I should call this post ‘why this blog was invented’ but it doesn’t sound as appetising as its current title. Muffins were one of the first things I ever baked and, as the photo below shows, I’ve used this recipe quite a few times since. So I really need to post it here before it becomes illegible and lost forever.
I learnt how to make muffins in the States, the place which is, as far as I’m concerned, home to the best ‘portable’ baking around. Yes I know the French are good at patisserie and all that light flaky breakfast and dessert flummery but for a yummy small cake, something that you can carry around which satisfies the need for sugar, chocolate and fat-flavoured pleasure, the US does it best. Think donuts, brownies or the current fashionable darling, the cupcake. And, of course, American muffins.
Now you may have bought many an attractively sugar-dusted muffin from a coffee shop, all chocolate lumps and pretty wrapping, only to bite into a deceptive dry-as dust-interior. Or in a moment of elevenses desperation you’ve succumbed to a plastic-sealed muffin as a last resort, and found it lacking in both taste and texture. I have done both and I always wonder why I bothered. Especially since I know that muffins are not keepers; they need to be eaten as soon as possible after baking and preferably whilst still warm.
But since they are an absolute beginners’ dream when it comes to technique, and take very little time to make, then there is no real reason to bake them in advance. Once you’ve measured out and prepped the ingredients, there are only five steps:
- Mix the dry ingredients together;
- Mix the liquids together;
- Combine a) and b);
- Quickly add the flavourings (in this case bananas, walnuts and chocolate);
As you may just be able to make out, this recipe started out life in a food magazine as pear and almond muffins; for some reason I always substituted overripe bananas and walnuts and then, once that worked, I added other stuff. Sometimes I mix in different nuts, a teaspoonful of cocoa, more chocolate, less banana. In terms of flavourings, as long as you keep the proportions below, so one and a half cups of something fruity and nutty, or sweet and chocolatey or whatever mix you like, to the amount listed of dry/liquid ingredients, you can play with this as much as you like.
The only thing to remember with muffins is that, unlike most cakes, they really really hate mixing. Overdo it and they become dry and tough. Be gentle with them and they’ll stay moist and soft.
Banana, Nut and Chocolate Muffins
NB tsp = teaspoon
You will need:
12-cup muffin tray, lined with paper cases
US cup measures or a conversion table
1 3/4 cups plain (or all-purpose) flour
1/3 cup sugar (I use whatever’s about, but granulated and caster are probably best)
2 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup cooking oil (something without a strong flavour so sunflower is good)
1/2 cup finely chopped very ripe banana (the best bananas for this are ones that have gone black, been peeled, their flesh chopped up, stored in a freezer-proof box, frozen then defrosted when needed. Something about freezing really ripe banana flesh turns them almost liquid and though it looks odd, it’s perfect)
1/2 cup chopped plain chocolate
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 400F, 200C or gas 6. Knock off 20C for fan-assisted ovens.
1) Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. I don’t usually think this is very important, especially if the ingredients are going through a mixer or processor but in this case it is: you want as few lumps as possible in the flour since you’ll have no chance to mix them out.
2. Mix together the milk, oil and egg.
If you haven’t already done it prep your flavourings at this point. Chop, or even beat the banana to a pulp (it will barely need this if it’s been frozen and defrosted), chop up the walnuts and the chocolate. A mezza luna (double-bladed and double-handled chopper) is good for this…
3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones in a large bowl and mix in as quickly and deftly as you can.
4. Add the bananas, nuts and chocolate and, again, stir in with as few strokes as you can.
The mixture will be lumpy as below but this is normal.
5. Fill the muffin paper cases about 2/3rds full and bake for 20-25 minutes. They are done, as are most cakes, when something sharp (knife, skewer, chopstick) inserted into the centre comes out clean and they are risen and golden. Depending on your oven’s character you might need to knock off or add a few minutes.
Let them cool for a few minutes in the tin, then on a cooling rack. Eat as soon as you can. And if you must keep them, the best way to do that is freeze them as soon as they’re cool then defrost them when you want to eat them. (A foil-wrapped muffin taken from the freezer first thing is usually defrosted by elevenses…)