Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I love banana chocolate chip muffins. Back in my early 20’s when I was managing a popular mall retail store, I made a point every day to head down to my favorite coffee shop and order a banana chocolate chip muffin to go with my coffee. Somehow it set the tempo for my day — sweet banana flavor in a cake format accompanied by a scattering of milk chocolate chips sent me into a sugar shock that took hours to come down from.

GoodmorninghowcanIhelpyou?

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

The flavor of these muffins is oh-so-good. My only real disappointment is in their appearance; I wish they had risen more like mushrooms, rather than the stunted boxed-corn-muffin look. Once you take a bite that disappointment abates because they’re just so darn scrumptious.

Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins
Courtesy of Bon Appétit

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease twelve 1/3-cup muffin cups with butter flavored spray. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Mix mashed bananas, egg, melted butter and milk in medium bowl. Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients just until blended (do not overmix). Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake muffins until tops are pale golden and tester inserted into center comes out with some melted chocolate attached but no crumbs, about 32 minutes. Transfer muffins to rack; cool.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins 2

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MoM Aug. ‘09 – ATK American Classics: Whoopie Pies

I was first introduced to Whoopie Pies by Martha Stewart who made them with her sons during one of her shows. I was really interested in the recipe, which I put into a plain notepad file on my PC desktop where it’s sat there for years, untouched. “One day, I’ll make these,” I’d tell myself, and of course never get around to it. Our latest Magazine of the Month had printed its own delectable version, so I decided to jump right in!

American Classics - Mini

Not really a cookie and not quite a cake, Whoopie Pies are about as big as your head and filled with a light, fluffy concoction of either vegetable shortening or marshmallow creme. This one brought to us by ATK involves marshmallow, which scared me at first because I’m not big on having a mouthful of marshmallow. When I took my first bite and found that the marshmallow had been diluted and refined slightly by adding lots of butter and a pinch of salt, a wonderful balance had been reached. The chocolate sandwich portion is quite soft and cake-like in texture, but strong enough to be held in your hands without breaking. You may think these are quite unremarkable, as did I when I first assembled them. But after I took the first bite — and then couldn’t stop myself — I realized how truly remarkable this little American classic is. Reportedly, when Amish farmers found these in their lunch pails, they would shout, “Whoopie!”

Whoopie Pies

Whoopie, indeed!

Whoopie Pies
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen: American Classics
Serves 6

Cakes
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar (as fresh as you can get)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool (I stick mine in the microwave for about 10 seconds)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Filling
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 tablespoon salt
1 3/4 – 2 cups marshmallow creme (just dump the whole jar of fluff in there)

For the cakes: Adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

With electric mixer on medium speed, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in egg until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, then beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and beat in one-third of flour mixture then half of buttermilk. Repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, then remaining buttermilk, and finally the remaining flour mixture. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir.

Using 1/3 cup measure, scoop 6 mounds of batter onto each baking sheet ,spacing mounds about 3 inches apart. (Be sure to do this — they will spread out, big time!)

Whoopie Pies - batter
Sure, they look like German Shepard sized dog turds, but I promise they’ll come out of the oven looking delicious.

Bake until cakes spring back when pressed, 15 to 18 minutes, switching and rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool completely on baking sheets, at least 1 hour.

Whoopie Pies - baked
See? Amazing.

For the filling: With mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate filling until slightly firm, about 30 minutes. (Bowl can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Dollop 1/3 cup filling on center of flat side of 6 cakes. Top with flat side of remaining 6 cakes and gently press until filling spreads to edge of cake. Serve. Whoopie Pies can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 3 days.

Whoopie Pies - assembly

P.S. You’re welcome for the dog turd comment. LOL

Comparing Blueberry-Lemon Frozen Yogurts

Recently, Michael Ruhlman commented on an article about the inevitable extinction of home cooking. He disagreed with this idea, and called out two blogs in praise of home cooks. I had never heard of either so I checked them out.

Like with most successful food blogs, the photographs were fantastic, but the blog that really called out to me the most was Simply Recipes. I went home that night and tried out two things featured there… and was disappointed with both.

The point of this discussion isn’t to trash the other blog. I was just a little more disappointed than usual because Michael Ruhlman called them out and I switched my cooking line up to make them and they didn’t quite deliver. Now I’m left with “meh” and “eh” to post about. Delicious food is the ideal topic to write about, but I don’t always cook those. I know I’m not the only one. So now, in regards to these flailed and flopped dishes, the eternal blog foodie question: To post, or not to post?

I think, post.

So, this week I recreated Simply Recipe’s Blueberry Lemon Frozen Yogurt. This is not our first blueberry frozen yogurt. You may or may not remember that for our June 2008 Magazine of the Month, Food & Wine Magazine, we dug into Jeni Briton’s Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt. (Actually, I think this was our premiere Magazine of the Month post!) A well-known ice cream artisan, Jeni Briton’s creations knock your socks off every single time and that’s exactly what her frozen yogurt did. Because that was my first experience, this other concoction had a lot to live up to.

Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

Here it is coming out of the ice cream machine. It’s very, um, mauve. Don’t get me wrong, I actually kind of like it. After it sat in the freezer overnight, it darkened to a really, really deep purple (cough, mauve).

Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
Adapted from Simply Recipes

3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (about 1 1lb)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup to 1 cup of sugar (depending on how sweet your blueberries are, and how sweet you want the result to be)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups low or non-fat yogurt
2 Tbsp cream
1/2 cup whole milk

Place the blueberries, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring, until all of the sugar has dissolved. When all of the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and place saucepan in an ice water bath, and stir mixture for 15 minutes. Process the cooled mixture in a food processor. Remove mixture from food processor workbowl and return to saucepan. Stir in the yogurt and milk until completely incorporated. Process the blueberry yogurt mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions (usually about 25 minutes). Serve immediately (it will be soft) or let it firm up a bit by freezing it for several hours. Makes about 1 quart.

So here are my findings: This was way too sweet. My blueberries were fresh so I only used 3/4 cup of sugar — and that was still way too much. I had to squeeze an entire lemon in to try and force a balance, and it still needed more lemon to balance out the sweetness. It also lacked the creaminess that I expect in a frozen yogurt. I’d give it a C grade, and no higher. After it came out of the freezer, I was even more disappointed in its shaved-ice consistency.

Jeni Briton’s, on the other hand, was incredibly creamy. Each bite had a perfect balance of a light and delicious lemony taste with the blueberry streaks running through it. Though it didn’t seem like a lot of blueberry, the balance was absolutely perfect. I still recall when I made it and being so amazed at how balanced the flavors were. Grade: A+.

So, there you have it. If you are in the mood for a delicious Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt, I’d still say Jeni comes out on top.

lemon-blueberry-frozen-yogurt.jpg

MoM Aug. ’09 – ATK American Classics: Peach Crumble

This month, we’re exploring another ancillary publication from America’s Test Kitchen: American Classics. First up on the docket, I put their warm Peach Crumble to the test…

Peach Crumble 3

…and then I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

There seem to be a couple of different accounts as to how crumbles came to be. According to Wikipedia, the Brits invented crumbles during World War II, and were made due to rationing — pies required amounts of ingredients that were nearly impossible to come by. Crumbles (also called Crisps in some parts of the U.S.) came into being because the tops were simple to make, and didn’t require a large amount of those coveted ingredients. A different historical account comes to us from What’s Cooking America, explaining that it was the other way around — Brits copied the settlers, who were not very good at recreating their European recipes, and all of these different creations we have today are the product of their attempts. All I know is our founding forefathers sailed here and then sat down at a long picnic table wearing funny hats, big buckles, and pointy shoes, ate some turkey and corn, and then bought Manhattan with some beads.

Just kidding.

For more food nerdery, visit Wikipedia, and What’s Cooking America.

Surprisingly enough, this actually tastes like peaches, and not some slobbery mess of syrup. The crumble on top is baked twice — first by itself on a tray, then a second time on top of the peaches.

One thing that does bug me about this dessert is that reheating it in the microwave is tricky. I have found that, if you have too much syrup in your bowl during the reheat, and your crumble gets a little too mixed up in it, all of the flour starts to break down into a goopy mess. So if you do reheat this later in a microwave, use a slotted spoon and don’t add a ton of the peach juice.

Peach Crumble
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, American Classics

Filling
3 1/2 pounds ripe but firm peaches (6 to 7 medium), peeled and pitted; each peach halved and cut into 3/4 inch chunks (about 6 1/2 cups prepared peaches)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
3 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Pinch table salt
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg

Topping
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced and very soft
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Adjust oven racks to lower and middle positions; heat oven to 350 degrees.

FOR THE FILLING: Gently toss peaches and sugar together in large bowl; let stand for 30 minutes, tossing several times. Drain peaches in colander set over large bowl. Whisk 1/4 cup drained peach juice, cornstarch, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in small bowl; discard excess peach juice. Toss juice mixture with peaches and transfer to 8-inch-square glass baking dish.

FOR THE TOPPING: While peaches are macerating, combine flour, sugars (reserving 1 tablespoon granulated sugar), and salt in bowl of food processor; drizzle vanilla over top. Pulse to combine mixture, about five 1-second pulses. Add butter and half of nuts; process until mixture clumps together into large, crumbly balls, about 30 seconds, pausing halfway through to scrape down sides of bowl. Sprinkle remaining nuts over mixture and combine with two quick pulses. Transfer mixture to parchment-lined baking sheet and spread into even layer (mixture should break up into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with some smaller, loose bits). Bake on middle rack until chunks are lightly browned and firm, 15 – 20 minutes.

TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Grasping edges of parchment paper, slide topping over peaches and spread into even layer with spatula, packing down lightly and breaking up any very large pieces. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon sugar over top and place on lower oven rack. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until well browned and fruit is bubbling around edges, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack until warm, at least 15 minutes; serve.

Peach Crumble

Raspberry Almond Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar Topping

I’m still on my muffin kick. This week, I explored Raspberry Almond Muffins. Rather than attempting to mix in actual (fragile) raspberries into an otherwise sturdy dough, this calls for a teaspoon of raspberry jam in the center of the batter.

Raspberry Muffins

Previously, I’ve had all kinds of problems baking with jam in the center of dough: the jam sinks to the bottom, explodes/oozes out of the top, seriously sucks and pisses me off, etc. Fortunately this batter is sturdy enough for the jam, which transfuses itself through the muffin nicely during the baking process. After half of the batter is placed in each muffin cup, a small well is made inside for the jam to go into. This is very important, as the jam will move around when you spread the rest of the batter on top. For example, a couple of my wells weren’t deep enough and the jam was spread to one side and baked on that side. The muffins don’t look any different, but it took me a few bites before I found the fun, jammy center.

I know. It’s rough.

Raspberry Jam

After they came out of the oven, I jacked up the action by dipping the tops in melted butter, then a cinnamon sugar mixture.

Raspberry Almond Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar Topping
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar, less 1 tablespoon
1 ounce almond paste, crumbled (3 tablespoons)
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups plain low-fat yogurt
12 teaspoons raspberry jam
Vegetable cooking spray or additional unsalted butter for muffin tins

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
4 tablespoons butter, melted and warm
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl; set aside.

Beat butter, sugar, and almond paste with electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in one-half of dry ingredients. Beat in one-third of yogurt. Beat in remaining dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with yogurt, until incorporated.

Spray twelve-cup muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray or coat lightly with butter. Spoon one-half portion of batter into each muffin cup. With small spoon, make well in center of each cup of dough. Spoon 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons raspberry (or any flavored) jam into each well. Fill with remaining batter. Bake until muffins are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Set on wire rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove muffins from tin.

For cinnamon sugar topping: Melt butter. Meanwhile, mix cinnamon and sugar for topping. Gently dip muffin tops into warm, melted butter, then into cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve warm.