Saying a corn muffin needs a glaze is like saying a tulip needs a moustache. A good corn muffin, one with a hard cap and a tight crumb, one that's gritty and buttery and golden and so close to perfection you just want to weep when you take that first warm bite, really doesn't need anything at all except a waiting mouth and a working tongue.
What a glaze does, especially if it's got hints of brown butter and a caramelly chew, is it takes that already perfect muffin and tosses it up so high it reaches corn muffin heaven, a place where muffins canter on unicorns and blow iridescent bubbles in the mid-afternoon sun. The air smells sweet, the sky is dusty rose, angels prance, and the Red Sox always win.
In all honesty, it never occurred to me to glaze a corn muffin. I got the idea from the honey polenta cornbread in Good to the Grain, a completely different recipe from my own but one that includes a honey butter concoction so simple yet delightful it made my head spin. And then I thought, yes, yes, that's right. That's what every corn muffin needs: a shiny top-hat to catch the light.
So I pulled up my old blueberry corn muffin recipe and made a new and improved version, browning the butter for both the batter and the glaze, streaming in some turbinado sugar, and nixing the blueberries so I could focus instead on the sheer buttery corniness of it all. I also cooked the glaze much longer than I should have, so instead of a nice, thin, shiny wash, I ended up almost candying it, remembering to pull it just seconds before it turned into a lollipop.
And it was so unbelievably good I will never, ever, EVER make corn muffins any other way again*.
If you like muffins, you may want to listen to this Spilled Milk podcast by Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg. Just make sure you have muffin-paraphernalia at home, because as soon as you finish listening, you're going to need to bake.
Recipe for Brown Butter Corn Muffins with honey caramel
When browning butter, you MUST be patient. Let it bubble slowly, first foaming, then separating, then clarifying, then turning deep, nut-brown with little clumps of brown butter goodness. Use your sense of smell to avoid a disaster, and stay close by.
Yields 12 muffins
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus soft butter for coating the muffin cups
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup medium-grind yellow cornmeal
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup turbinado sugar
3/4 cup full-fat sour cream
1/2 cup milk (2% or whole)
1/4 cup honey, for glaze
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center. Smear soft butter in each cup of a standard, 12-cup muffin tin, coating them well.
In a small skillet, melt 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter over medium-low heat. Allow it to cook, slowly and undisturbed, until it foams and sputters, then separates, the forms little quiet clumps. You're done when the clear butter is mahogany (if your skillet is dark, put some on a spoon) and the foam is all but gone. You're going for a nut-brown color and aroma. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
While the butter browns, whisk the two flours, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, sour cream, and milk. Slowly whisk in the browned butter (do not wash the skillet), combining well. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and fold until the last bit of flour is moistened. Be thorough, but do not over-mix. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.
Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the muffin tin halfway through, until the muffins are risen, browned, and firm. While the muffins bake, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the honey in the same small skillet you used earlier. Again, allow the butter to slowly brown. This will happen quicker due to the honey, so pay close attention. When the bubbles become foamy then clear up and the glaze is nut-brown, pull it from the heat.
Remove the muffins from the oven. Carefully unmold them onto a wire rack and use a heatproof pastry brush (or spoon) to brush the tops with the glaze before the muffins cool down. (Rewarm the glaze if necessary.) If you cooked it enough, the glaze will have become thick and caramelly, so work quickly. Serve warm.
*Management reserves the right to retract this statement.