Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin Cake

Posted on 03 July 2018

There was something about the loftiness, the berriness, and the sugary crustiness of Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins that hooked Boston in the 60s. Jordan Marsh (“Jahduns”) was Boston’s answer to Macy’s for more than 150 years, until Macy’s had the final answer and acquired it in 1996. It speaks to the power of a good snack that a sugar delivery system for tired shoppers has become a favorite memento of this late, great New England retailer.

The muffin’s originator, Jordan’s baker John Pupek, kept his recipe a professional secret. This triggered Muffin Mystery Mania, when home bakers and restaurants alike set out to recreate the oversized, overstuffed muffin. For decades, the media and the grapevine buzzed with recipes claiming to be the real thing. Every New England recipe box had at least one version. I have three different recipes, including one from my mother-in-law, all called “Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins.”

While I never experienced the rapture that was an actual store muffin, my favorite copycat is this muffin cake. That’s because the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin is really a coffee cake masquerading as a muffin. Its soft, sweet, vanilla-y crumb and sugar topping move the needle away from muffin and into cake territory. (For an indisputable muffin, see Boston Brown Bread Muffins.)

This particular recipe for moist and sweet blueberry muffin cake goes back to my roommate days with Elinor Lipman, friend and best-selling novelist. It came from her mother Julia, the source of the amazing self-streuseling Cinnamon Tea Cake.

“She did make it often—it was her standard blueberry cake,” remembers Ellie, who grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. “She got the recipe via Gus Saunders’s radio show where people called in recipes. It was called ‘Yankee Kitchen’ and she listened every day. My sister Debbie and I used to refer to him as ‘your boyfriend.’ She always made it in cake form, never muffins as I recall.”

Versatile blueberry muffin cake goes beyond breakfast or snacktime. Top it with whipped cream and raspberries for an excellent Fourth of July tribute to old Boston.

And if you haven’t heard, the Muffin Mystery has been solved. After the demise of Jordan Marsh, Pupek started his own bakery to continue selling the muffins. When he closed up shop and retired in 2016, he finally revealed his technique in a TV interview. To get this Boston Holy Grail, click here. There are no major revelations, though. The recipe they show matches just about verbatim the one the Boston Globe published on July 4, 1974, under the name “‘Marshy’ Muffins.” I’ve had that in my recipe box all along.

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin Cake (Saunders/Lipman Version)

  • 1 ½ cup sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup margarine or butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I double to 2)
  • 1 ½ cup blueberries, floured
  1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together.
  2. Cream margarine or butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs; beat well. Add flour mix to cream mix alternately with milk, Mix extremely well. (The more you beat, the better.)
  3. Fold in vanilla and floured berries. Pour into well-greased 8” square pan or muffin tin.
  4. Sprinkle top with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. (I found 33 minutes on convection was enough.)
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