JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

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

Last week's news that the government supposedly 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 in a report by 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. The IG stands by the report.

Which all kind of misses the most compelling issues. If you did spend $16 on a muffin, what would it look like? How would it taste? Is it even possible?

The typical muffin baked in an institutional setting such as a hotel costs about 50 cents or less, not counting 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.

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$16 MUFFINS

Start to finish: 1 hour

Makes 12 very over-the-top muffins

For the muffins:

2 1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted cultured butter

1/2 cup maple sugar

1/2 cup imported honey (the rarer the better)