Thursday, March 31, 2011

Muffin Madness: Runner Muffins

I received a request! This was the one and only muffin request for the month of madness, so it had to be obliged. My brother, who is training to run Grandma’s Marathon, requested a muffin that he could eat before and after a run. Preferably one that had oatmeal, banana and no nuts. To me, such a muffin should be fairly healthy and sustaining. This called for whole wheat flour and no refined sugar. It takes your body longer to break down and digest whole grains, and honey raises your blood sugar slower than refined sugar, so honey would be the only sweetener for these muffins.

Using honey instead of sugar is a bit tricky. This website was the most helpful at making the substitution. The key to cooking with honey is to realize that it’s also a liquid and takes care of some of the liquid in the recipe, as well as the sugar. It is acidic so you need more baking soda. Additionally, it browns quicker than white sugar, so turn your oven temp down 25 degrees. I did not heed this warning and the edges of my muffins crisped and almost burnt while the insides were still cooking. I’ve adjusted the oven temperature for the recipe to follow. One more thing about honey, is that it’s touted to help mitigate allergies, and local honey is best. This may not be scientifically proven, but who cares, it can’t hurt.

While my brother requested no nuts, and I actually don’t like nuts either, I was tempted to add almonds because I have a new found love for them. We had some sliced almonds already for making granola, so I borrowed some of those, whacked them a bit in a plastic bag and came up with some nice crushed almonds. I dislike eating something soft and coming upon a hard, unwelcome nut. Which is why I chose to crush up my almonds. You can add any nut you like to this recipe or skip them altogether. If you keep the nuts they’ll had some more health benefits. The sliced/crushed almonds blended well with the shape of the rolled oats, so they didn’t interfere with the texture of the muffin much.

An ice cream scoop is a handy tool for doling out batter.
Please note the wonderful texture of the batter, mmmm!

Really, this is a great recipe if you’re looking for a good healthy, sustaining muffin. Also, if you have anger that you need to get out, mashing bananas and smacking a bag of almonds is cathartic. But if they’re healthy they probably taste like cardboard, right? NO! These are quite delicious. The official muffin taster enjoyed them and said that they didn’t taste healthy. Which I take to mean that they didn’t taste like cardboard. At work these little gems went surprisingly quick considering I touted them as “good for you.” Bear in mind, I have no science or data to back up my claims of health. However, what is good for the soul must also be good for the body.

Banana mashing: more stress relieving than yoga.

Some recipe notes: I found a banana oatmeal recipe that used allspice for seasoning, most banana muffin recipes didn’t have spices and I found this intriguing. As a result of our canning last summer, the only allspice we had was whole, and I was too lazy to grind it up (I already ground the flour, that’s quite enough). So I smelled the allspice, realized it smelled a lot like cloves, which I did have, and I used those instead. It’d be lovely to try these with allspice too, but you can really use whatever spice you like. Also, my bananas were fairly large, so I used two. You don’t need an exact amount of banana, but if you feel your batter is too dry or wet, adjust the amount of milk you use to make it all okay.

The Stuff
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup sliced raw almonds, left as is or bashed up
2 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp allspice/cloves/whatever you like
2 ripe bananas
1 egg, beaten
½ cup milk
½ cup honey
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

The Process
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, almonds, baking soda, salt and spice. Make a well in the center.
  2. In a medium bowl, peel (I shouldn’t have to tell you that) and mash the bananas. Add the beaten egg, milk, butter and vanilla, whisk together thoroughly. Add the honey (this is where a kitchen scale is really useful) and stir together completely.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry and carefully combine. Once all ingredients are incorporated, divide into muffin tin until just to the top, there should be enough batter for 12 muffins.
  4. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Turning once. Stick a toothpick in them to make sure the centers are done, but don’t be confused if you hit a banana chunk. I believe these are best after being fully cooled.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Muffin Madness: America Muffins

If you don’t like these muffins you don’t like America.

My husband and I recently moved into a new house in East Nashville from the suburbs and we want to have people over to see the new digs. So we had a small party themed: America! (the idea was not mine, but my friend Monica’s). It was like Independence Day in March. But with more cold, rain, and staying inside. But we still managed to grill out, have a fire, and eat lots of food.

Of course for an America party we needed America muffins. Andy wanted to dye the muffins red or blue. When I worked at a bagel shop one summer they dyed the plain bagels red and blue, and unfortunately the colors blended and the end result was odd-looking purple bagels. So I wasn’t into dying the muffins. But I remembered making blueberry muffins once with frozen blueberries and the batter turned blue from the squished berries, so I thought that might work well. It didn’t.

Even without blue muffins, I could achieve the red, white and blue with blueberries, strawberries and a cream cheese center. And that worked just great! The official muffin tatser, Andy declared that the muffins were fluffy, though they had too much fruit to stay together well. Additionally, these were the healthiest tasting muffins he’s had in Muffin Madness. I made a strawberry cream cheese topping that even my cat Buster enjoyed while the rest of us were out around the fire.

All balled up and ready to roll.

Some recipe notes: I used up the rest of my buttermilk and then topped it off with regular (soy) milk. Either would work well for this recipe. One thing that I learned from Cookwise by Shirley Corriher is that heavy ingredients, such as blueberries and strawberries, stay up not because you dredged them in flour, but due to the thickness of the batter. As a result this is a thick batter that can hold up the berries and the cream cheese, and I stir the berries in at the end. Since the official tester thought there were too many berries, I cut the amount of each from a heaping half cup, to simply a half cup. Last, if you want to make a cream cheese topping reserve some cream cheese (I bought an 8 oz. package and used the leftovers for the topping), chop up a few strawberries, a little powdered sugar and stir together vigorously. It helps to refrigerate this and let your muffins cool completely before applying.

The Good Stuff
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

1 cup milk/buttermilk (you may need just a tad over 1 cup, stir the batter together to get a feel for if you need more)
¼ cup melted butter
Zest of 1 lemon
1 egg

½ cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ cup strawberries, chopped
3 oz cream cheese (or more if you’d like a topping)

The Elbow Grease
  1. Whisk together your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center.
  2. In another bowl, beat your egg. Add milk, lemon zest, and melted butter. Stir until combined. Add chopped strawberries and blueberries.
  3. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir carefully until fully combined. Portion out ½ of the batter for each muffin into the tin.
  4. Cut up cream cheese enough for 12 muffins. Roll into little balls, if you care about esthetics. Add a ball to each ½ fill muffin cup. Top with remaining batter.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Turning once. Poke with a toothpick to ensure done. Let cool completely before topping. U.S.A.!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Muffin Madness: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

Any challenge is going to have its ups and downs. I was down last week because I was up in Minnesota and laying down due to a back problem. Not down as in sad, no no no, I was quite happy. Just busy, and hurt, and unable to make my second batch of muffins for the week. I tried though! My plan was to impose on my hostess, make muffins and use her Internet to post a blog. I even brought vital gluten up with me in a zipper bag so I wouldn’t have find more, and because bringing a fine powder along with you in a carry on isn’t suspicious at all. At any rate, I apologize to the diligent followers of my blog (hi Mom!) and I’m back in action.

Action indeed! My my, these little beauties are delicious. I believe that without my break to Minnesota I wouldn’t have let this recipe marinate in my mind for as long and I probably wouldn’t have made them as delicious. I’ve learned my lesson by now and played things safe by basing my recipe directly from 500 Best Muffin Recipes. Except I noticed there wasn’t enough flour, and I switched it to wheat flour, added some vital gluten, chocolate chips, swapped the vanilla extract for almond and added a peanut butter topping. So maybe it’s not so directly from the book anymore. This recipe made me the happiest because I’d used what I learned, followed my instincts and things turned out delicious. And to be honest, I don’t really like peanut butter.

One thing I did this time that I haven’t done for awhile is use muffin cups. It’s silly for me to be against muffin cups, but I find them pointless and wasteful. With the frequency of my baking and use of sticky ingredients, muffin cups have become a better and better idea. Much to my delight the muffin cup section at the grocery has expanded! You can get pastel cups, heart cups, tin cups, Norwegian cups, and in honor of recent air strikes in Libya... fighter plane cups!! Also, they were on sale.

Who doesn't want their baked goods to be in fighter mode?

Are you ready for the recipe yet?

Locked and loaded.

A couple of notes first. I used all whole wheat flour (instead of half whole wheat and half white) because I had vital gluten which creates elasticity and softens the muffin crumb. Don’t be afraid of vital gluten (unless you have a gluten allergy, then be very afraid)! I found it in the bulk section of Whole Foods, but Bob’s Red Mill also sells it. If you’re serious about making things with whole wheat I whole-heartedly recommend using vital gluten. If you are afraid of vital gluten, you can make a combination of white (unbleached) and wheat flour. I used a natural peanut butter with only one ingredient: peanuts. I can’t guarantee the taste, texture or deliciousness of your muffins if you use something with added sugar or odd preservatives. If you don’t want random crap in your muffins, don’t buy a product with random crap in it. Last, don’t skimp on the buttermilk. I think it gives the wheat muffin a little kick that regular milk would not. We made our own buttermilk (and butter) but that’s for another post.

The Goods:

2 cups whole wheat flour
⅓ cup brown sugar
2 tsp vital gluten
1 ¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ cup buttermilk
½ cup peanut butter
1 egg
½ tsp almond extract
1 cup chocolate chips

4 tbs peanut butter
2 ½ tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp unbleached flour
½ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp salt
Enough warm water to make the topping the consistency you desire
Extra chocolate chips to press into the topping

Go for it!
  1. Whisk together the wheat flour, brown sugar, vital gluten, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center. In another bowl beat the egg, then add the peanut butter, buttermilk, and almond extract.
  2. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and add the chocolate chips. Stir carefully until well combined. Divide into 12 (lined!) muffin cups.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Stick a toothpick in the to make sure they’re good and done.
  4. To make the topping stir together all ingredients (except water and chocolate chips). Add the water a little at a time until you get to the consistency you like. It may take awhile. It wasn’t easy to spread so I piped mine on using a plastic bag with the corner cut. Press chocolate chips into the top and admire your greatness!
Look at the power in that wrist! You may want to do some wrist warm ups prior to performing this culinary technique.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Muffin Madness: Lemon Curd Muffins

Lemons are great, just great. Ever since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed lemons. I believe it started when my brothers and I were playing Truth or Dare and I was dared to drink a spoonful of lemon juice concentrate. Much to their chagrin I helped myself to a second spoonful and savored the tartness. Later on my oldest brother Brian would take me over to his girlfriend’s house and she’d slice up lemons for me to chew on. I was really disappointed when they broke up. In middle school and high school I was the baker of all things sweet and my favorite thing to make (out of the box at that point) was lemon cake. I made a lot of lemon cake so I could eat a lot of lemon cake. It was a perfect cycle.

Despite my early taste for lemon juice concentrate, it wasn’t going to make an appearance in my muffins. I wanted to get a true sweet tart lemon flavor. Recently Andy’s mom sent us old issues of Cooks Illustrated and their Icebox Lemon Cheesecake hasn’t gotten out of my head. I read that it’s quite easy to make lemon curd and that really upped the lemon flavor. While perusing the grocery aisles I found lemon curd; however, all the ingredients (except the preservatives) were things I already had at home. Why buy something when I can make it for “free” at home? Also, if you’re not sure what lemon curd is, just think of it like lemon pudding. I think it may be the same as the bottom of lemon meringue pie.

Fresh lemon curd on the right

The amount ingredients in these muffins seems ridiculously small, compared to my previous experiments. I took that as a good sign though, the more lemon ingredients the more lemon flavor. A note on lemons, I’ve had bad luck with non-organic oranges being watery, flavorless and mostly pith. I assume lemons might have the same issue, so I went with organic lemons. This is also a good choice anytime you’re zesting a fruit. If there are pesticides on the skin of the fruit, in they go into your batter. Of course, wash and dry your lemons well.

Juicing fruit is fun and I managed to get a lot of juice out of 2 lemons. It was enough for making curd and the muffins. As I have never used curd before it didn’t work out the way I was imagining. In my mind the lemon curd would be a gooey-tart center, tasted in the first bite. In reality it incorporated into the muffin and became a layer of lemon that popped! It was delicious, but after realizing how the curd worked, I would have preferred to stir all of my fresh curd into the muffin mixture. It would have used up all of my curd and would have been good throughout the muffin.

The lemon curd "center"

Another problem was that there wasn’t enough batter again! I didn’t realize this ahead of time and so instead of making 10 muffins, I made 12 half size muffins. Diet muffins, we’ll say. So more flour is necessary, along with more leavening (and it was increased! This is a never-ending problem). A lemon glaze was proposed and dismissed after I used up all my lemon juice and didn’t want to cut up another lemon. My organic lemons performed splendidly, so I highly recommend using organic, it’s not that many lemons. There was a layering of lemon flavor and it really stood out.

The curd was just barely topped but is ready to go in the oven.

I adore my little muffins, but what’s the official word? Official taster, Andy, declared that the muffins didn’t need a glaze. Despite his “non-preference” for lemon-flavored things Andy said that he “could eat a lot of these.” Which is really all I need.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Muffin Madness: Bacon Corn Muffins

Oh dear, I’m beginning to see a pattern here. I’m into 2 weeks of serious muffin making and it turns out I’m much better suited to making sweet muffins than savory. The imagination is the same, combining ingredients, fussing about oven temperatures and baking times. However, my years of experience making sweet muffins simply overrides my desire to give savory muffins a go. This isn’t a story of disaster though. Just mediocrity. Lets get to the point.

You know things aren't going to go right when you absentmindedly use the vanilla soy milk instead of the plain.

When I think of savory muffins, corn muffins were one of the first savory ideas I had. Additionally, bacon seems to be a food trend and they put it in everything. Somehow bacon in a corn muffin didn’t seem all that crazy and would be a superior substitute for a more common cheesy corn muffin, and I’ve already done a cheesy muffin.

We have some awesome corn meal that we saw be ground at Readyville Mill in (could you guess it?) Readyville, TN. Before we purchased our own mill we ventured out there to see what a real stone ground flour was about. It was a fun experience and the mill is beautiful in a well-worn sort of way. The people there were really friendly and along with my bag of stone ground corn meal I received a recipe for corn bread.

My assumption that corn bread made in a hot cast iron skillet and corn muffins made in a cold tin pan would be the same. Not quite. Also, lesson learned; maybe a good idea to make the original recipe before you change it drastically and create a different food. At any rate, from the get go I noticed that there might be some troubles with this conversion. Mostly that there was too much liquid and the batter was not so much batter as... corn slurry. Slurry is never a good thing. I tried to add more corn meal, then white flour. Then I realized I didn’t actually beat the egg, so I added another egg, beaten this time. Was that a scientifically sound decision to create thickness? No. Not at all.

Bye bye bacon topping.

At any rate, I gave up, portioned the “batter” into the muffin tin, sprinkled the reserved bacon on top, tossed it in the over and sadly watched the bacon sink into the muffins. You see, without decent thickness, heavier ingredients in a muffin will sink to the bottom. That’s just what happened to my muffins. No... wait! What’s that? Volcano muffins?! Indeed, the corn muffins didn’t want the bacon on bottom, they wanted it on top! The extra bit of leavening in the muffins managed to push my sunken topping back through the center and create 12 mini-volcanoes.

Bacon lava!
So only some actually look like volcanoes. But still.

Despite this wonderful saving grace the muffins turned out so-so. They’re very (pardon me) corny. I tried to make them spicy and that didn’t really shine though as much as I hoped. The second egg made a denser muffin that is delicious with a chewy chocolaty muffin, not so welcome in a corn muffin. The bacon made for a few happy bites, wasn’t all at the bottom, but it could have been more prominent. Perhaps 6 strips instead of a meager 5 (make that 4 1/2, I couldn't help myself). What can’t be improved with a little more bacon?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Muffin Madness: Toffee Apple Muffins

While I did my study abroad in Ireland I frequented a coffee shop on the UCD campus called Insomnia which had the best Toffee Apple Muffins. I craved those muffins. When my brother came to visit I was really excited to introduce him to these muffins. Forget the historic sites of Ireland, Book of What? I need a muffin. The day came and Insomnia was out of muffins, which caused me much distress, so I wandered Dublin with my brother in search of other Insomnia shops for far too long. It actually shouldn’t have been difficult as one block in Dublin has two such shops, but my sense of the city wasn’t so good. My hunger-induce hallucinations didn’t help either.

At any rate, these were were muffins I was willing to go out of my way for. Since I’ve returned I’ve been searching for toffee apple muffins and to my dismay none have appeared. In honor of Muffin Madness, it became time to make them myself.

Since my last batch was a not as successful as I would have liked, I decided to play it safe with these guys and only slighly adapt a recipe. Once again my copy of 500 Best Muffins proved invaluable and I adapted the basic apple muffin recipe. These ones turned out very tasty with soft toffee and sweet apples. Andy (the Official Muffin Taster) ate 2 mini muffins and demanded I take the rest to work, lest he eat them all.

Not quite toffee, just melted butter, sugar and lots of stirring.

The end product! Delicious, buttery toffee.

Toffee Apple Muffins
Makes a dozen and 3 mini muffins (if you so choose)

First, some notes: Andy made the toffee for us, which is quite simple to do. Take equal parts sugar, butter, a little salt and put on low heat. Stir, stir, stir! One everything gets up to 300 degrees F, pour it out into a greased pan with tin foil and let cool. Before it’s all cool score it into squares to break apart later. Also, I think more baking powder will improve the shape and fluffiness of the muffins, so I’m increasing it. And my streusel topping managed to slide right off and onto the pan, so I’m altering it a bit so that won’t be an issue.

2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
⅛ tsp nutmeg
2 eggs beaten
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbs butter, melted
1 diced apple (you can peel it if you want, I’m not into that. If you want to dice ahead of time, mix apple chunks with lemon juice to prevent browning)
¾ cup toffee crushed (it was about 1 cup uncrushed with lots of empty space, just put toffee chunks into a plastic zip bag, think of something that makes you angry and smack the bag with a pan! It’s a lot of fun)

⅓ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Make a well in the center.
  2. In smaller bowl beat eggs. Whisk in milk, vanilla and melted butter. Pour mixture into dry ingredients. Add apple and toffee and stir carefully together.
  3. Mix together cinnamon and brown sugar for the topping.
  4. Pour batter into paper lined muffin tin (you’ll appreciate having the paper cups later), fill about to the top. Sprinkle with the topping, saving any extra for yourself.
  5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, turning once.