Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins

June 15, 2009 at 4:35 pm 10 comments

Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins

Who doesn’t love a tasty tender muffin that’s not too-too sweet for breakfast?  I certainly adore such muffins myself though I rarely remember to make them except when I’m expecting company and want to have something a little more unique than the standard bagel and cream cheese fare.  Thankfully, Rhubarb Fest is marching onward here at SFTF so I was prompted to search for a good recipe that would both use up some fading stalks and not require a second trip to the store in one day.  This batch of Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins had a wonderfully subtle spicy tart flavor, putting them squarely at the top of my list for the next time I want to impress overnight guests.

Rhubarb stalks

While I was spooning the batter for these muffins into the tins, I got to wondering what the defining difference is between a muffin and a cupcake.   Is it just the presence or absence of icing that divides the two?   I mean, could I very well slap a cream cheese frosting on these diminutive rhubarb cake-like desserts and declare them “cupcakes!”, should I be so inclined?  Of course this required a little follow-up on my part, the perfect entertainment for me while the muffins baked.   Here are the definitions from

Muffin line up

Muffin: an individual cup-shaped quick bread made with wheat flour, cornmeal, or the like, and baked in a pan (muffin pan) containing a series of cuplike forms.

Cupcake: a small cake, the size of an individual portion, baked in a cup-shaped mold.

Hmmm… no where do they mention the icing.  Okay.  So, the only thing I can see that sets them apart are the terms “quick bread” and “cake”.

Time to look up more definitions….

Quick Bread: bread, muffins, etc., made with a leavening agent, as baking powder or soda, that permits immediate baking.

Cake: a sweet, baked, breadlike food, made with or without shortening, and usually containing flour, sugar, baking powder or soda, eggs, and liquid flavoring.

What the!?!?  Both use leavening agents and cake is a “breadlike food” apparently.  Anyone else confused?  Time to hit up ye ol’ search engine and get an expert opinion.   The lovely folks over at have a wonderfully on-target expose on the subject matter.  I’ll refer you there for the full story, but wanted to pull out this quote that’s actually from Melissa Clark’s NY Times article where she too asks a pastry chef friend what the difference is between a muffin and a cupcake:

”Nothing,” he said, explaining that when it comes to breakfast, Americans have a Puritanical inhibition. ”Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast,” he said.

So, now I don’t feel so bad.  I’m not the only one who thinks these individually portioned cup-shaped treats are virtually indistinguishable, save perhaps, but only perhaps, by the icing on top.  In the end, all I know is that I really needed that big cup of tea and the muffin to stop my head from spinning when it was all said and done!


Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins
Loosely adapted from the Practical Encyclopedia of Baking

1 ½ C. flour
1/3 C. white sugar
1/3 C. packed light brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. freshly ground nutmeg
1 stick (½ cup) butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
½ C. milk
1 ½ C. finely chopped rhubarb

1/3 C. packed dark brown sugar
3 T. flour
3 t. cinnamon
1 t. freshly ground nutmeg
2 T. butter, chopped into small cubes

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners.  Melt the stick of butter and set aside.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to blend.  Make a well in the center and place the melted butter, beaten egg, and milk in it.  Stir until just combined (do not overwork the batter as it will toughen up the resulting muffins).  Stir in rhubarb and spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them fairly full as these muffins do not rise a lot. 

For the topping, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Combine with butter cubes, using your fingers to work it until it forms nice crumbles.  Sprinkle a teaspoon or so of topping over each muffin. 

Bake until browned and springy, about 25 minutes.  Remove from pans and set on a dish towel or rack to cool.  Delicious served warm with a pat of butter. 

(makes 12)


Entry filed under: Recipes, Sweet Treats. Tags: , , , , .

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Emily  |  June 15, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Yay! This is great! Our rhubarb is very happy these days and I’ve been on the lookout for recipes-I will definitely try this. Looks so good. Thank you, thank you!

  • 2. Mangochild  |  June 16, 2009 at 4:24 am

    What a good idea to pair rhubarb and cinnamon – I’d never have thought of that. I will definitely try variations on this recipe and look forward to how it comes out. Thanks!

  • 3. Becky and the Beanstock  |  June 16, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Ah, rhubarb. Here’s a secret: I’m a little bit afraid of it. These muffins are inspiring though, especially since I have a few stalks of rhubarb in my fridge. I’d ambitiously and a bit recklessly picked it up at the farmer’s market last weekend (because the other half of my household loves rhubarb). I think i can handle these… Thanks for the primer on breads!

    • 4. Jennie  |  June 17, 2009 at 11:01 am

      Becky – Don’t be scared of the rhubarb!!! It’s your friend. 🙂 Really, just pretend its strawberries (that need a little extra sugar) and you’ll be whipping it up like a pro in no time! I do hope you’ll give the muffins a try!

  • 5. Rachel  |  June 16, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Appreciate the cupcake/muffin comments. I just made carrot cake cupcakes and was wondering myself…are these muffins or cupcakes? I think the eating cake for breakfast excuse is perfect. I actually thought, as I was piping icing on them, should I leave a couple out for breakfast…so, right on! Also, will share our “garden joy” had salad last night with lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli and pickled beets–all from the garden!

    • 6. Jennie  |  June 17, 2009 at 11:03 am

      Rachel – Yah!!! Love the garden news! I had a pasta dish last night that was sauteed kohlrabi cubes, fresh peas, and swiss chard tossed with rotini and it was so satisfying to know it was all from the garden. 🙂 And you’ve just reminded me that I need to hunt down Mom’s pickled beets recipe so I can make some myself…beets are just about ready! 🙂 As for the muffins/cupcake quandry, we’ll just have to make lots and lots of batches of both to determine the difference, won’t we? 😉 Hugs!!

  • 7. margie  |  June 9, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Already made two rhubarb crisps out of our rhubarb and I’m going out right now to harvest some more as it just keeps growing this season! It’s a cold rainy day here today and I think making muffins is the way to go. This recipe looks great and I bet It will make my kitchen smell great too! I was thinking of making a blueberry rhubarb muffin as well as I have some frozen blueberries to use up. I can’t find a recipe for this though. I’ll try coming up with something on my own or if you have any ideas or recipes that would help me that would be great! – check out my blog for the results – Thanks for the recipe!

  • 8. Gretchen  |  October 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I had some leftover rhubarb “mash” from making a simple syrup earlier today. I was looking for a recipe I could use that up in. Used about 1 1/2 cup mash, decreased the milk (i used buttermilk) slightly, other than that according to the directions. Perfection! Thanks!

  • 9. Shonagh @ An Offal Experiment  |  April 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I made these muffins yesterday morning with rhubarb freshly picked from the garden. I cut the white sugar in half, added half the brown sugar to the chopped rhubarb while getting the other ingredients together and scraped half a vanilla bean into the butter as it melted. Addictively delicious and the perfect level of sweetness…

  • 10. livsmedel med vitamin b5  |  May 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    livsmedel med vitamin b5…

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