My friend Kelly has impeccable taste. She’s always well-dressed, knows the best wines and cheeses, drives a cool car, and owns the most beautifully designed house.
There’s only one area in which we disagree, and that area is muffins.
Kelly and I met at Petite Patisserie, an organic, sister-owned French-style bakery on Potrero Hill that closed its doors several years ago. At work one day, Kelly confided that the main reason she applied to Petite Patisserie was that they didn’t sell muffins. When she said the word “muffins,” her face twisted into a mask of pure disgust, and she spat the word out as though it were something extremely vile.
I, on the other hand, would have much preferred baking a tray of hearty and paper-lined muffins to the bite-sized upside-down cakes that took hours to prepare, stuck horribly to their non-stick silicone pans, and tasted cottony and sweet. But I do feel similar antipathy towards most cupcakes, which we also didn’t make at Petite Patisserie (except by special order).
One thing I’m sure of is that muffins should be different than cake. (And definitely different than cupcakes.) They should be dense and nourishing, flavorful, and full of good-for-you things like whole grains, fruit and nuts; more like a quick bread than a fluffy pastry in need of buttercream.
These muffins, packed with nutty buckwheat flour, mashed bananas, chocolate flecks, crunchy walnuts, and bitter cacao nibs, live up to their name. I initially made a batch in order to use up some over-ripe bananas, inspired by a heavenly banana cream cheese muffin that a (non-muffin-hating) friend brought to a party. I liked them so much that I immediately bought more bananas, which I proceeded to guard like a watchdog until they were bright yellow with black speckles, and ready for baking.
I adapted the recipe from this Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread, though I ended up altering nearly every ingredient to make it work with the gluten-free ingredients. I upped the eggs and leavening, reduced the sugar, and added chopped chocolate, as per Jay’s request. (He was hovering around the kitchen going, “Oh boy, are you gonna put chocolate in those? Chocolate banana nut muffins are my favorite!” So cute.)
These muffins are undetectably gluten-free, thanks to sticky rice, oat and buckwheat flours, and the star ingredient: cream cheese. Cream cheese stealthily adds rich moisture and tang, and it also adds stickiness, giving the muffins structure sans gums or starches.
When warm from the oven, their texture is light and fluffy. As they cool, they settle into moist and tender little breads. I like them best somewhere in between, when the flavors have melded but the chocolate is still soft.
These are judiciously sweetened and hearty enough for a quick breakfast or afternoon snack. The earthy buckwheat, bitter nibs and dark chocolate all contrast beautifully with sweet banana. Their flavor is downright sophisticated. So much so that I wouldn’t hesitate to serve a batch to even the most stalwart, muffin-hating guests.
Though if you want to be safe, bake the batter in a loaf pan instead.
Bucking the trend:
One year ago:
Two years ago:
Three years ago:
(Gluten-Free) Chocolate-Flecked Banana Nut Muffins
I recommend using naturally sticky sweet rice flour (such as Mochiko brand); look for it in the baking or Asian section of your grocer. If gluten isn’t an issue for you, try using white and whole wheat flours in place of the oat and rice if you like. If gluten is a problem, be sure to use certified gluten-free oat flour.
I like these muffins best when they’ve cooled for fifteen minutes, but the chocolate is still soft, but they’ll keep for a few days at room temperature. I recommend “refreshing” leftovers in a warm oven or toaster oven. Ounce measurements are by weight.
Makes 1 dozen muffins
3/4 cup (3 ounces) oat flour
1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) sweet white rice flour
1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces) buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces out of peel) mashed, very ripe banana (from 2-3 large bananas)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, plus extra for the tops
1/2 cup (3 ounces) fairly finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao mass), plus extra for the tops
2 tablespoons cacao nibs, plus extra for the tops
flaky salt, for the tops
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Line a standard 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.
Sift together the flours, baking powder and soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until smooth, 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, then add the vanilla and mashed banana. Stir in the flour mixture with the mixer on low, then stir in the nuts, chocolate and cacao nibs until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to give the batter a turn to make sure it is homogeneous.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them to the tops. Top each with a few pieces of walnut, chocolate and cacao nibs and a few flecks of flaky salt.
Bake the muffins until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs, about 25 minutes, rotating the muffins after 15 minutes to ensure even baking. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before devouring.
The muffins will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for 3 or 4 days. Rewarm them in an oven or toaster oven for tastiest results.