One of my first commercial gigs was that of muffin creator and baker for a new age, upscale, vegetarian style restaurant and bakery called Terre Etoile (Earth Star - nice in English; even prettier in French) that also was part book shop, coffee, muffins. I answered a classified ad that said:
"Baker Wanted: experience with American style chocolate chunk cookies helpful".
Having been fired, a week prior from my only other baking job (prior to that, I was canned as a secretary from more times than I care to count. L'Oreal was the favorite firing, about which my dad said, 'oh forget it. People who sell perfume are stinky'.
I auditioned for the baking job with one of my carrot cakes and some chocolate chunk cookies. I also went to a Sears store the day before and I bought a red metal tool chest. I stocked it full of baking tools like I had seen a chef do in a restaurant where I had interned. Props are everything and they helped in this case. The next day, I started my new job - at 4 AM - time to bake...the muffins. I felt like Tony Curtis in the Great Imposter.
I was the bakery manager (which was rich considering my only baking experience aside from self-training, was that 3 weeks stint at a caterer who fired me when I broke his Hobart mixer just before the society wedding of the year - go figure - he was so cranky). Immediately, I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities. I had a staff of five bakers and brand spanking new commercial mixers and ovens at my behest. I would sit for hours with a calculator and a small scale, meticulously calculating and adapting recipes for commercial proportions. After stumbling along for a days, I got things up to speed and my little bakery operation was pumping out mucho muffins and earning a great reputation in the process.
I could not help but notice, at day's end, that one variety was outselling the others: a Buttermilk Apple Cinnamon Streusel number based on a popular domestic formula. I clipped the original recipe out of Bon Appetit's RSVP Column. Sunrise Apple Muffins were (are?) a specialty of the Sunrise Restaurant at the Orlando (Florida) Airport. I made a number of changes to the recipe, but I must give credit where credit is due. But beyond that - this is not a rocket science recipe. I think I made it special (I pinpointed something simple, added the best ingredients, best handling, and format and painstakingly scaled it up to a formula. You cannot just multiply recipes. It takes a discretionary hand, much trial and error. Once that is done, then you are using different mixers and ovens and also have all sorts of other people making your recipe but it still needs to be consistent) I think I made it better. But it is (as chocolate chunk cookies are -whether it is Mrs. Fields, David's, Nabisco or Levain - it is inspired variations on a theme) basic home muffin recipe that is been around since baking powder was invented (which was 1860 or so).
But something was working right. We were selling some sixty to seventy-five dozen muffins a day. In comparison, muffin booths in malls sold an average of fifteen to eighteen dozen a day. We were also selling pies, cheesecakes, carrot cakes, fudge tortes and brownies the size of grapefruits. Customers would show up before we opened and knock on the windows. Some would slide notes under the door, begging to be admitted before we sold out.
In short order, I converted my muffin line into "The Famous Buttermilk Muffin Collection" - using the same base formula with several varieties of fruit: apple, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, peach, apricot, blueberry and a zesty cranberry-orange. Even the basic recipe sold well in a "Cinnamon Vanilla" rendition. Buttermilk was a key ingredient. It contributed taste and physical height to the muffins (its acidic nature interacts very well with baking soda - among other things). But more than that, it was a case of knowing what people like, what tastes great, what looks beautiful, and what captures not only the tastebuds but poetry in baking. An Old Fashioned Buttermilk Muffin collection is riveting stuff. I was also diligent about marrying up flavors just so. Cranberry with orange zest, blueberries were partnered with lemon zest; rhubarb got orange and a double dose of vanilla, and banana chunk did well with a dusting of more cinnamon and kiss of nutmeg and allspice.
I was generous with the nut streusel. Remember too -this was the late 80's. Gourmet muffins, to a Montreal crowd, were like dulce de leche ice cream of the 90's. Fabulous, novel, exciting stuff. And I thank the cafe that trusted me (much like my current publisher) to create my ideas the way I envisioned them.
One day, I arrived to find my recipes were in the office upstairs.
For whatever reason, things had changed. Because my muffin formula was a working recipe it was known by the staff and could be argued, property of the bakery that had enabled me to create them. But I was bereft. I was quite young, and those muffins were my North Star, plus I leaving behind a someone in the place who had come to mean a lot to me, which perhaps is the most interesting baker's secret. Still, undaunted, I moved on to other things. For a short while, I supplied the muffins, now baked from my home and then a rented bakery, to restaurants and cafes.
But one day, while I was on a carrot cake run for a local restaurant, a young man stopped me and inquired: "Are you Marcy Goldman, the Muffin Lady?" Once again, I found myself working for a health food restaurant. This is really where the name Lawsuit Muffins started. Alas, once again, I found myself on the wrong side of the kitchen, recipes left behind. This was a far tougher gig and because of agreements made before I began, this time I sought legal counsel (my brother) and the disagreement was settled for a nominal sum. For those blogs who report I sued? I didn't. In the end, I was paid for hours of service rendered. The rights of an author (yes, bakers, cooks, chefs are authors) are very difficult to enforce in the food business. Can you copyright a recipe? Check the Copyright law for this online. You will find that you can protect the language you use but not the recipe. And the best response is to keep doing whatever you are doing and create a reputation and a brand. More importantly, when you are happy, creative and earning by your craft, you tend to look the other way. Otherwise, you run the risk of not doing what you love and instead going over old ground of something relatively small that happened so very long ago. Plus, like Pink sang, I Am Not My Hair? I am more than a muffin recipe.
After years of experience, my favorite muffin recipe is still my buttermilk muffin formula. It went from being a little recipe, to a giant formula and back to a little recipe. It bears no worse for wear or scaling up or down. They are superb no matter what. I find them also, happily, easy and consistently sucessful. Please enjoy them with my compliments.
As in life, the same is true in baking. It never stands still. Of course my famous/infamous Buttermilk Muffins are great. But then, now there are also Newest Edition Famous and Fabulous Buttermilk Muffins to reinspire you. Download them now; they're only here for a week.
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