I’m taking a quick vacation from Italian cooking to bring you this recipe for mini sugar-dipped blueberry-lemon muffins from Mackinac Island. I’ve been making them for a couple of decades, long before I ever set foot on the island.
It never occurred to me to post the recipe here. But the other day I shared the above photo on Instagram and on my Facebook page and got numerous requests for it. While I don’t often veer from the subject of Italian cooking on this blog, I occasionally do, and this recipe is certainly worth a detour.
Also, I’m married to a Michiganian (or Michigander, depending on your preference). We head to northern Michigan every August, and outside of Italy it is probably my favorite destination. Scroll down for the recipe; keep reading for some trivia about Mackinac Island.
1. It’s pronounced Mack-in-AW, not Mack-in-ACK.
2. The island is located in the Straits of Mackinac, between the mainland and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
3. You need to take a ferry to get there. Cars were banned back in 1898 (kind of ironic when you think about where the car was invented, but still a good decision). Bicycles, horse & buggy and your own two feet are the only means of transportation.
4. If you take the ferry from St. Ignace in the UP, you will have to cross the Mackinac Bridge, a suspension bridge that spans 26,371 feet (5 miles), 8,614 feet suspended). Yes, the Mighty Mac is a little scary and, indeed, since it opened in 1957 two cars have plummeted 200 feet into the icy waters below (a Yugo was blown off in 1989 during a gusty rainstorm and an SUV apparently drove off it in 1997). Here’s more on the world’s scariest bridges.
5. Native Americans were the first visitors to Mackinac island. They named it Michilimackinac and considered it a sacred place. They traveled to the island in summer to fish for trout, pike, sturgeon, herring and whitefish. European settlers arrived in 1670, and in the 1700s the island was occupied by French soldiers (who built Fort Michilimackinac). It became a U.S. territory following the American Revolution but was captured by the British during the War of 1812. The peace treaty ending the war returned ownership to the United States.*
7. The Grand Hotel, a palatial resort with a 660-foot porch facing the Straits of Mackinac, opened its doors in 1887.
8. In 1889, George Murdick opened the first fudge and candy shop on the Mackinac Island. Today, the town’s main street is
littered rich with fudge shops: Murdick’s, Kilwin’s, Ryba’s, and May’s among them.
9. Two feature-length movies were filmed on the island: “This Time for Keeps” (1947), starring Esther Williams and Jimmy Durante; and “Somewhere in Time” (1980), starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.
10. You can bike around the periphery of the island. It’s a picturesque, easy and mostly flat 8-mile ride with spectacular views. Constructing cairns along the stony shores seems to be a thing.
As for the muffins, the recipe is said to come from the Hotel Iroquois. I found it in Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads. There is a generous quantity of blueberries in the batter (Michigan grows great blueberries), plus a little lemon zest. Once baked, the muffins are dipped in butter and then sugar.
You don’t have to cross the Mighty Mac to enjoy these muffins. Actually, you don’t have to cross the bridge to get to Mackinac Island either; you can just take the ferry from Mackinaw City (yes, it’s MackinAW City). Either way, you should put Mackinac Island on your bucket list. It’s worth the trip. Till then, there are blueberry muffins.
* Hat tip to the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, which printed the brochure from which I got much of the information for this post.
These muffins have long been served at the Iroquois Hotel, on Michigan's Mackinac Island. The baked muffins are dipped in melted butter and then sugar, to give them a lightly crunchy topping. In spite of that sweet topping the muffins themselves, studded with blueberries and brightened with lemon zest, are light and not too sweet. This recipe comes from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads (Simon & Schuster).
- 2 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (1/2 tablespoon)
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/2 cup sugar
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat mini-muffin tins with vegetable oil or cooking spray (I use one large tin with 24 little cups).
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the baking powder, salt and sugar. Whisk to combine.
In a separate bowl, crack the eggs and beat with a whisk for 10 seconds. Add the milk and oil and whisk gently to blend.
Make a well in the flour and pour in the egg-milk mixture. Stir as little as possible, just enough to moisten the flour.
Combine the blueberries with the lemon zest and fold into the muffin batter. Again stir gently and as little as possible. Spoon the batter into the tins.
Bake the muffins for 20 to 30 minutes, until risen and golden on top. Remove the tins from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool for 5 minutes.
Make the glaze: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Pour the sugar into a small bowl. Gently pry out the muffins, one at a time, and dip the tops first in butter and then in sugar. Enjoy them warm or let them cool completely on the rack.
NOTE These muffins are best fresh but you can store them for up to 3 days at room temperature in a tightly lidded container.