A true dessert delight from TikTok’s favourite grandma

Olga Massov

THE WASHINGTON POST – These days, there’s no shortage of recipe sources, be it newspapers, blogs, cookbooks, magazines, Instagram or TikTok. Many promise simple and delicious recipes or seemingly ingenious kitchen hacks. When I see a simple recipe that promises greatness, my default reaction is scepticism. But when that recipe comes from a grandmother figure, I stop and listen. Grandmothers are wise. They’re kind. They’re inherently no-nonsense.

Take In Bibi’s Kitchen, my favourite cookbook last year, with collected recipes from bibis (grandmothers) across several African countries. Or the Pasta Grannies account on Instagram, which documents Italian nonnas making (usually) pasta dishes with little equipment and simple ingredients.

So, when you find a recipe for a three-ingredient blueberry muffin recipe from a woman dubbed TikTok’s favourite grandma, you pay attention.

Barbara Costello, or, Babs, as she’s affectionately known to her 160,000 Instagram and nearly half a million TikTok followers, is a 72-year-old Connecticut grandmother, who exploded on the social media scene less than 18 months ago in a space where she would seem to be an outlier. Social media tends to favour the young, but Costello is charting her own course, one short video at a time.

Her path to TikTok stardom began when she moved in with her daughter, lifestyle blogger Liz Ariola. Ariola was determined to break into TikTok and asked her mom to record a few videos, so Costello reluctantly posted a recipe for sheet-pan Greek chicken and potatoes.

TikTok star Barbara Costello. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
Three-ingredient blueberry muffins

When the video received more than 100,000 views, Ariola encouraged Costello to post more, sharing family recipes as well as life and kitchen wisdom. Along with recipes, Costello’s various short video segments – such as Babs’ Hacks, Slice of Peace, Did Your Mother Ever Tell You – are delivered in a clipped and relaxed way.

When I spied these three-ingredient blueberry muffins made with ice cream, I knew I had to try them. The idea of using ice cream is smart; it’s essentially your premade base: dairy, egg yolks and sugar.

I tracked down the 1982 Southern Living cookbook that was the source of Costello’s recipe. I’m a tinkerer by nature, so I tweaked the proportions for an airier batter and a more tender crumb. I also added a little lemon zest and sprinkled the tops of my unbaked muffins with demerara sugar, which technically, made them five-ingredient muffins, but with these two – strictly optional – additions, a very good muffin became excellent. So good, my six-year-old proclaimed them to be the best he’s ever had.

The simplicity of this little muffin recipe is emblematic of Costello’s approach to life and of her appeal. Her recipes may not be your ideal versions of dishes, but they are simple, straightforward and great for harried parents or new cooks.

THREE-INGREDIENT BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

Active time: 10 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: Six

These three-ingredient blueberry muffins rely on ice cream for moisture, richness and sweetness, and are as fun to make as they are to eat. The addition of lemon zest and turbinado sugar is optional (and technically makes them five-ingredient muffins), but they elevate the end result. We preferred the muffins made with egg yolk-based ice cream (aka French custard) – the muffins had a more tender crumb – but the yolk-free (Philadelphia-style custard) works well if you need to avoid eggs. This recipe makes six muffins, but it’s easily doubled.

Storage Notes: The muffins are best the day they’re made, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days. Reheat in a 350-degree oven until warm.

NOTES: Make sure when you soften the ice cream, it is scoopable, but not becoming ice cream soup. Smooshing solid ice cream with a wooden spoon will help achieve the right consistency.

We had success making a gluten-free version of these muffins using Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free-one-to-one Baking Flour. If making these muffins gluten-free, add 15 minutes of baking time and be sure to let the muffins cool for at least two hours before serving. (This helps make them less gummy).

We did not like a vegan version of these muffins made with dairy-free ice cream; the crumb fell apart and the texture was disappointing. If you can’t find self-rising flour, you can make your own with the related recipe.

INGREDIENTS

Generous one-and-one-third cups vanilla ice cream, softened

One cup self-rising flour

Two teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (optional)

Three-quarter cup fresh blueberries

Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or line with muffin liners.

In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, soften the ice cream until it is the consistency of soft serve, then combine it with the flour and lemon zest, if using, until mostly incorporated. Gently fold in the blueberries, working to distribute them evenly but trying to not crush them. The batter will be very thick.

Portion a scant one-quarter cup of the batter into each well of the muffin tin and sprinkle the tops with the turbinado sugar, if using. Bake for 30-33 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are golden and domed and a tester inserted into the centre of the muffin comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to warm or completely before unmolding. Eat warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition per serving, based on 6 | Calories: 193; Total Fat: 7g; Saturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 32mg; Sodium: 300mg; Carbohydrates: 27g; Dietary Fibre: 1g; Sugar: 10g; Protein: 4g

SELF-RISING FLOUR

Five minutes

One serving (makes one cup)

Self-rising flour is a lower-protein all-purpose flour mixed with baking powder and salt. It’s popular in many Southern baking recipes and can be found in many grocery stores, particularly in the South. If store-bought self-rising proves hard to find, it’s a cinch to make at home.

Keep in mind that if using a higher protein all-purpose flour, such as King Arthur Baking brand, your crumb will be a bit tougher/sturdier than with the softer flour variety.

Storage: It’s best to mix self-rising flour as you need it, as exposure to air will oxidise the mixture and lessen its efficacy. However, it can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to two weeks.

INGREDIENTS

One cup all-purpose flour

One-and-a-half teaspoons baking powder

One-quarter teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt

DIRECTIONS

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt until thoroughly combined.

Nutrition per serving (one cup) | Calories: 458; Total Fat: 1g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 1,066mg; Carbohydrates: 97g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugar: 0g; Protein: 13g