Blueberry Muffins With Almond Streusel Topping

Baking this week was a bit of a celebration. Not of blueberry muffins, or birthdays, or anything else that may first come to mind. What I was celebrating was my ability to utilize my left hand after it had been out of commission all weekend long.

Last Thursday, I went to my serving job and was polishing wine glasses, as I usually do at the start of the shift. If you've ever polished a wine glass before, you know it can be incredibly tedious. No matter the dishwasher, when each glass is held up to the light, it has an uncanny way of revealing hidden water spots and fingerprints galore. Shining them individually is an unavoidable part of working in the restaurant industry, and on nights when I am the only server scheduled to open, it means I'm polishing for a good 40 minutes. 

This is not my favorite activity, to put it mildly, and when I finished last Thursday evening, I noticed a sharp pain in my left hand. It started at the base and then spread through the left side of my palm all the way up to my thumb. I couldn't seem to grip anything and it hurt to move that half of my hand around in any way. 

My first response was that the pain would go away if I simply stretched it a bit. I bent my fingers backwards, massaged my thumb joint, and shook my hand around to loosen it up. Feels better already, I thought.

But as the night rolled on, I soon found that I have a tendency to reach for everything with my right hand and pass it off to my left. I balance drink trays on my left hand. I grip heavy plates of food with it, and I also depend on it for stabilizing wine bottles while using my right hand to unscrew the cork and present it to the guest.

That particular evening, we were surprised by a party of ten lawyers who came in for dinner, but hadn't made a reservation. They filed into the restaurant in suits and ties, fresh off a long, yet successful day in court. That afternoon had been a groundbreaking one, they told me, as the case they'd been working for the last thirteen years finally made some major progress. 

As happy as I was for them, and as much as I wanted to indulge their celebratory mood, opening all five of the bottles of Cabernet they ordered just about killed me. By the time I brought the last one out, my left hand was in so much pain, I feared I was going to drop the bottle mid opening. 

What is going on with my body? I wondered. I'd never experienced anything like this before, and it was unnerving. 

Rather than going to the doctor, or checking Web MD, I took the lazier route and consulted the people who were standing right in front of me: my coworkers. They came up with the following diagnoses: 

  • Muscle strain.
  • Ruptured tendon.
  • Early stages of Arthritis.
  • Carpal tunnel. "Our generation is especially prone to it because we've grown up texting and typing our whole lives," one coworker told me.
Wonderful, I thought.

One week later, I still can't tell you exactly what was wrong with my thumb, but I can tell you this: I bought a thumb brace at the drug store, which kept it supported, but immobile. I prayed a lot and I wore my brace for three whole days. By Monday morning, I went from not being able to tie my shoelaces, to having full mobility back in my left hand.

It's amazing the things we take for granted. That's why this week I am especially grateful --  for these blueberry muffins, and for the gift of using both my hands to bake them.

Blueberry Muffins With Almond Streusel Topping
(from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook)

Frozen wild blueberries     180 grams, or 1 cup
All-purpose flour                10 grams, or 1 Tbsp.
                                              86 grams, or 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp.
Cake flour                            109 grams, or 3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp.
Baking powder                    2.8 grams, or 1/2 tsp.
Baking soda                         2.8 grams, or 1/2 tsp.
Salt                                       2.4 grams, or 3/4 tsp.
Unsalted butter                  96 grams, or 1 1/2 cubes
Granulated sugar               96 grams, or 1/2 cup
Unsulfured molasses          40 grams, or 2 Tbsp.
Clover honey                       54 grams, or 2 1/2 Tbsp.
Egg                                       1
Vanilla paste                       1.2 grams, or 1/4 tsp.
Buttermilk                          57 grams, or 1/4 cup

Toss the frozen blueberries with the 10 grams/1 Tablespoon of flour and place back inside the freezer.

Combine the remaining 86 grams of all-purpose flour with the cake flour, and then whisk in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Cream the butter with a stand mixer, or hand mixer, until it has the consistency of mayonnaise. Add the sugar and mix on medium-low speed for 1 minute. Add the molasses and honey and mix for another 1 minute, or until everything is well combined. Then, add the egg and vanilla paste and mix again for 30 seconds.

Add half the dry ingredients and half the buttermilk and stir with a spoon. Then add the other half of the dry ingredients and buttermilk, mixing until everything is evenly combined.

* Note: At this point, TK (i.e. Thomas Keller) suggests refrigerating the batter overnight, but I'm not convinced it's entirely necessary. He claims this method of "resting the batter" enhances the flavor and makes for a moister muffin. It may very well be true, but if you're going to rest the batter in the fridge as he suggests, I would mix the blueberries in first. I tried mixing them in the next morning, like it says to do in the cookbook, and boy was it a mess! The muffin batter was so cold, it was like a solid heap. Attempting to add the blueberries at that point was not only physically difficult, but aesthetically difficult, as well because the berries were dying the batter into an unappetizing bluish green color. Always an adventure in the kitchen . . .  :)

Almond Streusel Topping

* Note: If you follow the measurements in the cookbook for the topping, you will end up with four times as much topping as you actually need, so I cut all the measurements down significantly below:

Al-purpose flour          30 grams, or 1/4 cup
Almond meal                30 grams, or 1/4 cup
Granulated sugar        30 grams, or 1/4 cup
Kosher salt                   1 pinch
Cold, unsalted butter  30 grams, or 2 Tbsp.
(cut into tiny pieces)

Combine the flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in the butter and use a pastry blender to evenly combine. Refrigerate the topping for about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 Fahrenheit, and spoon the batter into muffin tins. You can either line them first with muffin papers, or blast them with a quick coat of non-stick cooking spray. Once the batter is evenly divided among the muffin tins, top each one with a generous amount of Almond Streusel Topping -- and it is best to use the topping while it's still cold.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 Fahrenheit, and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until you insert a knife in the center and it comes out clean.

* One Final Note: Man were these muffins tasty!