27 January 2010

Blueberry Coffeecake Muffins, And Why Tea Crushes Coffee

I had started a brilliant diatribe about coffee drinkers versus tea drinkers a few days ago, and then my sister called last night to tell me about a recent trip she'd taken to a neat little tearoom and art exhibit in Houston, Texas. That really screwed everything up.

OK, so I had only written it in my head. But it was to be a straightforward post, or so it seemed to me until we spoke: coffee drinking is social; tea drinking is not. Coffee is loud and brash, like the president of a sorority holding court at lunch; tea is calm and subtle, like the class bookworm buried in Hardy over her sandwich in the corner of the cafeteria.

But my sister brought up what the owner of this teashop had said about tea being social, whereas coffee is not: tea's unhurried pace fosters intimate connection and conversation, while coffee's immediacy and hyper-specialization precludes anything but an isolated experience.

I'm not sure which side makes more sense. To me, tea seems the only drink for a quiet, solitary state- but that probably stems from an innate need for both tea and tranquillity, and thus a deliberate equation of the two.

And this doesn't mean I'm not going to share tea with any guests to my home- as you can see, I happily did with one of my dearest friends who was visiting for the weekend. It just means that even if I am drinking tea with someone over a lovely conversation, I've likely already had two cups that morning in complete stillness, while watching the sun rise and the steam curl off the surface of the water.

With tea, both experiences can peacefully coexist. And the benefit to a social tea is the excuse it offers to bake an accompanying treat, like these blueberry coffeecake muffins. Something sweet was needed to balance out those bracing cups of Assam, and tender, lemony cakes studded with pecan-brown sugar streusel and plump bits of dried blueberries was the only sensible choice.

Blueberry Coffeecake Muffins
adapted from Karen DeMasco's The Craft of Baking

1 1/2 cups pecans, finely chopped
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Finely grated zest of two lemons
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream or yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup dried blueberries

1. For streusel, heat oven to 350°. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, pour into a medium bowl and let cool. Mix in brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and melted butter.

2. For muffins, line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups. With an electric mixer, cream together butter, lemon zest and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl, and add egg, then sour cream and vanilla.

3. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and beat on low until just combined.

4. Using a large spoon, fill muffin cups one-third with batter. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of streusel on each muffin, then top each with remaining batter. Sprinkle remaining streusel, then blueberries, evenly over tops.

5. Bake, rotating muffin pan halfway through, until just firm to the touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let stand 10 minutes, then turn muffins out on rack to cool completely.

Too lazy to make them, or even a pot of tea? Then come back tomorrow, and I'll tell you where to take a friend for a transcendent serving of both. (Conversation optional.)


Gillian said...

Interesting post!
My view is that whilst coffee has associations of rushed mornings on the way to work and quick cafe stops, tea evokes a sense of respite from daily happenings, and something to be shared during a nice afternoon with a good friend.

Those muffins look delicious! Great blog!

Unknown said...

I always thought of coffee as something I had when I didn't have time for tea - I'd only drink it when I had to work opening shifts. Once I switched to loose leaf, though, I made sure I had time for tea, even when I had to be up before dawn. Having a giant travel mug made it even better, I didn't have to rush at all, just carry it with me!

Those muffins look awesome. I haven't made muffins in a while and am about due to produce some.

Veri-Tea said...

I don't drink coffee at all, so can't comment on that aspect, but I do find tea tends to be more solitary... but that's mainly because I'm the only one of my friends and family who is truly tea-mad...

Must. Make. Those muffins.

Anonymous said...

"T" is a social letter---if it were a solitary pursuit, it would be called "O"

Super Mommie said...

I never thought about it until now but I agree with your sister; Tea is something that is more intimate. I will drink a cup of coffee with just about anyone and talk about anything. Tea is private. You almost whisper and only drink with the closest of friends.

Great blog!

Snow-globe said...

Great blog! Too bad there aren't more good tea shops.

Michael said...

This blueberry coffeecake muffins are simply the best! I tried your recipe 2 days ago and it turned out perfectly well. My daughter absolutely loved it. It also went really well with the cappuccino coffee I freshly brewed. Thanks for sharing this with us! Great post.