• March 13, 2020 |

    muffin march madness

    article by , illustrated by

    Have you ever stepped into an incredibly packed Blue Room at 10 a.m. craving a sweet treat, yet been totally overwhelmed when you saw six types of muffins to choose from? 

    Never fear, for Muffin March Madness is here to answer all of your burning questions about these iconic baked goods. And, of course, to answer the most important question of all: What is the best Blue Room muffin? 

    Here’s the methodology: I roughly seeded all sixteen muffins that I tested based on their existing popularity. Then, I pitted these muffins against each other in a head-to-head single elimination bracket. In the opening round, I gave a brief description of each muffin if you simply want to get an idea of what a particular flavor tastes like. Then, I gave my totally subjective rationale for why one muffin is superior to the other. Rinse and repeat until there’s only one muffin left standing. 

    OPENING ROUND

    Red Velvet         vs.        Raisin 

    Red Velvet

    A little history lesson: red velvet cake is just chocolate cake made with buttermilk to make the texture lighter. Traditional recipes used non-Dutched cocoa powder, which is what gave it a rust color. Now, of course, the red comes from food coloring. Still, it’s strange how dramatically color can change taste perception. Even if I know that it’s chocolate cake, red velvet still doesn’t really taste exactly like chocolate to me. But that’s not a bad thing, because these muffins are pretty damn good. Plus, they have chocolate chips, and who doesn’t like chocolate chips? 

    Raisin 

    This whole muffin tastes like raisin, even the parts that are just plain muffin. I don’t know what else to say—it’s a muffin loaded with raisins. This muffin fits into the “healthy” category, but it is honestly one of the sweetest muffins out of the sixteen I tasted. Perhaps the sugar is a vain attempt to cover up the fact that you’re eating a raisin muffin, when.well, you could be eating literally any other type of muffin. The muffin itself is also quite dry. I guess if you really adore the wrinkly dried-up cousins of grapes, or if it’s 8 p.m. and the Blue Room is offering them up for free, go for it? 

    The Matchup: Do I even have to justify my choice? Red velvet wins. Obviously. 

     

    Apple Cinnamon                 vs.       French Toast 

    Apple Cinnamon 

    Just peeling back the wrapper to an apple cinnamon muffin evokes memories of fall and apple orchards. And also pumpkin spice lattes, which is strange considering that these muffins contain neither pumpkin nor lattes. Take a bite, though, and you’ll be met with disappointment. It’s good, because cinnamon and apple is always good, but you also kind of just end up wishing you were taking a bite of a cider donut instead. There are also some suspiciously wet areas in the muffin that feel like they ought to contain chunks of apple but just don’t. Still, I think this is a solid muffin.

    French Toast

    I was skeptical at first about this flavor, but man, does the Blue Room get this flavor spot on. Sure, it tastes like french toast, but it also tastes like the pure sweet essence of breakfast itself. There’s cinnamon laced throughout the muffin, bits of brown sugar caramelized on the top, and hints of maple syrup. If that’s not all it takes to rush out and get one of these, I don’t know what is. 

    The Matchup: This one’s a little tougher than the first matchup, but I’m going to have to give it to French toast. In terms of living up to its name, French toast definitely does a way better job than apple cinnamon, while also just boasting a lot more flavor. 

     

    Cinnamon Coffee Cake                 vs.       Orange Cranberry Nut

    Cinnamon Coffee Cake

    The cinnamon part of this name is accurate, because there’s not a single square inch of this muffin that cinnamon doesn’t permeate. The coffee component of this muffin, however, is a bit unclear. Personally, I didn’t taste any coffee at all. On the other hand, my friend says she can detect a trace. Schrödinger’s coffee, if you will. I mean, is coffee cake even supposed to have coffee? Or is it just supposed to be eaten with coffee? In any case, it’s a really good muffin. 

    Orange Cranberry Nut

    Not good. The combination of cranberries, oranges, and walnuts is strange on paper and translates to real life equally badly. The walnuts are good? But they’re few and far between. Its real fatal flaw is the orange extract, which is far too strong and artificial-tasting. In a vacuum, the cranberries are good, but their tartness just contrasts poorly with the orange extract. Moreover, all of the cranberries also tend to rise to the surface of the muffin, leaving a desolate mushy bland orange tasting center. Bleh!

    The Matchup: Orange cranberry nut is probably the worst muffin you can get at the Blue Room, so cinnamon coffee cake wins basically by default. 

     

    Chocolate Chip                 vs.       Pistachio

    Chocolate Chip 

    This chocolate chip muffin tastes of elementary school summer camp where my muffin options were limited to either chocolate chip or blueberry. And, honestly, it tastes the same. It’s exactly like every other chocolate chip muffin you’ve tasted, except slightly worse because it’s a bit soggy in the middle. 

    Pistachio

    This unnaturally green muffin is another classic muffin flavor. I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s so tasty because of the almond extract they add. Yeah, that buttery, nutty goodness that you find between the layers of almond croissants and danishes, reincarnated in muffin form. The pistachio flavor shines through as well, and it also turns out that pistachios and baked goods are a match made in heaven. They really skimp on the pistachio nuts themselves, though, and I really wish there were more than few measly slivers in a muffin. 

    The Matchup:  Pistachio wins. I really want to like the chocolate chip muffins, but they’re honestly kind of mediocre. On the other hand, these pistachio muffins actually actively taste good.

     

    Double Chocolate                 vs.       Blueberry

     

    Double Chocolate 

    If you’re like me and you enjoyed eating the cookie part of the Oreo more than the creme part, this muffin is for you. It’s dark chocolate cake that’s acceptable to eat with your hands, and it’s amazing. It’s moist, the chocolate chips add little wells of sweet goodness, and the chocolate is dark enough that there’s a pleasant bitterness that keeps the muffin from being too sweet. A true treat. 

    Blueberry 

    Like the chocolate chip muffin, a basic staple of the muffin universe. And like with the chocolate chip muffins, it tastes like every other blueberry muffin. I’m pleased to announce, however, that the Blue Room does better with this one. Its main quality lies in the good distribution of blueberries—not so little you can barely taste them but not so much that the whole muffin is entirely blueberry.

    The Matchup: The blueberry muffin is pretty good, don’t get me wrong. But the double chocolate muffin is chocolate cake. And not even any chocolate cake, good chocolate cake. It wins. 

     

    Triple Berry                 vs.       Corn 

    Triple Berry 

    Let’s run through the three berries that create this muffin’s namesake: blueberries, raspberries, and…cranberries?? Not going to lie, I don’t know what the third berry is. In any case, the blueberries and raspberries create a great tart counterpoint to the sweetness of the muffin. There’s a good density of berries that have softened and swirled throughout the muffin, with some intact chunks here and there. Really nothing to complain about for this one. 

    Corn 

    These muffins slap. Corn may seem like a basic flavor for a muffin, but that doesn’t stop them from being delicious. The surface of the muffin is delightfully browned and crunchy, and the inside is perfectly moist. The little cornmeal bits in particular really elevate the texture of the muffin and prevent it from tasting too homogenous throughout. I love cornbread, and therefore I love this muffin.

    The Matchup: This is a really close match, but I’m going to have to give it to the corn muffin. There’s honestly no quantitative reason—I just think corn barely edges out triple berry based on my personal taste preference. Still, I’m left wondering: just what in the world is the third berry in a triple berry muffin? 

     

    Butter Rum                 vs.       Banana Nut 

    Butter Rum 

    The muffin top to a butter rum muffin is freaking amazing. It’s sweet, crunchy, and incredibly buttery. However, the inside is speckled with spots of rum that can be hit or miss. Sometimes it’s just in the right amount, and you feel fancy because your baked good has liquor in it. Other times, though, they go way too heavy on the rum. Then it just tastes gross. Nevertheless, after eating this muffin, all I can think is: do butter muffins exist? Because this butter rum muffin would be way better if it was all butter and no rum. 

    Banana Nut

    If you’ve tasted banana bread, you know what this muffin tastes like. This is because a banana nut muffin is literally banana bread with walnuts. In fact, I think a muffin is an optimal delivery system for banana bread since you get all the variance of a loaf (the caramelized crust, the moist inside) in one portion. Yum! 

    The Matchup: Banana nut wins. Butter rum may be a more exciting flavor, but banana nut shines in its consistent quality. There’s something deeply comforting about the reliability of banana nut muffins, especially in these hectic times. Also, banana bread is bomb. 

     

    Raisin Bran                 vs.     Lemon Poppyseed

    Raisin Bran 

    You already know this one isn’t great. Not that I’m against Raisin Bran cereal every once in a while. And I’ll concede that the bran gives the muffin a pleasant earthy flavor. But for this muffin to pose as good for you while probably being equally as unhealthy as all of its other 600-calorie Blue Room muffin brethren? Unacceptable. The only virtue of raisin bran muffins I can find is that they’re somehow still better than the plain raisin ones. 

    Lemon Poppyseed

    The classic combination that seems kinda random but tastes oh-so-good. Like with the corn muffin, the poppyseeds add a delightful texture. The added lemon flavoring creates a sweet and zesty combination with the muffin. My friends rave about this flavor. Just remember not to eat too many, or you might end up failing a drug test (look it up—it’s true!). 

    The Matchup: Another obvious winner—after all that’s how seeding works, right? It’s only fitting that lemon poppyseed wins. 

     

    QUARTERFINALS 

    Red Velvet                 vs.       French Toast

    The Matchup: French toast wins. Red velvet is honestly a bit of an overdone flavor, while French toast is out here really redefining what it means for muffins to be a breakfast food. Also, any time I eat a red velvet muffin, all I can think about is how much better it would be with cream cheese frosting. A French toast muffin, on the other hand, stands happily on its own. 

    Cinnamon Coffee Cake         vs.       Pistachio

    Matchup: Pistachio wins. Maybe I’m being drawn in by its artificial green color, but the pistachio muffin just excites me more. Also, despite taking three words to describe, cinnamon coffee cake’s flavor is surprisingly one-note. That one note is good, but the pistachio muffin’s flavor just has a lot more dimension. 

    Double Chocolate         vs.       Corn

    The Matchup: Double Chocolate. This was actually a closer match than one might think. The corn muffin is really, really good, and both muffins embody really pure flavors. In the end, though, the corn muffin just ends up being a little too bland for me to be able to give it the win. 

    Banana Nut                  vs.       Lemon Poppyseed

    The Matchup: Banana nut wins. After working your way through an entire lemon poppyseed muffin, the lemon syrup they add can become a little too much. A banana nut muffin’s flavor, on the other hand, is addictive. Plus, this tournament needed a little upset. 

     

    SEMIFINALS 

    French Toast                       vs.       Pistachio

    The Matchup: French toast wins. The French toast muffin is just really fucking good, okay? You’re gonna have to trust me on this one.

     

    Double Chocolate                       vs.       Banana Nut

    The Matchup: Double Chocolate wins. Look, I wish I could say that banana nut is better. That it has more complexity. That its strength lies in its subtler taste. But I can’t say that, because at the end of the day, eating a double chocolate muffin just hits all the dopamine receptors in my brain in a way that banana nut never could. I kid you not, I basically devoured the whole thing when I tested it, even though I knew full well I still had two more muffins I had to try.

     

    FINALS 

    And the WINNER is…!!!  *drumroll*

     

    French Toast                       vs.       Double Chocolate

    Double Chocolate. I think I’ve raved enough about how good double chocolate muffins are in the previous rounds, but just to reiterate: They’re chocolate cake slices that are both easy and socially acceptable to consume at any time of the day. They have chocolate chips. And it’s good chocolate cake. What I’m saying is that they’re perfect. Also, honestly, by the end of this whole process, I was getting really sick of cinnamon. Between the French toast, the cinnamon coffee cake, the apple cinnamon muffin, and who knows what other muffins they snuck cinnamon into, it was just too much. Even now a whiff of cinnamon gives me muffin flashbacks. And,perhaps anticlimactically,that is my take on why double chocolate is the best Blue Room muffin, confirmed.

     

    Notes: Photos and Charts by Elizabeth Zhang