Saturday, February 27, 2010

Breakfast of cowboys

Here's a surprise: Muffins are even better when you dunk them in a half pound of melted butter and roll them in sugar. 
The Pioneer Woman calls these French breakfast puffs, but they did not strike me as very French. They struck me as very American. Also, very delicious. If you're interested, this is one of the recipes that appears in both the Pioneer Woman's cookbook and on her web site
First, you make a fluffy, sweet, nutmeggy muffin. PW calls for shortening, which somehow seems nastier in a muffin than in a pie crust, but since I had a tub in the refrigerator, I used it. Pale, puffy muffins emerged from the oven 25 minutes later.
I thought that a half pound of butter (Pioneer Woman calls for salted butter) was more than we needed for dunking the muffins, but Isabel ran out before the last two muffins were coated. You don't just dip the crowns in the butter, you drench the whole muffin.This meant that there were two sticks of butter coating 10 muffins, which is about 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter per muffin. Is that a lot? How much butter do people who butter muffins put on their muffins?
After buttering, we rolled the damp muffins in cinnamon sugar. 
"Don't be afraid to really coat 'em up," writes Pioneer Woman. "Let the kids help!" 
I let my kid perform the whole messy operation.

"Cinnamony sweet perfection!" gushes the Pioneer Woman. "The deliciousness of these beauties is not to be underestimated." One of the mysteries of Pioneer Woman is how she manages to be both immodest and charming at the same time, which she does.

At any rate, we all agreed with her -- cinnamony sweet perfection! All except Owen.

"Tastes like a donut," said Owen. Then: "No offense, but it's a little too sugary and you can taste salt in there." 
He was responding, I think, to the salted butter. I told him he's crazy, that salt, sugar and fat are the qualities we look for in a food, and that when he gets the whole trifecta in a single dish he should rejoice, and that he should never say "no offense" because just those two words are offensive. 

I didn't really say that. I don't think I said anything. This morning I offered to toast one of yesterday's leftover puffs for breakfast, but he declined. He wants pancakes, so I am now going to make Pioneer Woman's pancakes. They appear to consist mostly of sour cream.


  1. those look awesomely disgusting. yes, 1.5 Tbs is a ton!!! Think about how big of a "pat" that would be!

  2. as someone who barely cooks but enjoys reading this blog anyway, it's clear to me that pioneer woman and healthy delicious are sort of not on the same wavelength by definition. one thing about you, tipsy: when it comes to food you seem to be as ecumenical as they come.

  3. as someone who barely cooks but enjoys reading this blog anyway, it's clear to me that pioneer woman and healthy delicious are sort of not on the same wavelength by definition. one thing about you, tipsy: when it comes to food you seem to be as ecumenical as they come.

  4. You are making me laugh and smirk. I do put a ton of butter on my muffin when I split it, but I bet I'd still put butter on these crazy muffins, and then I would die of heart failure.

  5. "Puff" seems an odd thing to call something dipped in butter and rolled in sugar. A "puff" should be dusted with powdered sugar and almost float off the plate. I'm not saying I wouldn't try one, though probably not for breakfast. I'm thinking that you probably could just butter the tops, which would significantly cut down on the amount of butter used. I don't honestly worry about such things, though, because it's not like I would eat one every day.

  6. PW is definitely one who doesn't skimp on the butter,
    How does she keep looking so good though?
    That's what I want to know

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. PW's recipe is identical to the "French Breakfast Puffs" on page 65 of my copy of the facsimile edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, 1950, except that PW doubles the recipe, which is also on Betty's website.

    Speaking of which, or of whom, I guess I should say, there is something at once creepy and comforting about the cozy, first-person narrative of the fictitious Betty in that cookbook. Betty's history is fascinating - all that morphing of her physical appearance through the years is enough to make even Madonna envious.

    I find it fascinating that in 1945, Betty Crocker was voted the second-most popular woman in America - only Eleanor Roosevelt was more beloved. Beginning in 1949 and through the next decade, Betty was played on TV and radio by an obscure actress who got her start in vaudeville.

    Which brings us back to PW. Her French Puffs are Betty's. So what else might be lifted? Is PW herself a fiction, a marketing ploy, a Betty for the Blog Age played by an actress who couldn't cut it on the dinner theater circuit?

    Perhaps Tipsy will answer these and other questions in the days and weeks to come....

    11:27 PM

  9. Beth Melucci2/28/10, 6:26 AM

    That muffin looks just like the donut muffins from the Healdsburg Bakery that we used to buy at the farmer's market! Does it taste like one? I used to love those. If those were dipped in a half pound of butter it is no wonder I gained weight when I lived in San Francisco...

  10. gee, now i'm thinking maybe "an honest cook" and "pioneer woman" may be as unlikely a pair as "healthy delicious" and pw.
    great catch "hc". now we just need to hear from "alert reader."

  11. Wow, such a interesting comment thread while I was away. PW writes that she got this puff recipe in high school French class, so it was evidently her French teacher who borrowed it from Betty Crocker. PW doesn't claim to have invented it.
    In general, she seems very generous with her attributions, though I don't think she credits any cookbooks, just people.
    I remain confused about the rules regarding the borrowing/stealing of recipes. Obviously it happens all the time. Someone recently told me that you can't copyright a list of ingredients. Someone else told me that you need to change three things in a recipe before you can call it your own in a cookbook. Personally, I like a cookbook that gives the original source of a recipe, even a dramatically changed recipe. I like the story in a recipe. But does that kind of acknowledgment mean that the author has to pay for the rights?
    One of the things I loved about Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything was the list of favorite cookbooks he included at the very end. One of the things I didn't love about his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian was the lack of such a list or bibliography. It's unfair to single out Bittman because most cookbooks are like that.

  12. My point wasn't that PW stole a recipe, either intentionally or not (and I see no reason to think she meant to). But the fact that a rather well-known recipe (there are millions of copies of Betty's book with that recipe in print and a quick Google search of French Breakfast Puffs shows a gazillion hits) is attributed to some high school French teacher seems lazy and sloppy as well as ungenerous. It's great to give credit to the French teacher, but go a step further and tell the reader it also appeared in Betty's book and became a rather popular breakfast treat in the Fifties and Sixties, etc.

    This sort of information is easy to find, and PW or her copy editor or some lowly fact-checker at William Morrow should have sussed out the origins of any and all such hand-me-down recipes. Most importantly, doing so gives proper credit to the recipe's creator. Also, it gives the recipe a more revealing and useful historical context.

    My other point was that if this is a cribbed recipe (deliberately or not), then what else in the book has appeared elsewhere that we're not being told about? I know some people don't care about these things, but I think it matters.

    As far as what constitutes plagiarism in a recipe, it's my understanding that, as Tipsy says, a list of ingredients cannot become intellectual property, but copying the instructions on what to do with those ingredients can be.

    Here's a snippet from a Washington Post article about the topic:

    >>The ethics guidelines of the International Association of Culinary Professionals focus on giving proper attribution to recipes that are published or taught. The association advises using the words "adapted from," "based on" or "inspired by," depending on how much a recipe has been revised. ("Adapted from" is the phrasing favored by The Washington Post and many other newspaper food sections, which, along with culinary instructors, enjoy "fair use" of someone's creation for the purpose of teaching, news reporting, scholarship or research.) The only time a recipe should be printed without attribution, the association contends, is when it has been changed so substantially that it no longer resembles its source.<<

    Under those guidelines, I believe that PW should have said, in her headnote to the Puffs: "Adapted from a recipe in Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook." If PW's book was a self-published charity cookbook made to be sold to raise money for a church in Duluth, this issue wouldn't matter that much. But PW's book is a big-deal, major-publisher, best-seller event and as such should be held to higher standards.

  13. the plot thickens...

  14. I'm an intellectual property attorney. Everyone is correct that a listing of ingredients is not protected by copyright law. The directions, however, could be protected, depending on the amount of literary expression. I presume that PW didn't copy that.

    The issue of attribution pertains to ethics or standards in the industry rather than the law. From a legal standpoint, PW did not commit copyright infringement.

    It's weird when my hobbies and my work overlap.

  15. This is almost an exact copy of the Donut Muffin recipe in Fine Cooking 42, pp. 54-55

    Oh, and yes they are delicious (the Fine Cooking ones, anyway).


  16. French Breakfast Puffs have indeed been around for decades. I got my recipe from a college friend's mom, and saw it later in one of the Marion Cunningham books, probably the Breakfast Book. That version skips the butter step and just rolls the hot muffins in powdered sugar. A lot sticks when they're hot, but there isn't all that extra fat. Differently delicious. My recipe calls for shortening, too, but I usually substitute butter, or half butter and half yogurt to cut the fat.