Friday, April 2, 2010

Put your muffin where your mouth is

I tend to dislike muffins. Too cakey. Too big. Too brick-like in the stomach. Stodgy. Too sweet. A generally unsatisfying snack.

I find it odd that people apparently like to eat them for breakfast.

But behind the pre-mix and bulk package monstrosities (I refer to both their hideousness and their size) hides the Platonic ideal-type muffin. This muffin has a softness and slight springy-ness about it. A crunch at the edges and a yielding denseness at the centre. It has a loose crumb, and a flavour that is more complex than simply refined sugar. It has a lightness that doesn’t taste like baking powder.

This muffin is lucky to last five minutes out of the oven.

I have discovered the secret of yoghurt.

There are lots of tricks and tips for making muffins. But addition of yoghurt (or buttermilk or sour cream) is genius. It acts as a leavening agent, particularly effective when combined with baking powder (or good, fresh self raising flour). The mixture tends to foam ever so slightly, like a yeast starter for bread, if you let it sit for twenty minutes or so before you put it in the oven. (A good thing to know, given that I forgot to preheat the oven, and had to wait anyway ...).

The result? Perfectly fluffy, slightly sticky-with-fruit, steaming soft muffins.

Impossible to resist, even for a harden muffin sceptic like me. Hot, and topped with a dollop of whipped ricotta or a generous smear of faintly sour butter.

For afternoon tea, not breakfast.

Yoghurt muffins (featuring chocolate chips and banana)

Makes 2 dozen.

4 mashed bananas (or about 3 ½ cups of chopped, mashed or grated fruit. Apple? Peaches? Plums? Mango? Berries? Probably not melon or citrus.)
2 cups natural yoghurt (no added sugar) – goat or sheep yoghurt gives a beautiful flavour (or use cows’ milk yoghurt)
1 ¼ cups oil (I use extra virgin olive oil)
2 eggs
3 ½ cups self raising flour
1 cup raw sugar
½ cup dark chocolate chips (optional)
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional – try difference nuts with different fruits. I love almonds with peaches)
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180Âșc. Grease muffin tins (I use silicon muffin trays, which don’t need greasing).

Mash bananas with yoghurt, oil and eggs (you could even put it all in a blender).

Roughly stir in the rest of the ingredients – do not over mix or beat. Just use a folding action to make sure there are no lumps of flour.

Spoon into muffin trays – fill to just below the top of the trays. Cook for about 25 minutes or until brown on top and firm when poked. Allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes, then turn out on a cake rack.

Eat at least 1 immediately, warm with whipped ricotta, honey and nutmeg. Or butter. Or a spoonful of sweetened yoghurt.

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