Recipe Review

These Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins from Cook’s Illustrated Are Giving Me Serious ’90s Vibes

published May 17, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jessie Yu Chen; Design: Kitchn

When I ran across this recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated archives (hello, 1997!), I knew I had to give it a try. I’ve always learned so much from reading Cook’s Illustrated, and appreciate the extensive research the team there puts into determining the best way to make a recipe.

A few things about this recipe intrigued me. The batter is made with softened butter creamed with sugar, which is a somewhat unusual method for a muffin. It also called for more poppy seeds and flour than most recipes, and added some low-fat yogurt along with the butter.

And then there was the headnote, in which the folks at Cook’s promised this: “We wanted our muffin recipe to produce a real beauty, sporting a perfectly round, mushroom-like cap with a pronounced and crisp overhang.” Muffin tops are a very ’90s thing (the Muffin Top episode of Seinfeld aired in ’97), but also a very delicious thing (just ask Elaine Benes). With all of this spurring me on, I was excited to see how these muffins would turn out.

Get the recipe: Cook’s Illustrated’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jessie Yu Chen; Design: Kitchn

How to Make Cooks Illustrated’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

In a medium bowl, I whisked together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, poppy seeds, and salt. Using an electric mixer, I beat the softened butter and sugar until it was light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. I then beat in the lemon zest, then the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions. I added half of the dry ingredients and beat on low just to blend. Then I added the yogurt and beat to blend. Finally, I added the remaining dry ingredients and beat just until barely blended.

I sprayed a standard muffin tin with cooking spray and used a large trigger-style ice cream scoop to transfer the batter to the muffin cups. I baked the muffins until golden and a tester came out clean. While the muffins were baking, I made the glaze by simmering sugar and fresh lemon juice until slightly reduced and syrupy. I let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transferred them to a wire rack. I brushed the muffin tops with the glaze, and repeated the brushing until all of the glaze was used up. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jessie Yu Chen

My Honest Review of Cooks Illustrated’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

If you are a fan of a muffin with a nice muffin top, this recipe delivers. (Elaine would be proud!) The large, slightly craggy tops give these muffins bakery vibes.

Because the ingredients are blended much as you would a cake — starting out by creaming the butter with the sugar, adding eggs, then the dry ingredients alternately with the yogurt — the texture is like a firm butter cake. The top is brushed with a deliciously tart, lemony glaze made by simmering sugar and lemon juice together. While the glaze, interestingly, brings out a buttery flavor, it does soften any crispy nibbles along the edges.

There are plenty of poppy seeds in the mix, and you can really taste them. The lemon flavor is light in the muffin, but the glaze makes up for that. I found that the muffins don’t really hold up past a day because the glaze turns the muffin top mushy.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jessie Yu Chen

If You Are Making Cooks Illustrated’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, a Few Tips

  1. Keep going with the glaze. There is enough glaze to brush on several layers on each muffin. Be sure to keep brushing it on until it is all used up. The glaze is where a large part of the lemon flavor in this muffin comes from, so don’t leave any behind.
  2. Line the muffin pan your way. The recipe suggests spraying or buttering the muffin cups, but if you’d prefer, paper liners would work just as well. 

Overall rating: 8/10

Have you tried Cook’s Illustrated Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins? Let us know in the comments.