Recipe delves into mystery of $16 muffin

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Before serving these $16 muffins, sprinkle the macadamia nuts around the outer edge, then sprinkle the gold leaf over the center surface. Top each with a chocolate-covered strawberry.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

So political kerfuffle aside, you have to wonder exactly what a $16 muffin would taste like.

Last week’s news that the U.S. government paid $16 apiece for breakfast muffins at a Justice Department conference set off critics of government spending.

Hilton Worldwide, the hotel company that hosted the 2009 confab in Washington, disputes the accuracy of the claim, which appeared in a report by Cynthia A. Schnedar, the Justice Department’s inspector general. The hotel called it an accounting thing, explaining that the price included various drinks and gratuity charges, in addition to the muffins. Schnedar stands by the report.

All this fails to take into account the most important issue. If you did spend $16 on a muffin, what would it look like? How would it taste?

The typical muffin baked in an institutional setting, such as a hotel, costs about 50 cents or less, not including labor. If you go crazy extravagant and reach for the top-shelf organic flour, maybe some hand-harvested wild blueberries from Maine and fancy sugar, you’re still going to max out around $1 per muffin on raw ingredients.

Here in The Associated Press test kitchen, we started searching for ways to bump up the price of your basic muffin. The end result was anything but basic. We’re also pretty certain you’ll never see one of these babies served at a government conference.

Getting the price-per-muffin that high was hard. We took the obvious steps first — organic flour, sugar and milk, cultured butter, sea salt and free-range eggs. But we still weren’t even close. A rare honey imported from Zambia helped, as did a healthy amount of pricey macadamia nuts and some Tahitian vanilla beans.

But in the end, the only way to get to $16 was to reach for some old-fashioned booze and gold. That’s right, we glazed our muffins with a chocolate sauce made from organic dark chocolate cut with reduced Scotch Whisky (the good stuff!) and edible gold leaf flakes.

The result? A rather stunning and intense muffin that would cost a mere $192 per dozen (not counting labor) — or $16 each.