Muffin Processing Solutions

Warren E. Schier, CEC, the executive chef of national accounts for Rich Products Corp. tells how he once sang those ol' Muffin Blues.

By Warren Schier, CEC

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A few years ago, as result of a customer request and an R&D restructuring, I found myself immersed in the development of high-end, pre-deposited muffin batters for a large operation. Multiple flavors were being developed on the bench, then presented and tweaked for flavor and particulate profile to be approved by our customer.

This project was on a fast track and we knew it would be important that before we went too far down the development path, we needed to get our manufacturing team up to speed since they would be at the front lines in production. Our plant had the capability to make muffin batters - and had done so in the past - so we assumed this part of the process would be a "no-brainer." That turned out not to be the case.

We decided to begin with the blueberry version, since it's the most important one to get right (blueberry is the top selling muffin variety). Our problem was that, in creating the batters during the R&D lab stage, we didn't experience any issues. Still, we did anticipate there could be problems during the plant trial process because we couldn't exactly replicate the production process the plant would employ when scaling up the batch.

During the production process the blueberries we selected for their quality attributes - IQF frozen wild blueberries - tended to bleed, turning the batter a deep bluish gray. This color was obviously not acceptable.

They look like "comfort food," don't they? However, getting the mix formulation and manufacturing process right for these blueberry muffins was anything but comfortable for Chef Schier.

We didn't have the luxury of multiple-component filling equipment, so we had to develop a solution based on what we had to work with. First, we evaluated several handling and process steps and selected a few to try at the plant level. We looked at the mixing procedure on the production formulation (we were mixing 1,800-lb. batches in single-blade horizontal dough mixers). We thought adding the berries during the last minute of the mix cycle so they weren't worked into the batter as long might do the trick. It helped a bit, but didn't get us where we wanted to be.

We then tried tempering the berries during the plant trial testing. We made up a few different batches, some with thawed berries, and then some with unthawed berries, which worked out better (there was less bleeding into the batter). However, we ended up having to alternate our mix water temperatures, using cold water at first to start the mix process then hot water, to equilibrate the batter temperature. Keep in mind when you have a high percentage of frozen (at -10˚F) blueberries and add them to a batter, the batter can rapidly set like cement and put terrific stress on your mixer.

We were finally able to optimize the mixing process by changing water temperatures and the time of addition of the berries and found the unthawed berries did in fact work better in our process than tempered or thawed.

We were definitely on the right path. After a few optimizations to the formulation and process, we still were in need of better color management for the finished product.

We initially tried rinsing the blueberries to remove some of the juice that was contributing to darkening of the muffin batter. This process proved more complex than it was worth, plus would involve additional equipment and labor. After trying several more options, the answer ended up falling in our laps. While running a test batch at the plant we noticed that a minor ingredient had accidentally been left out. By weighing the samples, we discovered that ingredient to be an instant modified corn starch that should have been added to the batch earlier.

Now we had another problem: how to incorporate the starch into the batch and get it dispersed properly. And that brought us the "Aha!" moment. I decided to add the starch to the frozen blueberries, coating them while still in the frozen stage. Ideally, the instant starch would adhere to the free moisture on the berries. Luckily we had a batch of batter mixing and we had the berries ready to add. We placed the frozen blueberries in a smaller mixer, added the starch, mixed for one minute, then added the starch-coated berries to the batter and completed the mix stage.

The starch immediately dispersed and surrounded the frozen blueberries. It began to swell around the blueberries as they thawed and bound up the free juice. The resulting mixed batch of batter had exactly the color attributes we were looking for. After predepositing the batter and creating a batch of finished product, the muffins looked great. Our customer approved the product and we solved our "Muffin Blues."



-Warren E. Schier, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, was a restaurant chef before transitioning to a research chef for Knorr Best Foods. He is currently national chain account culinary manager for Rich Products Corp. in Buffalo, N.Y.

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