diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 14, 2005

Do you know the muffin man...?

Tea and muffins—how quintessentially English. Except that, in today's Britain, the only muffins available are transatlantic impostors. I'd like to complain.

Muffins used to be, and in certain parts of English society still are, flat circular yeast-based griddle-cooked toast-like tea-time treats. Delia recommends that they be toasted on both sides, then the edges pulled part-way apart and the interior filled liberally with butter, maybe with a little jam for added taste. Mrs Beeton would have agreed, although she'd have used a toasting-fork rather than a griddle, and she'd have said "Muffins are not easily made, and are more generally purchased than manufactured at home". Muffins aren't crumpets, which are more batter-y and rather hole-ier, and they're not pikelets, which are more similar to thick mini-pancakes. Most importantly, muffins are not the lardy stodge capsules full of chocolate chips and alien berries which appear to have invaded our shores from America over the last few years.

The modern muffin bears no relation whatsoever to its traditional namesake. The modern muffin is more cake than bread, more sweet than savoury and far more 3-D than 2-D. It's heavy where its predecessor used to be light, dense where it used to be fluffy and brash where it ought to be delicate. As you may have guessed, I'm not a fan. 'American muffins' are towers of sponge with an overflowing top like an atomic mushroom cloud, and equally toxic. It's impossible to pick one up and eat it because every dimension is too broad compared to the widest stretch of human teeth. Muffins have to be picked apart with your fingers, which then become covered with sticky chocolate or blueberry stains. They lack real flavour, and any lingering aftertaste is probably wholly artificial. Muffins are also unfinishable, at least with a clear conscience, but millions of Britons still plough on to the last crumb all the same, risking pig-like obesity with every daily mouthful.

And yet the modern muffin is everywhere. It's an unwelcome foreign intruder, much like all those bland homogenised coffee bars which are busy replacing the remainder of Britain's high street eateries. The muffin has become, in a very short time, the snack treat of choice - mainly because caterers no longer provide much of an alternative. Where there might once have been fresh buns, or cakes, or pastries, now there's just a tray of mass-produced muffins wrapped in plastic with an sell-by date several months into the future. Alas, the modern muffin is easy to mass produce, easy to pump full of preservatives and easy to pile high. The manufacturers enjoy a huge profit margin, even if we don't particularly enjoy the synthetic product they force upon us.

Of course, your view of modern muffins may be completely different to mine. Maybe you like sugary stodge, or maybe the muffins you eat are home-made, or maybe you prefer the savoury muffins favoured Down Under. Whatever the case, please speak your mind in the dg Muffinometer. Voice your opinion on my sliding scale, somehere from Muffin (full-on muffin fan) down to Nuffin (vehement muffin hater). Stick a comment in the appropriate box or, if you prefer the no-effort version, just post the single word "muffin" in the box of your choice. Let the people decide.

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