advocate ellen_2012What makes a perfect blueberry muffin? First, it shouldn’t be too sweet; second, plenty of inky blueberries, ideally coddled in muffin-matter (technically, quick-bread) that is tender, but not cakey.

One day recently, I went on a scavenger hunt for blueberry muffins in Lake Highlands. Three hours and one-fifth tank of gas later, I had scared up eight muffins.

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At home, I set up a blind taste test for my family members. In addition to flavor and blueberry quantity, muffins were judged on the appeal of their all-important tops, respective sizes and price.

Four grocery stores made the cut: Albertson’s, Fiesta, Target and Tom Thumb. (Neither Kroger nor Walmart are represented here because they sell muffins only in 4-packs.)

One convenience store: 7-Eleven. One chain coffee shop: Starbucks. Two independents: White Rock Coffee and Café Silva.

Following are the awards, with the overall winner at the end.

Placing in the Most Surprising category is Fiesta. At only 50 cents, Fiesta’s muffin was the best value, but it was also the smallest. Blueberries were not abundant. Although the muffin was spongy (cake-like) it also had a pleasing texture, with a hint of pan dulce. Two of us thought we detected a corn flavor, which is nicer than you might think.

The prize for Much Better Than Expected goes to 7-Eleven. I give them kudos even for having single muffins available, complete with a sign that reads, “baked fresh today.” My husband commented that the flavor was weak, and the top undistinguished, but I gave it high marks for not being too sweet.

If I may momentarily digress from my strict focus on pastry particulars to recognize atmospheric excellence, the award for Best View in a Coffee Shop goes to Café Silva, which is located next to the bike trail at Royal and Greenville, and looks out over the trail and golf course. This isn’t exactly a secret, considering the shop was filled with patrons. In our blind test, Silva’s muffin distinguished itself with its shapely top. It wasn’t too sweet, and I also detected a twist of herb or citrus flavor.

The Biggest award goes to White Rock Coffee. Priced at $1.55, the six-ounce muffin holds plenty of blueberries per square inch, and, while its top is unremarkable, it is satisfying sans excessive sweetness.

And now, cue the drum roll: The award for Best Blueberry Muffin for sale in Lake Highlands goes to Tom Thumb.

Rated favorably by my family members, this muffin is topped with crystallized sugar that enhances the toothsome nature of the already-appealing top. At $1.25 per muffin, it’s our most expensive supermarket choice, but it also weighs in at a respectable 4 1/8 ounces — the largest supermarket muffin in Lake Highlands.

Which brings us to the also-rans, starting with Albertsons, whose offering was good, just not as wonderful as Tom Thumb’s. The sad news is that Albertson’s has acquired Safeway, which owns Tom Thumb. Here’s hoping the new management will retain the Tom Thumb bakery techniques.

Super Target’s muffin was a little bland, but when you’re at Target you can also buy camping equipment, so I’m willing to give them high marks for convenience.

Trailing the pack — although I’m impressed with their innovation — was Starbuck’s. Their current muffin is a small dense version called “blueberry-yogurt” that tasted, for all the world, like nothing much. Keep trying, guys.

For the record: No muffins at Highlands Café, JJ’s, Dallas Diner or even Denny’s. Despite my dragnet of our neighborhood, I may have missed one or two vendors. If you know of a notable contender please comment on my June column at

For extra blueberry kicks, visit my blog, Year of Cooking Randomly (, where homemade muffins are attempted. If you have a good recipe, your input is desired.