Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I'm taking a little break from sharing the holiday meal of lamb shanks, goat cheese risotto, and caramelized onions with you - meaning the recipe for caramelized onions is being shoved to the proverbial back burner - to share with you a new recipe for banana nut muffins. I must warn you, I've developed a slight cockiness that comes with the first realization that one is finally beginning to understand baking ratios, and that without having gone to culinary school or working in a bakery. Though making an apple cake every five days, cookies every six, and a yeast bread every seven for two months might qualify as some type of baking education.
For nearly a week, I've had three very forlorn looking bananas sitting about my house - and I do mean about the house, not the kitchen. My kitchen is quite small, only 9-feet by 9-feet, and it is chock-o-block with cooking implements, ingredients, cookbooks, notes on recipes, and other assorted clutter, leaving very little room for three sad bananas to find a perch. There is only one uncluttered space in my kitchen, and that is my only workspace, a counter that is 38 inches by 21 1/2 inches. And that space is only uncluttered after the dishes and the drying rack have been put away post-drying, and prior to the stand mixer or cutting board coming out of hiding to make the next creation. So the bananas have overstayed their welcome in a large bowl of fruit that sits by the back door, approximately ten feet or so from the edge of the kitchen. And eight feet or so from the refrigerator. Yes, you read that correctly. My refrigerator does not fit into the actual kitchen, and so it is tucked into a nook under the stairs just beyond the kitchen proper. It's not nearly as horrendous as you might think, but a gourmet kitchen I have not.
In fact, in spite of my sad kitchen circumstances, I am feeling a bit smug as my brain seems to have finally cracked the baking-ratio code, and I think - and am most likely delusional, might I add - that I am now able to improvise at will. So last night, I just threw together some banana nut muffins, and, it turns out, JR and I like them better than the banana nut muffins I posted the recipe for before Thanksgiving. I think an actual baker, one with training, might be a bit taken aback with the way I ignored the traditional way of incorporating the butter, and perhaps these will never turn out so good again, but until that day comes, the proud baker I am today feels compelled to share the recipe with you.
Banana-Cinnamon Muffins (with walnuts if you like and not if you don't):
3 overripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar - I used dark brown sugar, but light brown will do
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 stick softened butter - very soft softened butter, as in almost melting but still in the wrapper
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
cinnamon-sugar for sprinkling atop muffins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a muffin sheet with muffin liners, or grease muffin tins well.
In a large bowl, mash the bananas to bits. Then add the sugars and mix well to combine. This entire process - meaning the entire recipe - can be done by hand - no need to get out the stand mixer and further crowd the kitchen.
Add the vanilla and eggs, and stir to combine. A whisk works well at this point. Add the milk and the butter, and, whisking furiously, break the butter apart until your batter looks like mashed bananas with egg-drop soup. This is the part where true bakers may very well be groaning and saying loudly "what is she doing?!" Typically, you would cream the sugar and butter together and then mash the bananas into that, and you are welcome to go that route, but I decided to try something different, and so the butter is in bits in the batter. And you might remember from the savory pie crust post that the little bits of butter give pie crust its flakiness because the butter releases moisture in cooking and puffs up the dough. Well, in the case of these banana muffins, the butter releases moisture, and produces nooks and crannies in the muffins. Check out the photo at the top of the post. See? Nooks and crannies. What could be bad about that? They sold us nooks and crannies as a good thing for years during Saturday morning cartoons, and now I'm buying. Looks like they finally got me, thirty years on.
Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl and stir well to evenly distribute these dry items.
Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture, stir to combine, and then add in the walnuts if you've chosen to use them. Pecans would also be good. If you like nuts in your muffins. Not if you don't.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and then sprinkle a bit of cinnamon sugar atop each muffin. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until muffins are a light golden brown. Remove to a rack and allow to cool, but sample just one before you really should so that you have to toss the muffin back and forth between your hands as you tear off the muffin liner to avoid burning your hands.
Yield: 12 three-ounce muffins with nooks and crannies.
Dinner tonight: Farfalle with Sweet Italian Sausage and Artichoke Hearts. Estimated cost for two: $7.92. The Farfalle is the Whole Foods store brand that is made in the traditional Italian fashion. The box was $1.99, and we will use 1/2 of the box, so that's $1.00. The sausage is the other half of the sausage I bought on sale at Whole Foods, so that's $2.28. The artichokes are canned Whole Foods 365 brand, and they cost $2.79 (I think. These have been in the larder for a while now.). We'll grate some parmigiano over it all, so that's another $1.85 for that. This dish is pretty white overall - I mean, the sausage isn't white, but the artichokes and pasta blend together, so in the future, I may add some peas or fava beans to it to gussy it up. However, it's a pretty scrumptious dish without the extra color, so there we have that.