Blueberry Crumble Muffins

The husband and I have a theory of sorts. It's called the Skillet Cookie theory, and it goes like this: say you're enjoying a cheap, moderately satisfying meal at a good old American chain restaurant (despite my love of truly great food, I am not opposed to this on occasion--hello, Chili's queso dip?!). You've had your Monster Burger or Extreme Fajitas or whatever and just want something sweet. So you reach for the sticky dessert menu on the table (which also is bound to have some ridiculous cocktails served in like, galvanized pails or something in colors that just don't come in nature, ever) and it catches you. The Skillet Cookie. A huge chocolate chip cookie! In a skillet! Two, three servings at least! Ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream--SOLD!! The table is giddy because of the impending Skillet Cookie and drunk with the promise of more commercially made food to add to overly stretched bellies. But it just looked so good on the menu and has every dessert-related thing you can imagine, all in a cast-iron vessel! Who can resist the Skillet Cookie? Communists!

So the SC arrives, and everyone digs in with vigor. One bite, two bites, three bites, goooood. And then...well, then the sugar punch to the palate wears off and you're left with a cloyingly sweet mess--bland flavors, a badly underdone cookie with soggy edges, cheap ice cream and a chocolate sauce that tastes like it was melted down from an Advent calendar from 1984. Oh, dear. The Skillet Cookie is never as good as you think it's going to be. Too good to be true. Sigh. One of my oft-recited phrases is, "I love when something tastes just the way you want it to". The Skillet Cookie will never be that.

And so is the case with so many sweet treats that have more than one element to them. So many layered bars and embellished desserts and coffee cakes with too many things going on end up falling short somehow. So certainly I would never find the perfect blueberry muffin that I'd been craving and dreaming up for days--a sweet-smelling, tender crumb with just a bit of spring, plump berries that didn't bleed all through the muffin, and a salty-sweet crunchy streusel topping. Equally delicious served warm or at room temperature, with coffee in the morning or vanilla bean ice cream after dinner. I didn't want a mondo cupcake, but I didn't want a dense, short scone-like thing. I wanted light, fluffy, but with the integrity to stand up to juicy berries and a crunchy top hat. And by God, I found it. Seriously, these are so good, I really do think God is involved somehow. Please try.

Blueberry Crumble Muffins
Makes 10-12, depending on size

For the muffin:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries (or frozen--thawed, well-drained and patted dry)

For the streusel:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed, softened but still cool
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper liners.

To make the streusel, using a fork or clean fingertips, mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, butter, and cinnamon until all the ingredients are incorporated, but the mixture is still very pebbly. Set aside.

To make the muffins, whisk together the flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. In a glass measuring cup or similar, whisk together the vegetable oil, egg and milk. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until blended but don't overmix. There may be a few small lumps, that's okay. Carefully fold in the blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and generously sprinkle each muffin with streusel.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until the tops spring back slightly and the topping is set and golden brown. Cool in the tins for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely or serve warm.

Quick BreadsShauna Sever