Sweetcakes: Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

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A surplus of overripe bananas is never a bad thing in our house. For one thing, my husband actually eats them. And when he forgets—or when I’ve really bought too many bananas, as I did this week—I make banana bread.

Here’s the thing: I rarely make banana bread the same way twice. Sometimes I feel virtuous and make it with whole wheat flour and flaxseed meal. Other times I’ll brown the butter in a saucepan before mixing the batter, which gives it a nutty flavor. Occasionally I’m inspired to throw in some chopped dark chocolate, or when I really want a treat, I make my banana bread with peanut butter.

Today I decided to modify my approach. My thought process went something like this: I wanna make banana bread, but I can’t keep it in the house because we’ll eat it all. I’ll give it to Paul to take to work. But bringing a bread to work is kind of awkward, the cutting and all. Okay, so! Muffins it is. Let’s add some chocolate chips. I have the end of a jar of peanut butter, so maybe i can scrape away about a quarter cup… now to Google recipes. Nothing for banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffins? Internet, you disappoint me.

I found a recipe for banana chip muffins, took it apart, then put it back together my way. What I’ve created here is a super-easy, incredibly decadent-feeling, flavor-packed breakfast, dessert, or snack.

Here you go, America.

RECIPE: BANANA PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

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Time: 12 minute to prep / 20 minutes to bake

Serves: 15 (12 muffins, plus a mini-loaf for 3)

Ingredients:

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. coarse salt

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

3 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 cup)

3/4 c. dark brown sugar (not packed)

1/4 c. butter, melted and cooled slightly (4 tbsp. or a half stick)

1/4 c. creamy peanut butter

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Spray a mini-loaf pan with Pam, or rub some vegetable oil along sides and bottom to coat.

Combine the first four ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk. Next, combine the banana and sugar in a larger bowl, mixing quickly with a whisk to break up any lumps in the sugar. Next add the rest of the wet ingredients, the butter through the vanilla, and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniform.

Fold the flour mixture into the the wet mixture until just combined. Then stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Divide batter first among muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Put the remainder of the batter in the loaf pan, and using a spatula try to even out the batter.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The mini-loaf may take a few minutes longer than the muffins. Cool everything in-pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out carefully onto a plate and allow to cool completely.

Serving suggestions:

These muffins go equally well with coffee or tea. If you think that’s a really tame suggestion—well, fine. Do it. Get the vanilla ice cream or the fro-yo. Mash it all together in a bowl and have yourself a banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffin sundae. BOOM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe Re-cap: Holiday Baking Marathon, Part I

Holiday Baking Marathon, Part I has concluded.  I mixed, baked and delivered 8 different kinds of cookies this week.  The experience was fun, incredibly satisfying, and positively exhausting.  I need a nap!

While I go do that, have a look at the some of the highlights:

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(Aside: I really do love the slideshow feature, and I’ll try my best not to overuse it.)

So what did I make this week?

Snickerdoodles, using Martha Stewart’s recipe.  Preparing this dough marked my first experience baking with Crisco.  It’s a very strange substance to look at (and taste), but my, does it make for marvelous texture.  Can’t wait to make a pie crust with the stuff.

Biscotti, the base recipe courtesy of Mr. Mark Bittman.  I made two of my own variations:  Double Chocolate Hazelnut and Cherry Almond.  Almond extract is essential in the latter variation, and adds such a wonderful depth to the flavor of the cookie.  The Cherry Almond biscotti were my favorites, hands down.  I’ll post the recipes when I make more of these cookies this week.

Coconut Lime Butter Cookies, using Bittman’s recipe for butter cookies and making my own variation, adding unsweetened coconut, lime zest and lime juice to the dough, and then rolling the cookies in a mixture of finely shredded coconut and colored sugar before baking.  This experiment-cookie turned out to be a crowd favorite.

Mocha Brownie Cookies, which is a variation on Chocolate Glaciers.  To the base recipe I added finely chopped dark chocolate and 1.5 tablespoons instant espresso.  These cookies are incredibly flavorful; the only thing that makes them cookie-like is their shape.  Biting into one, you’d swear you were eating a brownie.  The Mocha Brownies were the clear winner of the Boyfriend Taste Test award.

Oatmeal Cookies, with dark chocolate, almonds and coconut.  The great thing about Oatmeal Cookies is that you can make endless variations with chocolate, coconut, nuts or dried fruit.  The cookie dough can handle a lot.  My only regret about this recipe was cutting back on the vanilla extract in favor of using almond extract.  Vanilla not only adds a great taste, but it also acts as a flavor-booster, making for a much more richly flavored, cohesive cookie.

Peanut Butter cookies, just a half recipe, but for whatever reason they turned out to be thinner, more crumbly and much more fragile than in previous bakings.  All the flavor was there, but this cookie was a textural disappointment to me.  I’m going to pursue this further as soon as I restock my peanut butter supply.

And, there were the infamous Gingerbread Cookies.  Also a crowd favorite, I think these get the Best Dressed award.

I’ll be doing some more baking (the second part of my marathon) this week for friends and family, though I won’t be sampling any treats until Christmas day.  I’ve had copious amounts of sugar in the past seven days—in the form of dough, baked cookies, and alcohol, this being party season and all.  I could use some vegetable soup and water. Lots and lots of water.

Sweet Tooth: My Holiday Baking Season Begins

The foundation for many a delicious cookie: creamed butter & sugar.

I spent a good portion of my day—okay, almost all day—mixing cookie dough.  I have flour in my hair and on my pants, dried dough on the sleeves of my hoodie, and somehow I ended up with eggshells in my sneakers.  (I’m still not sure how the last part happened.)

I get really excited and obsessive about my holiday baking. I freely admit it.  I started baking mass amounts of cookies and giving them as gifts when I lived in Los Angeles—this was five years ago, when I was just getting my career off the ground, nearly broke and in need of economical yet impressive Christmas gifts. Ta-daa: cookies.

I was very by-the-book then—I got creative in how I drizzled chocolate on a peanut butter cookie, but I followed the recipe from Williams Sonoma to the letter (and as I recall it was a damn good one).  That first baking-Christmas, I made several batches of three types of cookies: a classic that I knew how to make in my sleep (chocolate chip), a fool-proof crowd favorite (oatmeal), and a cookie that I had never baked (the aforementioned peanut butter cookies).  I added the chocolate, because chocolate and peanut butter have had the most loving and successful marriage in history, so why keep them apart?

I’ve maintained my tradition of holiday cookie baking since, and each year, as I add more cookies to the roster I turn my kitchen into a 24-hour bakery in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Generally these marathon baking sessions are only interrupted by trips to the grocery store to restock supplies (I never seem to have enough butter or flour, and just yesterday I ran out of sugar. That’s a first!).  Once the baking is done, I consult my list of people I’ve baked for, and start the assembly of trays (for co-workers and families) and individual goodie bags (for friends, and as on-hand gifts when I’m surprised by the receipt of an unexpected present).  My kitchen table becomes a mess of wax paper, plastic wrap, tissue and ribbon.  The whole process start-to-finish is positively exhausting, and I love every minute of it.

This year, I have a lot more people to bake for than in years past: clients, new friends, my boyfriend’s family, in addition to my father, his neighbors, my mother, her neighbors, and a whole lot of my friends. And my boyfriend, my biggest fan and Chief Tester of Confections.  Of course, I always save some for myself, but I know I’ll be getting a wide and wonderful array of delicious, artful and traditional cookies from the woman who inspired all this baking in the first place—my mom.

My Holiday 2011 baking plan is also more ambitious than in years past, and there will be a lot of firsts: Gingerbread cookies, cut and decorated sugar cookies, and Shortbread cookies to name a few.  I will be baking two new kinds of biscotti, a riff on Monster Cookies (still a maybe), and Snickerdoodles.  I’ve been experimenting with flavoring butter cookies with coconut and lime, and I’m currently working on giving a grown-up makeover to a chocolate cookie recipe I’ve always liked but felt needed a little more oomph.

In the days and weeks to come I will be posting the results of my experiments (successes and failures), photos documenting the process as well as the finished product, recipes (as well as some of Mom’s Greatest Hits), tips, and some questions.  Right now I have two:

Does anyone have any good tips on rolling and cutting refrigerated dough, particularly gingerbread?

and

Do you bake around the holidays? Are there certain cookies, cakes, et cetera you only make around this time of year?

Craving the Comfort of a Simple Sandwich

I went to my friend Kristin’s baby shower on Saturday.  The party was held in a beautiful room at the Dyker Beach Golf Club.  The tables were dressed immaculately with white china and blue cloth napkins, a centerpiece of blue hydrangeas, and at every place setting there was a favor: a Ball jar, wrapped with baby blue ribbon tied in a bow, and filled with Hershey kisses.

“That’s been my favorite,” Kristin told me. “Every day, I craved chocolate.”

“Cravings” is a word you hear a lot when it comes to pregnancy.  I’ve heard of some women craving foods like fried pickles and ice cream, sometimes together, and others crave simple things. Shortly before my arrival, my mother craved cherries—lucky for her, I was a summer baby, and cherries were in peak season just before I was born.

But, as many of us know, you don’t have to be pregnant to crave a particular food prepared a certain way from a specific place.  If you’re craving a burger from Shake Shack, a frozen veggie burger prepared at home in a frying pan is not going to deliver the goods. A craving has to be satisfied; an unfulfilled craving might drive you mad.

On Friday I found myself with a strange craving for a simple yet incredibly comforting sandwich: peanut butter with bananas and honey.  Lord knows what brought that on, but I had to have it, and I had to have it my way.  The few times I’ve ordered the sandwich in a diner, I have found the application of peanut butter to be too heavy, the presence of banana too light, and the consistency of the sandwich leaning on soggy.  When you crave a food, wait ever so patiently to acquire it, and the anticipation of finally eating this food is so tremendous you might burst, the disappointment of not getting what you expected can ruin your day.

So, it was up to me to get my sandwich, a sandwich I thought about repeatedly Friday and Saturday, and then finally prepared Sunday morning: two slices of fresh whole wheat bread from the local bakery, warmed in the oven until just crisp, and topped with a gentle, thin spread of creamy peanut butter, followed by a sliced ripe banana and a drizzle of honey. It took all of six minutes to prepare, and it made my day.

Sweet Tooth: Banana Bread

Unless it’s a really special occasion, like a holiday or a dinner party, I prefer to cook and bake with ingredients I have at home.  On a practical level, it saves me a trip to the grocery store (and on a day this cold, I appreciate staying in my cozy apartment).  On a creative level, it allows me to take advantage of the foods and flavors I have on hand, and play around with different combinations.

I found myself with a basket of very ripe bananas.  When I bought them on Tuesday, there were touches of green along the edges and sides, a good indication that they would last more than a few days. I like bananas – they’re portable, nutritious and filling – but I eat them when they just turn completely yellow, sometimes even with a little green remaining, when they still have some bite  and aren’t too sweet or banana-y. I don’t consider myself a picky eater by and large, but I will not eat a brown-speckled banana. Can’t stand them.

So, when I am left with a bunch of quickly browning bananas, it’s time to cook them. Ripe or very ripe bananas may be mushy and overpowering in the flesh, but cook them, and they become something different entirely.  Sometimes I’ll slice them and cook them with a little butter, brown sugar and rum – makes a great accompaniment to brownies or ice cream, or brownies and ice cream. Other times I’ll saute them quickly with just a little bit of butter and brown sugar, then mix them with my oatmeal. Very tasty.

But last night I found myself with 4 ripe bananas, a desire to bake, and luckily enough, an old issue of Cooking Light (I have stacks of them).  The October 2010 issue has a feature on banana breads, a recipe makeover of sorts for a baked good that’s usually loaded with oil or butter.  The recipes in the magazine offered a new take on Banana Bread, while still keeping it moist, flavorful, and delicious.  The addition of flaxseed meal, which I profiled yesterday, adds healthy Omega-3 fats and lots of fiber.  After reading through the recipe for Peanut Butter Banana Bread and evaluating all the ingredients in my pantry, I made some tweaks, one substitution, and one addition (vanilla extract, because really, how do you bake without vanilla?).  I am happy to report that this recipe was easy to prep and easy to execute, and the results were down right magical.

RECIPE: Banana Bread

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3 to 4 medium ripe bananas; sprinkle with lemon juice to keep from browning)
  • 1/3 cup fat-free plain yogurt
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter*
  • 3 tbsp. of butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (the real deal)
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar**
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • A scant 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour***
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed meal
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg

Notes:

* If you’re allergic to peanuts, you can remove this ingredient from the recipe, and increase butter to 5 tablespoons.
** Alternatively, you can use 1/2 cup packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup white sugar.
** *If you don’t have whole wheat flour, you can use a scant 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour in this recipe. I like whole wheat flour in this recipe because it adds fiber, which cuts back on the guilt. Sort of.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″x 5″ loaf pan.

Combine the flours, baking soda, salt and spices in a bowl, and sift them together into another bowl.  This helps to thoroughly combine the dry ingredients, plus it helps to keep the larger wheat grains from getting in your batter.

Set the dry ingredients aside. In a large bowl, combine bananas, yogurt, butter, peanut butter, eggs and vanilla.  (Tip: when measuring out the peanut butter, spray your measuring cup with a hit of nonstick cooking spray. This way all the PB in the measuring cup will come right out.) Blend everything together with a mixer on medium speed until all ingredients are mixed.

Next, add your sugars, a bit at a time, to ensure you break up any lumps from the brown sugar.

Follow with the sifted dry ingredients. Again, add a little at a time – this time mixing on low speed at first and then increasing to medium speed until everything is well incorporated.

Batter Up!

Pour batter into the greased loaf pan, then even out the batter with a spatula before putting the bread in the oven.  Get the pan in the oven, set your timer for an hour, and wait patiently. It’ll be difficult (especially if you’re hungry) but you can do it. This bread is worth the wait, and it will make your home smell delicious.

After about 40 minutes, turn the light on in your oven and check on your bread. I bet it’ll look pretty.  But it’s not done yet! If you notice that the edges of the top of the bread are browning too quickly, get your oven mitts on, quickly remove the bread from the oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Return the bread to the oven and let it bake till the timer goes off.

Ding!

Remove the pan from the oven. Once you’ve gently poked a toothpick into the bread and it comes out clean, cool the bread in its pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes (no less! You are a pillar of strength and patience!).  Then, gently remove the bread from the pan and continue cooling on a plate for about 30 minutes.

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Okay, now you can cut the bread. Have a slice. You deserve it. Have the banana bread alone, accompanied by a hot cup of coffee or tea, or with some cranberry sauce on top.  Totally random idea that turned out to be really yummy.

Storing Banana Bread: Once the loaf has cooled completely, you can wrap slices (or the loaf) in aluminum foil, and keep for 4 days outside the refrigerator. Otherwise, this bread freezes really well. Slice first, then freeze – this way your portions are set, and you won’t have to cut into a frozen loaf later on.

Weight Watchers Note: Sixteen equal slices of this bread yield a Points Plus value of 5 per serving, which isn’t bad if you’re looking for a treat. However, thicker slices will obviously yield a higher points value. If you want a thicker slice (one big enough for breakfast that’ll hold you over till lunch), eleven equal slices will yield a Points Plus value of 7 points per serving.