Go bananas or gone bananas -- an idiom implying one is or has gone mildly crazy. When it comes to well-made muffins, I am not mildly crazy about them, I am certifiably crazy about them. I prefer a muffin to a cupcake, and, to be clear, I personally would choose a banana-nut muffin over a banana chocolate-chip muffin. That said, it's not always about me: some folks dislike or have a bona fide allergy to nuts, and, unlike me, many others just love and crave chocolate.
"Let's meet for coffee." It's something I rarely agree to, but, when I do, if I can order a muffin too, I do. The golden-domed banana-nut muffin I ordered at a local café yesterday sucked. When I pushed it to the side after nibbling on two small pieces, my friend Bob offered to try a piece. He agreed it had about as much taste as tofu, suggested that chocolate chips might taste better (than nuts), then made the questioning statement, "that's if chocolate chips can be substituted for nuts." Bob's not a cook. I replied, "One reason the muffin has no flavor is the bananas used were not ripe enough, and yes, chocolate chips can be substituted for nuts, or, you can add 'em both. It's like making chocolate-chip cookies with or without nuts -- you do what you like best."
"So, what's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake?" One tasteless banana muffin turned into an interesting conversation (and this blog post). Generally speaking, I like to keep the answer to this question simple. A cupcake is a cup-sized cake with a light, soft texture, and, a muffin is a cup-sized loaf of "quick-bread" (a quick-to-mix-together bread leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda rather than yeast) with a denser, crumbier texture. A cupcake is sweeter than a muffin and a muffin is sweeter than a traditional loaf of bread with one caveat: a muffin can be savory too, a cupcake cannot. Cupcakes are usually piped or slathered with frosting, while muffins get nothing at all, a sprinkling of sparkling, coarse-textured sugar, and/or, a crumbly streusel sprinkled on their tops -- sometimes they have a thin glaze too, but, that's not my cup-of-tea. Cupcakes are, in fact: dessert. Muffins can be dessert, but, they are generally considered a breakfast treat. To say that muffins are inherently healthier is a misconception -- the muffin you get a your local bakery or Starbucks often have as many as 600+ calories.
I eat a pretty yellow banana almost every day of my life. Pretty yellow: that is my favorite stage of ripeness for eating and it's one of my favorite snacks on a busy day. I only buy bananas 2-3 at a time because I won't eat them past pretty yellow.
That said, when I know I'm going to be baking banana muffins or banana bread, I purchase my bananas about week ahead of time. The bananas pictured here took a full 7-8 days to get to the perfect banana-muffin ripeness. Over-ripe bananas, are incredibly fragrant, sweet and flavorful -- a lot more than the pretty yellow ones.
Time to bake banana-nut chocolate-chip muffins.
2 - 2 1/4 cups mashed bananas, from 5-6 large, over-ripe bananas (pictured above)
For the wet ingredients:
1 cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons each: banana and vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
For the dry ingredients:
4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
For the add-ins:
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin cups
~Step 1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly-spray the cups in standard-sized muffin tins (enough for 24 muffins) with no-stick cooking spray and set aside. Chop and place the nuts in a small baking pan and lightly-toast them for about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Note: If you are using unsalted butter, increase the amount of salt to 3/4 teaspoon.
In a second medium bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, process the bananas until "mashed". Measure and set aside 2-2 1/4 cups.
~Step 2. Place butter, sugar, eggs and extracts in a large bowl. Starting on medium mixer speed and working up to high, cream these ingredients together, about 30-45 seconds, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula the entire time. Lower mixer speed and blend in the milk, followed by the mashed bananas. In 2-3 increments, thoroughly incorporate the dry ingredients. Remove mixer and use the spatula to fold in the nuts and chocolate chips by hand.
~ Step 3. Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, distribute batter into each of 24 muffin tins whose cups have been sprayed lightly with no-stick cooking spray. If there is any batter left in the bowl, use a teaspoon to distribute and dollop a bit of additional batter into the center of each muffin cup.
~ Step 4. Bake muffins, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until puffed up, golden, and, a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes. Remove from oven to cool, in pans, on a wire rack for 5-6 minutes. Use a sharp paring knife to carefully and gently loosen and remove muffins from tins to cool on rack completely, about 1 hour.
Muffin(s) going into oven to bake in 350° oven, 20-22 minutes:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; small baking pan; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; standard-size muffin tins, enough for 2 dozen muffins; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife
Cook's Note: Corn muffins are an example of savory muffins that get served as a side-dish. They taste spectacular with a bowl of chile, a rack of barbecued spareribs and Tex-Mex breakfast casseroles. I take my recipe for ~ It's a Triple-Corn Jalapeno Corn-Muffin Kinda Day ~ very seriously. You can find it in Categories 5, 9, 13 or 20.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)