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Winning recipes: Use zest to brighten these Florida Orange and Lemon Yogurt Muffins

Florida Orange and Lemon Yogurt Muffins. [LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI | Special to the Times]
Published Jul. 22

Add some zing to your food with zest, the best part of any citrus fruit.

My zester is one of my favorite kitchen tools, and with just a few strokes I can extract the intensely flavorful skin. I use it to liven up baked goods, salad and extravagant pan sauces.

Wash and dry your fruit before removing the zest. Only remove the outer layer of the fruit; the second white layer, the pith, is overly bitter and does not have the same brightness as the actual peel. Even if a recipe calls for only the juice, I recommend using the zest, too.

Just a few sprinkles of lemon, lime or orange zest will brighten up your cooking. I like to add zest to a dish at the very last minute, so the flavor stays bright. You can even grate it over individual servings, as you would cheese. Bring out the best citrus flavor in baking recipes by rubbing some zest into the recipe's sugar before adding it to the batter.

A little bit of zest goes a long way.

My updated recipe for orange and lemon muffins was first published in Hoffman Media's Taste of the South, in the Winter 2006 edition.

My first baking success was muffins; for a short time I even sold muffins locally. As the "Muffin Lady," I met so many kind people who really loved my home-baked muffins. That career was short-lived — it was a lot of work baking, wrapping and delivering myself — but it made me into a much better baker.

I revised the original recipe for these muffins to use yogurt instead of sour cream. I also doubled the topping and added honey for more flavor. The zest of both orange and lemon is used in this recipe, orange in the topping and lemon in the batter.

The lemon zest is melted into the butter — a little heat mellows the flavor of the zest before it gets added to the batter. The topping is loaded with orange zest, honey and toasted almonds.

This is an easy muffin to put together in just a few minutes. You can make this muffin by hand with a whisk and rubber spatula, or use an electric hand mixer. Have all your ingredients ready to mix together before starting the recipe. Serve with sweetened whipped cream or a dab of orange marmalade.

Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. This column features recipes that have been entered in contests across America and have been updated for readers who love to bake. Contact her at lorrainestevenski@gmail.com.

Florida Orange and Lemon Yogurt Muffins

For the topping:

½ cup toasted sliced almonds

2 tablespoons orange zest

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the batter:

½ cup unsalted butter

2 tablespoons lemon zest, finely grated

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup almond flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup plain yogurt, Greek or regular, full fat or low-fat

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

Turbinado or demerara sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a regular 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners and then spray with cooking spray.

Make the topping: In a small mixing bowl, add all the topping ingredients and mix with a fork until crumbly. Set aside.

Make the batter: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a microwave-safe bowl, add the butter and lemon zest. Microwave for 1 minute and then whisk until the butter is completely melted and the zest is evenly combined. Set aside to cool slightly and to allow the flavors to meld.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder and salt.

In another large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, eggs and vanilla and almond extracts. Whisk just until the mixture is smooth.

With a large rubber spatula, add the flour mixture and butter mixture to the yogurt mixture alternately in 5 increments, starting and ending with the flour. Mix just until the batter is smooth and thick. Use a cookie scoop to fill each muffin cup almost full. Sprinkle the almond topping evenly over each muffin, and then add a sprinkle of turbinado sugar.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean and the muffins are golden brown and nicely risen. Cool 15 minutes before removing from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 muffins.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski

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