Baking - Breads

Muffin Mishap…or was it?

So I’ve been a bit tired lately, getting back to work after my mat leave and up through many nights with a teething baby, trying to get done what I can in whatever free waking moments I have. I try to be organized by having a list of things that need to get done (eg. laundry, email so-and-so etc.) and one recent evening I had on my list to make muffins. Most often I make banana muffins from a banana bread recipe that I love (which you can read about here).

As I was getting the ingredients ready I realized that I only had enough banana to make about a 1/2 cup instead of the full cup needed, so I decided to be adventurous and substitute a 1/2 cup of peanut butter to see what would happen. Having read this far you probably think that this addition of peanut butter was the mishap referred to in the title of this post. Read on.

I got the wet ingredients all ready to go, and usually I mix the brown sugar in because that’s what the recipe says to do, but there wasn’t enough room in the measuring cup, so I told myself to add it in with the dry. I went and mixed all the dry ingredients together, combined them with the wet and then scooped it all into the greased muffin tins (I am so on the ball!)

As I scooped the last bit of batter in it dawned on me that I had totally forgotten to add the brown sugar to the mix. Changing the order of things is a bad idea when you are sleep deprived! A very small part of me thought about dumping it all out to add the sugar, but most of me said “just bake them and see what happens.”

They came out a lot better than I expected. They rose nicely, had good texture, and although not as sweet as most muffins, they were actually not bad for taste either. My biggest concern was that all the kids for whom I made them would take one bite and turn up their noses, but I was happily proven wrong, there were no crumbs left when they were done.

So my muffin mishap turned out to be…well, maybe not a triumph, but certainly acceptable, and a good reminder that we don’t always need to use as much sugar as our recipes call for.

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights, Recipe

Banana Bread Muffins

I have discovered that my favourite banana muffin recipe isn’t a muffin recipe at all. Well, I guess I didn’t discover it, because I always knew, but it was a bit of an experiment when I tried it.

The recipe I had been using was a very basic muffin recipe that had various adaptations, to make them into, say, blueberry muffins, oatmeal, cranberry etc., and banana. They were great fresh from the oven, but the next day they always seemed to be dried out. I would try freezing them as soon as they were cool to try and preserve the freshness, but I was never satisfied.

Banana bread muffins with chocolate and cranberries.
Banana bread muffins with chocolate and cranberries.

I decided to try a new approach. I found a banana bread recipe, and because I didn’t want to wait around for an hour for it to bake, I chose to make it in muffin tins, thereby decreasing the time needed to bake. They were very moist fresh from the oven, and stayed moist for several days! I was so happy! I even tried using whole wheat flour, and they still stayed moist.

So what’s the difference? They’re both quick breads, with basically the same ingredients. Why would one come out more moist than the other? I would say it’s because of the amount of each ingredient. I think because a loaf of banana bread is a larger mass and requires more time to bake, it has a higher quantity of ingredients that add more moisture; so as it bakes and the moisture evaporates away it will still come out moist. By putting the bread recipe into muffin tins, they have the same amount of moisture but aren’t baked as long, so not as much moisture is evaporated away, leaving a lovely moist crumb for the muffins. The banana bread recipe I now use calls for slightly less flour than the muffin recipe, more banana, and two eggs instead of one. It also calls for more sugar, and brown instead of white, which adds to the texture. I experimented with one batch by decreasing the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and they came out just as nice.

Here’s the banana bread recipe, with directions for bread or muffins:

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together 1 1/2 cups unbleached or whole wheat flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt; set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, blend together in this order: 1/3 cup oil, 3/4 (or 1/2) cup brown sugar, 1 cup mashed ripe bananas, 2 eggs, 1/3 cup milk, 1 tsp vanilla.
  • Stir dry ingredients into banana mixture until just blended.
  • For banana bread: turn batter into greased and floured 9″x5″ loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
  • For muffins: scoop into greased muffin tins. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 1 dozen.
  • You can also add anything to make them more interesting: nuts, seeds, chocolate chips, raisins; or my favourite combo right now, dried cranberries and dark chocolate pieces! Yummy!
Baking - Breads, Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Why is half my muffin sticking to the paper?

I have been making a lot of muffins lately. Sometimes I get tired of greasing the tins every time, so I use paper cups to minimize the work and clean-up. A lot of the time they peel off with no trouble at all, but with banana muffins they always stick. I have to confess, the recipe I use actually says not to use paper cups (with no explanation why), but I defied the rule, and was sadly proven wrong as half of each muffin clings to the paper. Curious as to why this might be, I contacted the King Arthur Flour baking hotline, a free service where professional bakers can be contacted by phone, email or chat to answer your baking questions, emergency or otherwise. Unfortunately the person who replied to my email could not explain why banana muffins stuck to the paper but other muffins didn’t.

So I turned to a basic internet search where I learned of a few options. One suggestion is because of the pleats in the paper cups, and the wet batter baking into them; but that doesn’t explain why other muffin batters don’t stick. Another suggestion was that there is not enough grease in the muffin batter. This could be true, there isn’t much oil in banana muffin batter, and I actually left the oil out of the ones I made. And lastly in my little search, someone said it is because the banana melts and softens while heating, then as it cools it sticks to the paper. This makes the most sense to me, since bananas are more soft, wet and chunky than other muffin additions, like grated carrots or raisins, making them more likely to stick as the melted sugary globs cool.

Everywhere I looked, they all suggested spraying the paper cups with cooking spray or grease, which makes me say “why wouldn’t you just grease the pans and save some wasted paper?” – which is what I will do with my banana muffins from now on. I’m curious to know if anyone has any other suggestions as to why banana muffins stick? Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Confessions of an Imprecise Baker

I’m sure many of you have heard that with cooking you can add ingredients willy nilly to a recipe and change it as much as you want and it will still come out fabulous, but with baking you need to be very precise. Each ingredient must be carefully measured to the exact amount, preferably weighed because that is even more precise. I understand the importance of precision in baking. There is a chemical reaction that happens, and if certain ingredients are out of proportion that can affect the final product. But I have to confess, the other day I wanted muffins, and I wanted them fast. I didn’t want to get my scale out, I didn’t want to sift the flour, and I didn’t want to mash up exactly half a cup of banana. Let’s face it, at home, baking for ourselves, who can be bothered with precision all the time? Continue reading “Confessions of an Imprecise Baker”

Baking - Breads, Recipe

Just add Pecans

I have recently developed an obsession with pecans. I don’t remember liking nuts very much when I was a kid, but I have gradually come to appreciate them more and more, beginning with snacking, and now in baking and cooking. There are the standards: pecan pie and butter tarts, chocolate covered caramel clusters, hello dollies, and the crackers I posted about a few weeks ago. Then I have a recipe for mushroom burgers that uses pecans, which at first I didn’t think would be lacking if I ‘forgot’ to put them in, but now I would never make without. I’ve used them in salads, on top of pizza, as part of stuffed vegetables. All this to say that what I once tried to avoid, I now keep on hand and add in whenever possible!

My aunt and uncle came to visit a few weeks ago, and I thought it would be nice to make some muffins for breakfast. Of course I immediately wanted to make them with pecans. Continue reading “Just add Pecans”