I took a Home Economics class in the 7th grade. I probably don’t need to tell you how stoked I was about this (especially after nearly flunking Wood Shop the semester before with the saddest “toolbox” ever) although I am fairly certain they failed at whatever household management skills they’d hoped to impress on my 12-year-old self. I’m currently staring down a particularly fetid sinkful of dishes, willing them to wash themselves, while deep creases form in a towering basket of clean laundry that has yet to be folded, though perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope for the next generation. Nevertheless, the one class I remember perfectly was the one in which we made a puffy muffin embodiment of butter-slathered, sugar broiled cinnamon toast. It could be whipped up in no time, presumably along with a stack of bacon while wearing a gown-like robe and fuzzy slippers to the delight of sleepy-eyed children tumbling down the stairs. (Sorry, my housewife archetype is firmly etched in the Brady Bunch era.)
These pastries are, amusingly, called French Breakfast Puffs, I presume they are “French” in the way that French Toast and French Fries are, or that I convince myself I am every time I order Lillet, which is to say, dubiously. Their origin, however — the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens– isn’t half as interesting as their flavor, which is a little bit snickerdoodle, a little bit butter cake and a lot of addictiveness. My first thought upon eating one in class that day was “It’s like a doughnut hole!” and my second was “Why hasn’t my mother ever made these for me? I thought she said she loved us!” and then I pouted for the remainder of the hour. What? I said I was 12.
I cannot think of a better time to share this recipe than in this last week of entertaining before we all must don our gay old treadmill-trotting apparel again, I mean, for stretchy pants’ sake, they are rolled in butter. We’re not going to even pretend that this would be acceptable in the days after a New Years Day brunch, so we might as well enjoy them while we can. I made some changes to the old-school recipe; shortening became butter, melted butter became browned butter (because, have we met?), regular milk became buttermilk and I made them tiny, mini-muffin size rather than standard because the more they resemble cinnamon-sugar decked doughnut holes, the happier I am. And now I need you to come over and eat them for me. Please. There are but
29 28 25 left…
One year ago: Milk Punch
Two years ago: Spinach and Cheese Strata, Pear Bread and Parmesan Cheese Crackers
Three years ago: Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread and Pizza with Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Onions
Four years ago: Robert Linxe’s Chocolate Truffles
Five years ago: Hazelnut Trufffles and Gougeres
Cinnamon Brown Butter Breakfast Puffs
Adapted from Betty Crocker and others
If you don’t wish to use buttermilk, you can replace it with regular milk and nix the baking soda (keeping the baking powder). I like to get the toppings ready first because they take so little time to bake, you don’t want to be scrambling to have something to dip them in.
Yield: 9 to 12 standard muffin-size puffs or 30-ish miniature ones. Try not to overfill as I did or you won’t get as great domes on them.
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup (5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing muffin cups
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 12 standard size or 30 miniature muffin cups, or line cups with paper liners.
Prepare coatings: In a small saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat and continue to cook it, stirring frequently, until brown bits form on the bottom and it smells nutty and heavenly. Immediately remove from heat and set aside. In a small bowl, combine 2/3 cup sugar and cinnamon. Set aside as well.
Prepare puffs: Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together in a medium bowl and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Mix in 1/3 of flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of buttermilk, repeating again and finishing with the flour mixture. Mix only until combined.
Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling only 3/4 of the way. (I filled mine higher and they ended up spilling over a bit and doming less than they are capable of.) Bake standard sized muffins for 20 to 25 minutes and miniature muffins for 12 to 14 minutes. When finished, muffins will feel springy to the touch and a tester inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer them in their pan to a wire rack.
As soon as you feel you’re able to pick one up, take your first puff and roll the top and upper edges in the browned butter. Don’t be afraid to pick up the browned butter solids at the bottom of the saucepan; they’re the dreamiest part. Let any excess butter drip off for a second before gently rolling the butter-soaked cake top in cinnamon-sugar. I find if you roll too firmly, or have too much wet/not absorbed butter on top, the sugar can clump off, which is heartbreaking. Transfer puff to wire rack to set and repeat with remaining puffs. Eat warm.
For an even more indulgent, doughnut-like puff: Make an extra two tablespoons of the browned butter and roll the whole puff in it and the cinnamon sugar. (I usually have enough cinnamon sugar to fully roll the puffs.)
Do ahead: Puffs are best within hours after they are baked. They can be made it advance and stored in a freezer bag until needed, too. Simply spread them out on a baking tray and reheat them until warm in the oven.