple cinnamon muffins
Submitted by Marisa Raponi
Makes 24 muffins 

3-1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup sugar

1 box butterscotch instant pudding mix

Pinch of salt

1 orange, zested

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cup natural vanilla yogurt

4 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup oil

4 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, diced

Swirl Topping

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/3 cup toffee bits (Skor)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixer blend flour, baking powder, sugar, pudding, salt, and zest to remove any lumps. Stir baking soda into yogurt, set aside. Add eggs and oil to flour mixture while beaters are mixing on low, then add yogurt/baking soda mixture. Mix on low until almost incorporated. Lift beaters and using a spatula fold in apples gently, do not over mix.

2. In a small bowl blend topping ingredients together.  

3. Spray 24 muffin tins with nonstick baking spray or line muffin tins with paper cups (apples may stick to paper). Place a heaping tablespoon of batter 1/2 full into each muffin, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of topping over batter. Top with more batter to almost 3/4 full and sprinkle with more topping.

4. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden brown or a toothpick inserted comes out clean. If you pierce an apple it may appear "wet." Make sure no "wet" batter sticks to toothpick. Enjoy with love!

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