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Celebrating National Muffin Day with machine learning

If you’re here you’re probably wondering: what on Earth is the connection between muffins and machine learning, and what is National Muffin Day? To understand this, let’s start with National Muffin Day: an annual holiday started by Jacob in 2015 to bake muffins and raise money for homelessness. National Muffin Day will occur on Sunday, February 20 this year. For more information on how to participate in National Muffin Day (which involves delicious baked goods and donations to people in need), please see the information at the bottom of this post. Last year, a colleague connected Jacob with Sara, who had done several baking projects that used machine learning to generate new recipes. They decided to collaborate for this year’s National Muffin Day, adding a new muffin recipe created with the help of machine learning.

In this post, we’ll explain how Sara used Google Cloud to develop a new muffin recipe, show you how you can participate virtually in National Muffin Day, and of course—share the recipe.

Machine learning for muffins

At its core, machine learning is the process of finding patterns in data and using those patterns to make predictions on new data. After a lot of baking over the past few years, Sara learned that baking is also based on patterns. For example, the ratio of flour, fat, liquid, and sugar that make up a cookie is very different from the ratio of those ingredients for a bread, a pie crust, or a muffin. She used that discovery to create a recipe for a hybrid cake + cookie, and a cake filled with Maltesers. Next up: muffins! 

The first step was figuring out how to translate the task of generating a new muffin recipe into a machine learning task. To solve this, she planned to use numerical data on the amounts of different ingredients in a muffin recipe to train the model. Sara considered two types of models for this task: classification and regression. A classification model would categorize muffin recipes into different muffin types based on their ingredient amounts, and a regression model would do the reverse: take a type of muffin and return the amount of each ingredient needed to make it. She decided to build a regression model, since it would be more fun for the model to return ingredient amounts, rather than tell you which type of muffin recipe you’re already making. 

Implementing this first required identifying a few muffin categories and collecting recipe data. This presented a new challenge, since her previous baking models used categories for distinct baked goods (i.e. cakes, cookies, breads). After scouring through quite a few recipes, Sara discovered that many muffins fall into two types: those that use only traditional ingredients as their base (flour, sugar, butter, milk, etc.), and those that include an alternative ingredient, most commonly a pureed fruit, to make the base (like bananas, applesauce, or pumpkin). Using those two categories, the model would take the type of muffin as input and return the amounts of base ingredients required to make that recipe. Here, the inputs can be any values adding up to 100%:

The next step in the ML process was collecting recipe data to use for model training and narrowing down the ingredients used to train the model. Sara wanted the model to learn the combination of core ingredients that make up a muffin batter, rather than flavorings and additions like blueberries, vanilla extract, or chocolate chips. These tasty additions could be added after the model helped create the muffin batter. Once she gathered enough recipes, she removed extra ingredients for training purposes and converted ingredients from different recipes into the same unit (grams, milliliters, and teaspoons).

Building a muffin model with Vertex AI

Sara uploaded the muffin ingredient data into BigQuery, and then created a notebook instance in Vertex AI Workbench to analyze the data. With the new Workbench managed instances, you can interactively query BigQuery tables directly from your instance and copy the code to download your data to a notebook as a Pandas DataFrame:

From her notebook instance, Sara experimented with different ML frameworks and model types. She landed on a Scikit-learn regression model to solve this task, and to mimic a real-world production environment, decided to convert this workflow into a ML pipeline. Using the Kubeflow Pipelines SDK, she ran the following on Vertex Pipelines:

The first component reads the ingredient data from BigQuery and converts it into a Pandas DataFrame which is passed to the next pipeline step. In this step, we train a custom Scikit-learn model on the recipe data. Finally, this model is deployed to an endpoint in Vertex AI. To put it all together, Sara built a web app that allowed her to easily generate ingredient amounts for different muffin types. The web app uses the Vertex AI SDK to call the deployed model endpoint and return ingredient amounts.

The recipe

With a deployed recipe generation model, the only thing left to do was test recipes in the kitchen! Because the model only returns ingredient amounts, there were still many key human elements to complete the baking process: adding yummy additions to the core muffin batter, making adjustments to optimize taste, determining the method for adding ingredients, baking time, and more. After testing a few recipes generated by the model, we landed on a favorite which we’re very excited to share with you here.

Berry ML Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Flour 285 grams (2 cups)

Granulated sugar 250 grams (1 cup)

Baking powder 2 teaspoons

Baking soda ¼ teaspoon

Salt ½ teaspoon

Cinnamon ½ teaspoon

Milk 170 ml (⅔ cup), room temperature

Butter 55 grams (¼ cup), melted and slightly cooled

Eggs 1 egg plus 1 egg white, room temperature

Canola or vegetable oil 50 grams (¼ cup)

Sour cream 50 grams (3 tablespoons + ¾ teaspoon), room temperature

Vanilla extract 1 ½ teaspoons

Blueberries or raspberries 240 grams (1 ½ cups)

Coarse sugar, like demerara or turbinado (optional for topping) 1 tablespoon 

Measure your three cold ingredients and allow them to come to room temperature: 1 egg + 1 egg white, sour cream, and milk. 

Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C. Line a 12-muffin tin with cupcake liners or lightly grease with baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

Melt your butter in a medium heat proof bowl, and allow it to cool slightly for a few minutes. Whisk in sugar until combined. Then add egg, oil, and vanilla, milk, and sour cream and whisk until fully incorporated.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing with a spatula until just combined. Be careful not to overmix, it’s ok if there are a few lumps in your batter.

Prepare your fruit. If you can’t decide whether to use blueberries or raspberries, divide your batter into two bowls and do both! Crush half of your fruit and fold it into the batter. Then mix in the remaining whole berries.

Divide the mixture evenly into the muffin tin. Optionally (but extra tasty), sprinkle the tops of each muffin with about ⅛ teaspoon of coarse sugar. Turbinado or demerara sugar work well for this. This will caramelize and add a nice texture to the tops of your muffins.

Bake at 375 for 22 – 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For best results, do a toothpick test in a few muffins since not all ovens have an even temperature throughout. Let the muffins cool in the muffin tin for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


How can you participate in National Muffin Day?

Participation in National Muffin Day is as easy as 1-2-3!

On February 20, Bake Muffins. It’s time to dust those muffin tins, grab your blueberries, chocolate chips, rhubarb, and favorite ingredients, and create some magical scrumdiddlyumptiousness! If you want to join Jacob in a virtual baking party, you can register here.

Then, Give. In non-pandemic years, we asked our bakers to personally hand muffins to hungry folks in their cities. While this is a valuable and rewarding experience, the current state of Covid means this practice is still unsafe, so we request that you refrain from doing this. Instead, if it feels safe, we encourage you to take your delicious baked goods and donate them to local homeless shelters, which can distribute them to those in need. Alternatively, you can share your muffins with friends and families and then make a donation to an organization that benefits people experiencing homelessness, like the ones listed below in step 3.

Share Your Muffin Pics on Social Media. We’d love to see your muffins!  Share your pictures on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtags #givemuffins, or share them to our official Facebook Event page. For each individual baker who participates, we will make donations to Project Homeless Connect, which provides much needed resources to people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, Family promise, which supports unhoused families nationwide, and Pine Street Inn which provides resources for people experiencing homelessness in Boston. Donations will be on a per-baker basis (with up to $80 donated per baker!), so please feel free to loop in your significant others, kids, nieces and nephews, roommates, friends, and anybody else with a giving spirit who loves deliciousness!

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