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Seems to be conflicting info on achieving well domed muffin tops. None seem to offer science based references.

These two are good examples of conflicting advice. Higher temp seems to be all that is agreed.

https://www.bakingkneads.com/how-to-make-muffins-rise-higher/

1 – Get the Temperature Right 400f

2 – Use Room-Temperature Ingredients

3 – Don’t Wait Too Long to Put the Muffins in the Oven

4 – Try to Make Thick Batter

5 – Fill the Muffin Tins Properly 3/4 full

https://www.thekitchenwhisperer.net/2012/07/22/bakery-style-high-domed-muffins-how-do-they-do-that/

  1. Let the batter rest at least an hour or overnight in the fridge (preferred) 

Do you know why you should let your muffin batter rest?  During the resting period, starch molecules in the flour are absorbing the liquid in the batter.

This causes them to swell and gives the batter a thicker, more viscous consistency. Any gluten formed during the mixing of the batter is also getting time to relax, and air bubbles are slowly working their way out.

Instructions

  1. Always use a From-Scratch muffin recipe, never boxed!

  2. Never use a mixer to incorporate your dry ingredients to your wet. Use a spatula or spoon. 

  3. Do not over mix your batter.

  4. Cover your batter tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (can go overnight as well).

  5. Preheat your oven to 425F. Yes, I know the recipe calls for 350 but trust me on this. I typically bake my muffins in the upper third of the oven. You see placing the muffins in the upper third of the oven it tends to be hotter and the heat more constant. You can most certainly use the middle rack as well if you want.

  6. Spray the top of your muffin pan with non-stick spray. Line the pan with cupcake/muffin liners.

  7. The batter will be THICK. You can gently stir it first. Just try not to deflate it. Fill the muffin papers almost ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP OF THE PAPER. (just leave about a 1/8″ from the top). 

Yes I know, it’s spilled over before but this works.If you have empty cavities in your muffin tin (not enough batter), remove the liner and add 1/2 cup water in each.

  1. Bake 6-9 minutes at 425. The muffins should be about a 1/4″-1/2″ above the paper. That’s the sign the heat can be turned down.

  2. Reduce heat to 350 (DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR TO DROP THE TEMP.. sorry for the YELLING.. lol) and bake for 6-10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out barely clean (crumbs are OK). 

What does the science (and experience) tell us?

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The only thing the two sets of instructions disagree on is waiting to put the batter in. The high temperature, need for a thick batter and filling the muffin tins up are in both sets of instructions. The differences are due to the ingredients and how they work.

The rationale on baking right away versus waiting is due to chemical leavening agents, the two most widely used are baking soda and baking powder and they work differently. Both work on the principle of an acid reacting with a base creating carbon dioxide bubbles in the batter. Some of these gases are trapped in the batter, causing it to rise, the rest escapes. Baking soda is a base which reacts to acids in other ingredients in the batter (lemon juice, buttermilk, yogurt, honey, etc), and starts to act as soon as the ingredients are mixed. If you leave it too long the baking soda will get used up and you won't get any rise in the oven. refrigeration will slow that chemical process but not stop it, if you refrigerate the batter overnight you'll lose it all.

Baking powder on the other hand is a combination of baking soda and a powdered acid. You use baking powder in a recipe where there isn't enough acid from the rest of the ingredients to activate baking soda. Baking powder is "double acting" in that you get an initial reaction from the baking soda reacting to the acids available in the batter, which is the first action, but the powdered acid is heat activated so you can put it in the refrigerator and it will react very slowly. If you refrigerate a baking powder batter you will lose the first action's rise but the second action will mostly be there.

So if your batter uses baking soda you should bake it right away, if it uses baking powder you can refrigerate it. If it uses a mix of baking soda and baking powder I'd bake it right away.

The theory behind resting the batter is not about starches absorbing moisture, it only takes a few minutes for the starches in ordinary white flour to gelaltinize. You can see this in pancake batter when it thickens up a few minutes after mixing - this is why you should let batters sit for a little bit after mixing to test consistency. The real reason for letting a batter rest is to allow natural enzymes to break down starches and proteins, the theory is this will improve the structure. This is sounds advice if you are making Yorkshire Puddings, but I'm not convinced for a cake/muffin batter. This site details an experiment where two types of batter were baked right away, after refrigerating one hour, refrigerating for 24 hours and freezing a week. There was no improvement found from waiting to bake the batter, if anything it was more dense after 24 hours in the refrigerator.

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  • An actual experiment; just what I was looking for. So, cold or room temp, I won't worry about it. Still curious if 3/4 full or 7/8 makes any real difference: will check myself.
    – Pat Sommer
    Jan 14 at 22:15
  • I suspect that will vary depending on the recipe @PatSommer
    – GdD
    Jan 15 at 13:05

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