Sunday, May 6, 2007

Nothing says springtime like muffins


It was a gorgeous day in Santa Cruz today. I suspect the weather was up to 80 degrees, pretty warm if you ask me. It certainly feels like summer is around the corner. So why the desire the crank up the oven to 375 degrees in an effort to make a not so refreshing treat? It's thanks to the newest member of my cookbook collection: Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson.

The first food blog I ever came across was Heidi's 101 cookbooks, and I've been going back to her blog daily ever since its discovery. I haven't spent any time with her previous cookbook, Cook 1.0 , but her new book is gorgeous. She incorporates stunning photography with delicious recipes, with a focus on natural and whole ingredients. It's the first cookbook I've wanted to read cover to cover as it's packed with great information about incorporating natural and whole foods into your cooking. Some of the ingredients I've already discovered while working in the natural food industry, like agave syrup; others are a bit more esoteric, and I suspect, pretty difficult to find. She does have a list of resources in the appendix for anyone who has trouble finding ingredients at their local grocery or natural food store. I'm looking forward to making her Risotto-Style Barley, Crema de Guacamole soup, Gnocchi alla Romana, and her Giant Crusty and Creamy White Beans with Greens. I'm eager to recommend her book to everyone, especially those who haven't jumped into the world of natural foods yet.

So back to the muffins. The black bananas on my fridge were begging to be baked, so I gave them what they wanted. I've truly only baked a handful of times, usually trying banana bread, or a derivative. I've found in my limited experience that it is extremely difficult to get the right amount of wet ingredients to ensure a a moist end product. I was optimistic about the mixture of butter, bananas, and yogurt in Heidi's creation. It seemed destined for a successful end product. And sure enough I ended up with muffins with a nice moist interior, but subtly golden brown on the outside.

I did improvise quite a bit when it came to the ingredients. Choosing to be frugal, I opted for the three year old, unsealed bag of Unbleached All Purpose Flour thats been hiding in my cabinet (I chose to ignore the purpose of the chapter which was to incorporate a variety of whole grains into cooking.) I used salted butter, Greek yogurt instead of regular old plain, and omited cupcake papers. On the flip side I was happy to incorporate organic walnuts that I purchased at my local farmer's market, use some of the vanilla paste I bought at Trader Joe's, and take advantage of the sample of organic cane sugar I received at my last job. I do eat a good amount of all-natural and organic products, but at this point I'm still using up ingredients I have on hand exchanging them for better quality organic products whenever the opportunity arises, and in some cases, like the poor flour, the opportunity doesn't arise frequently.

Either way the end product turned out well. The batter base seems to me a good template for more varieties of muffin. Next time I would probably try the same recipe sans Espresso powder, with the addition of other fruits and spices. I found the espresso was fairly subtle, so don't expect this to replace your daily coffee craving; although, I would still recommend this to anyone looking for a yummy breakfast muffin.

Here is Heidi's recipe with my own instructions (I'm still trying to figure out copyright laws, so bear with me. . .):

Makes 12 Muffins

  • 2 cups white whole-wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped toasted walnuts (toast in the oven about 4 minutes at 350 degrees)
  • 1 tablespoon fine espresso powder
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup natural cane sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 3 large bananas)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line your muffin tin with papers.

Mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, sea salt, 3/4 cup of the walnuts, and espresso powder. Set aside.

Cream the butter using a mixer, or good ole' fashioned hand mixing. Add sugar, continue to cream. Stir in eggs. Mix in the vanilla, yogurt (my favorite plain yogurt is Greek style), and mashed bananas.

Pour wet ingredients into dry mixture, and combine just until mixed through.

Spoon mixture into the muffin tin.

Bake for 25 minutes, or longer. Check for doneness with a toothpick (it comes out clean when it's finished baking). Let the muffins rest in their tin on the counter for about 5 minutes, then take them out and rest on a rack to finish cooling.

Enjoy for breakfast, or anytime you need a little pick-me-up.