Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

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Happy July 5th, everyone! I hope you all had a fun and safe 4th of July yesterday, whether your day was filled with sunshine, parades, picnics, friends, fireworks, or all of the above.

Before heading downtown for our annual parade yesterday, I decided to start the morning off with a sweet treat to celebrate. Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling fit the bill nicely: tender, sweet, lemony muffins bursting with fresh juicy berries and containing a surprise pocket of lemon-cream cheese filling. To make the muffins more festive I loaded them with a mixture of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries and figured that the cream cheese filling qualified as the “white” part of my red-white-and-blue color scheme. Sure, the cream cheese was hidden in the center, so the color scheme was more like red-blue-and-muffiny brown, but who’s complaining? For all intents and purposes, they were red-white-and-blue. Okay? Okay.

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Although the muffins themselves are delicious with a soft, moist crumb; a hint of cinnamon, vanilla, and almond flavors; a fresh citrus zing from the lemon; and a triad of sweet, juicy berries, they’re made even better with the secret filling. One bite in and you’ll encounter a tiny pocket of sweet lemony cream cheese that takes these muffins from good to great!

In my muffins I chose to use half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose to give them a little more heft and fiber. The recipe below calls for only all-purpose flour, but it’s up to you. Same goes for the type of berries, extracts, spices, etc. Like many of my recipes, this one is highly adaptable!

Bake up a batch of these Lemon-Berry Muffins as a special treat one of these mornings! In no time at all you can be enjoying a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven muffin for breakfast or brunch. Be sure to watch for people’s reactions as they discover the sweet surprise filling. Some surprises are not so good (like the surprise that would have occurred had I not realized in the nick of time that I was starting to pour peppermint extract into my measuring spoon rather than vanilla) but this surprise is definitely a nice one! Unless of course you happen to dislike sweet lemony cream cheese stuffed inside a tender lemon-berry muffin. But that would be just plain silly.

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Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

Makes 9 standard-sized muffins

1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Grated zest of 1 large lemon (about 2 teaspoons)

1/3 cup milk

1 large egg

1/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1 cup fresh berries, rinsed and chopped (I used 1/3 cup each of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries)

Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Cream Cheese Filling:

3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line or grease 9 cups of a 12-cup muffin tin; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a smaller bowl, use your fingers to incorporate the lemon zest into the sugar until fragrant. Whisk the lemon-sugar into the flour mixture.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, egg, vanilla, and almond extract until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until incorporated. Be careful not to over-mix. Gently fold the berries into the batter, which will be thick.

To make the cream cheese filling, stir together the cream cheese, lemon zest, and sugar in a small bowl until smooth.

Fill each of the 9 prepared muffin cups about halfway with batter. Drop about 1 teaspoonful of the cream cheese mixture onto the batter in each cup. Then divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, carefully covering the cream cheese center. Sprinkle the muffin tops with coarse sugar if desired. (I also topped each with a raspberry.)

Bake for 17-20 minutes or until tops are set and edges are golden-brown. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

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