Late one summer, when I was about 12 years old, my mother packed us all up in the van and took us to a small local fair. At this point there were six of us kids (or was it seven?) and any excuse to get out of the house was a good one.
But my mom had a mission — she wasn't just going to drag us out to a county fair. She was entering a baking contest. She wrapped up a couple loaves of intensely lemony quick bread, drizzled with lemon syrup and sprinkled generously with zest. And we marched off to that fair, lemon's aroma wafting into the back of our very long stretch van.
I'll spoil the ending for you: my mom didn't win the baking contest — but she got second place! Her lemon sesame bread, a very last minute baking contest entry, baked up on a whim, was afterwards referred to as that award-winning bread, and much requested.
The secret to her bread (and the muffins I'm going to share with you) is the syrup. It's cheating, sort of: you make a lemony batter to bake, but then you pour on a sunny syrup that soaks into each muffin. This leaves the tops glazed and shiny, and the muffins are oozing with lemon all the way down.
My mom's bread also includes sesame seeds, which I adore — their toasty, nutty savoriness is something special in this bread. It adds an unexpected dimension. But not everyone loves sesame, I know, so I call it optional here.
Some days we just need something cheery for breakfast, something easy yet bright and tart. These muffins are a favorite way to welcome the sun, whether you can see it through the clouds or not. They're soft, fluffy, and full of lemon, and you don't even need the mixer. That's what I call award-winning.
The Most Lemony of Lemon Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted, optional
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large lemons, zested and juiced
1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the lemon syrup:
1/2 cup lemon juice, from the juiced lemons (above)
1/2 cup sugar
Additional lemon zest to garnish, optional
Heat the oven to 375°F. Prepare a 12-cup muffin pan with liners or by greasing the cups. Whisk the flour, sugar, sesame seeds (if using), baking powder, and salt with the lemon zest. In a small bowl beat the milk, oil, egg and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and beat with a spoon just until smooth.
Pour into the muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick just comes out clean.
While baking, prepare the lemon syrup. Whisk the lemon juice and sugar together in a small saucepan and boil for about five minutes or until slightly reduced and shiny. Remove from the heat.
When the muffins come out of the oven, immediately poke a couple toothpick holes in each muffin and carefully drizzle the hot syrup over them. Let cool for at least 10 minutes in the pan to let the syrup absorb.
Muffins will keep at room temperature for up to 5 days. They can also be frozen then thawed at room temperature.
Updated from recipe originally published March 2007.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)