Interns at the Test Kitchen are given an “optional” cooking project. This go around, it’s muffins.

The project is supposed to mimic what the test cooks go through when developing a recipe, and is kept on file should we ever apply for a permanent position. We’re tasked with researching, developing and then writing a 1000 word article based on the muffin of choice. Red faced, I admit that every time someone mentions the word “muffin,” the only thing I can think of is Betty White, but I managed to pull myself together long enough to create a recipe I’m extremely proud of.

The crumb is perfect — absolutely perfect; light and crumbly, but moist. Experiments with baking powder and oven temperature proved to be well worth the time, producing a crunchy, sugary top with impressive crown. The part of the recipe that caused the most grief was the flavor. I selected Lemon Poppy Seed — it’s not only a popular flavor, with a high SEO return, but the last time it had been published by the magazine was 1997.

Test after test, the lemon flavor was spot on when the batter was raw, but after baking, it disappeared completely. In order to retain the lemony bite, I would have had to ask the home cook to sacrifice what seemed like a bushel of lemons — not very practical, and I didn’t want to take the easy way out with a glaze.

Finally this morning, after test number 7, I figured out the formula and created a muffin that offered a perfect balance of bright lemon with crunchy poppy seed, a tender crumb and crunchy top. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The journey is fun, but that eureka! moment is, without a doubt, the best part of the recipe development process.