The free continental breakfast is a bounty, but muffins sit in a basket, unloved. Behind the display glass, as the espresso machine hisses, they are the third or fourth choice. Someone, a wit, condemns them as breakfast cupcakes without the frosting. But they will always be there for you when you’re in a hurry, indecisive, or just hungry.
Mock them. Ignore them. Eat them as a last resort. But make no mistake: Muffins wait patiently for your reaching tong.
I can’t force you to respect the muffin. Muffins are not fancy. No buttery folds or elegant fruit filling, just a humble, awkward, spongy crown and moist, squat stalk. I can’t insist you give the muffin its due as one of the pillars of a quick and simple and satisfying breakfast. But I can demand that attention be paid. Behold: the muffin is safety, like a grandmother’s afghan. The muffin endures. The muffin has your back, no matter what.
You don’t want to live in a world without the muffin. Trust me.
The hierarchy of breakfast carbs is as follows: First, there are the non-sweet breads and pastries. At the apex of the pyramid is toast, be it white, wheat, or rye. These workhorses are bred to be smeared with butter or jellies, and sop yolk. They look down from their perch at the lesser baked goods with grim regality. They know—as do we—that toast sits at the right hand of bacon and egg. For what is breakfast without toast? This is what toast thinks. But what is toast, really? Stale bread that was given a second chance. You should be more humble, toast.
All of the non-sweet breads are similarly prideful. Biscuits do not suffer from low self-esteem. The English muffin probably resents being referred to as a muffin; they are a fussy sort and in conversation will mention their nooks and crannies with obnoxious frequency. Cornbread’s insecurities mean that one moment it’s firm, the next crumbly. Bagels are, generally speaking, jovial but vain. Too eager to dress up in ribbons of smoked salmon or slather themselves in silly cream cheese spreads. The bagel shamelessly dons asiago cheese if it pleases you. The bialy, however, is a mensch.
Oh, but the sweet breakfast pastries. What a collection of sugar-spun peacocks. Foremost is the croissant. Yes, croissant, we know you are French. The croissant announces itself! The croissant then introduces chocolate croissant, who insists on being called pain au chocolate. Then the almond croissant elbows in and shows off its glazed slivers. Inviting a croissant to your plate immediately transforms your meal into a grand European affair. This is, of course, marketing. The croissant is just air and fat and promise. The croissant goes to the ball while the muffin mops the floor.
The scone is a biscuit that went to an Ivy League college. The cheese danish a bully. Then there is pound cake. No one makes fun of pound cake, and it actually is just a slice of cake disguising itself as a breakfast pastry in broad daylight. The pound cake lobby is powerful and that is why it is always there wherever other breakfast treats are sold. No one can dislike toaster pastries. How can anyone hate a Pop-Tart? Well, try spending time with a pair of those hyperactive frosted sugar shingles. They’ll exhaust you into an existential spiral.
The tart, the bear claw, the strudel. You may or may not eat them. However, I bet you recognize them. Accept them as part of the morning meal pantheon.
The donut isn’t a pastry, per se. They are legion, however. Sometimes the muffin can be found in their ranks, but make no mistake, they are not welcome—corned, even, by trays of glazed, chocolate frosted, and jelly. The muffin knows you never want a muffin until you do. So it waits in places where it is not wanted, amid a forest of colorful deep-fried rings. The cronut throws side-eye at the muffin, and the muffin just smiles wanly.
The profit of love is the pain of loving without the hope of any reward. To be loved is wonderful. It requires no effort on the part of the beloved except, possibly, a measure of kindness toward the one who gazes at them with trembling eyes. But to love is to risk. To love is to give with abandon,without the hope that the same gift will ever be returned. The muffin loves you. It did the moment you tore one in two as a child, and it will as it rests, lopsided, on the hospital tray.
The muffin is a close-knit coven of gentle carbs. A merry family of stomach-filling batter that will never, ever, judge you. Each member knows your name. Have you ever asked theirs? The blueberry muffin is the melancholy Gandalf of muffins. The bran muffin is a muffin on a mission. The poppyseed, bashful. The miniature muffins sing. Walnuts, cranberries, chocolate chips. The muffin accessorizes to make itself appealing to you. Maybe, this time, as you stroll past the buffet’s many options, you will pick the muffin. Or maybe not.
The muffin does not care how you eat it. Warm it up in the microwave if you want. Slice it into two perfect symmetrical halves and give it a pat of butter. Rend it into two: eat the muffin top first and the base next, or vice versa. The muffin loves your muffin top, by the way. The muffin does not body-shame. Eat it with a cup of hot coffee or a glass of juice. Eat it with your breakfast or after or let it be your sole sustenance before sitting down at your desk. The muffin bows to your needs.
In a way, the very best of who we are is symbolized by the muffin: Simple, honest, open-hearted. The world without the muffin is a world without comfort. A world where no one will catch you when you topple to the floor. And so the muffin sits in the basket, unloved, but loving.
John DeVore is a James Beard Award-winning writer and editor living in Brooklyn. The last time he had Eggos was two days ago.