Banana-fana-fo-fuffins

I used to eat Luna Bars for breakfast every day. The chocolate-raspberry and caramel nut brownie were my two favorites, with the cookies n’ cream and the peppermint bars taking a very close 3rd and 4th, respectively. I used to buy 20 bars at a time, stocking up every 4 weeks and driving the checkout clerks at Whole Foods bonkers, at least the ones who rang up each flavor separately. I preferred the ones who cheated, gave me the “10% off case discount”, and rang them up all at once.

After the 1-2 year Luna phase (not to be confused with a ‘lunar phase’, which is related to the illuminated portion of the moon and is much less than 2 years…), I went into oatmeal phase and stayed there, switching between Quaker and Kashi brands, for almost a year. I grew tired of washing my oatmeal bowl at work every morning, and those days when I didn’t wash it, I felt icky and it was harder to wash the next time, further enhancing the annoyance. And plus, homemade oatmeal for dinner, laden with brown sugar, dried cranberries, and walnuts, is much better, and I like to do that once a week to keep the oatmeal vibe alive ;).

Then those granola bars, those lovely granola bars, came into my life. I make different versions of them regularly, recently using barley in place of oats (more protein & fiber) and dried blueberries for the fruit (which ain’t cheap, so that won’t happen often, that’s for sure). They are perfectly chewy but still crunchy, healthy but still somewhat sweet and tasty, and most importantly they are filling.

I’m still in granola bar phase, but every so often it’s nice to rotate something into the weekly mix, and generally that rotation includes muffins. I was inspired by a plethora of posts using bananas and chocolate chips over the past few weeks, including David’s banana cake and Kristin’s banana chocolate walnut cake, and set out to make a healthy breakfast version to use some bananas I’d frozen (cryogenic-style, to preserve their ripeness) a couple of weeks ago.

[For those of you turning your nose up, stop it. Right this instant. Those ‘naners are perfectly edible and when baking, the darker they are, the better. I like to let them get really dark before freezing them, as they’re most tasty at that point.]

I’m also recently turned on by non-all-purpose flours, and after a little research I surmised that bananas and spelt flour would be soulmates, or something. Ironically, I’d just bought some for a focaccia recipe (stay tuned, friends), so out of the freezer the ‘naners came and after a little thawing, straight into the oven they went, along with some spelt flour, some walnuts, and chocolate (banana’s other soulmate; it has more than one..).

The end result? Like I said, a match made in heaven, for certain.

Have any of you used spelt flour? And if so, what for?

Mo’ breakfast:
Tomato-Poached Eggs
Homemade Granola Bars
Oat Bran & Fruit Muffins

 

Muffins, Muffins, bo-buffins,
Banana-fana fo-fuffins,
Fee-fi-mo-muffins,
Muffins!

 

Spelt Banana-Chocolate-Walnut Muffins
Adapted from Wednesday Food Blogging

printable version

Did I mention these lil’ muffins are vegan? Probably not, since I’m not a vegan. It just sorta happened that way, as I was searching for ultra-healthy adaptations. And FYI, the flax seeds are a great substitute for eggs that provide loads of fiber and omega-3’s (1 T ground flax seeds + 3 Tbsp water (or other liquid) = 1 egg). Lovely even for us non-vegans.
ingredients
2 tablespoons organic flax seeds, ground
1/4 cup water
1 cup wholegrain spelt flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
1/2 c chocolate chips, optional
1 T dark Jamaican rum
3 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup walnut oil (or vegetable oil)

 

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray; set aside. Whisk ground flax seeds and water in a small bowl; set aside.

Combine spelt flour through chocolate chips in small bowl. Combine rum, bananas, sugar and walnut oil in a larger bowl, add flax mixture. Add dry ingredients, a half cup at a time, and stir until combined. Pour into prepared muffin tins and bake for ~30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in muffin comes out clean. If necessary, cover with a piece of aluminum foil to prevent over-browning.

*Of note, various sites claim that, although spelt flour is not gluten-free, it’s tolerated by people with wheat allergies. Anyone know why?

Our Biscuits are Better than Your Biscuits

quick muffins


You can tell, from the lack of blog posts alone, that school is in session. Not that I’m posting every day or anything, and the influx of posts about Napa doesn’t count, but I have started this blog with some fire underneath, if you know what I mean.


But now, I’ve gone what feels like an eternity (but is only a puny 4 days) without posting. And that’s because I’ve started the 3rd quarter of my year-long culinary school program at Kendall College. I don’t even know that I’ve mentioned culinary school much, except on the left screen by calling myself a culinary student. That could have meant anything though – because in a sense we are all culinary students, constantly learning about food, cooking, and reinventing recipes and techniques. I have no clue what persuaded me to go to culinary school. Honest. I’ve found myself over halfway through the program and this is probably the first time I’ve really mulled over where or why it all began. I know why I’m here, but I haven’t the faintest idea as to how this started. Either way, I like it a lot. But this week, this week was tough.


muffins and quick breads


We finished the second quarter in early March, and it feels as if we’ve been out for a long time. Finishing the first half also meant leaving a lovely instructor behind – Chef Pierre. He taught us for the first two of our kitchen classes, and this quarter we move on to a different instructor and a different class altogether. Our class is also somewhat disassembled now. There are a few of us in the “Personal Chef & Catering” program, while most are in the “Professional Cookery” program. I started in the latter but switched when I realized, if I did use my degree in a professional arena, it would primarily be to become a personal chef. Food writing & being a food critic are also on the list of possibilities (along with owning a B&B which Chris seems to think is silly while I think it would be dreamy). And so, going into this quarter, I’m a little nervous, a little excited, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it for the most part.

The third quarter of culinary school seems to be the most demanding – at least in terms of time. The first quarter I had two late and one early class, and the second I had two late, and half of the third class was late and the other early. I’m talking about the time I get out of class here. This quarter, I’m in class Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday from 6 until 11. Yikes! Top that off with a full-time job where I have to use my brain all day. On a positive note, the classes themselves are shaping out to be pretty cool. I’m in Baking & Pastry for Monday/Tuesday and then I take a Personal Chef Practicum Wednesday. We’ll see how it goes. Luckily, I have my buddy Caroline in all my classes, so in addition to cooking and learning, it ends up being a time to just hang out and chat too. Nice!


currant scones


And so for this post I thought I’d talk a little about baking – plus, I haven’t cooked all week so I don’t have anything else exciting to discuss. As I’ve already mentioned, I generally don’t consider this a blog about or because of school. But with only 2 out of 20 classes completed, I have learned a ton and just have to share some tidbits. And our chef is pretty cool too – she has a funny, cooky personality and keeps things entertaining.


I always knew that baking was a different art than the rest of cooking. For most recipes, you must must must follow them exactly – or else. You’ll find there are some key ingredients that, if omitted, can really destroy a dish that would otherwise be heavenly. Like blueberry muffins – I’ll get to that.

For first week, we began with something simple – quickbreads. We discussed various techniques in which quickbreads are made and once in the kitchen, we tried out a couple of them. And as Chef Pierre would have told us, our final products were “good, but could be better”! Over-mixing the dough is more of a big deal than you might think – it leads to something called “tunneling” which is just what it sounds like – tunnels in the cake. We (Caroline & I) learned firsthand what tunneling was when we watched Chef Kim open up our apple spice muffins. Big ol’ holes, and lesson learned! But they look pretty on the outside don’t they? The muffin method we used to make the zucchini & carrot bread was different – that turned out just lovely. And apparently pretty good too, from what Chris’ co-workers told him.

blueberry muffins


And so, after the first night, we felt pretty good about things. Despite the tunneling, we’d made some tasty muffins and bread. The lesson for day 2 was another quick bread method, the biscuit method. Now, I knew this was going to be my favorite. How many Southern girls do you know who don’t fancy a nice flaky biscuit? Next to my gramma & Aunt Faye’s, I’d say the ones at Bojangles are probably my favorite. Did you know that the size of the cold butter that’s cut into the biscuit, scone, or pie crust dough is what determines the flakiness? Yup! And did you know that there is a HUGE difference between Southern biscuits and “Northern” biscuits, whatever those are? I mean, most of us Southerners know, but do the rest of you? For one, the Southern biscuits just taste better, hands down. But there’s a reason or two. The key aspects that determine biscuit “goodness” are flakiness and tenderness. “Our” biscuits are a lot of both. The larger the butter pieces once mixed into the dry ingredients, the greater the amount and size of the air pockets and thus the flakier. Flakier is a word isn’t it? It looks weird on paper, or screen rather. And in math terms, flakier = tastier. Scones, you want them a little less flaky because they are supposed to be less chewy and less tender. Our biscuits in the South are also made with better flour :). I didn’t even know that until class, but it makes sense doesn’t it? I just thought they tasted better just because. It comes down to the milling process and also the protein in the flour – read for yourself. Do I even need to tell you that Caroline & I made some excellent cheese biscuits and currant scones? I didn’t think so.


cheddar cheese biscuits


 

Our blueberry muffins were another story. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve made blueberry muffins, or any type of muffin. And how tasty they’ve been. The muffin method is so easy. You mix your dry in one bowl, your wet (including sugar) in another. You combine, and don’t overmix. Bake. Voila. Ha! But not on Tuesday, April 7th in Baking & Pastry 101….. you would have thought we’d never touched batter. The fat in the muffin method is always liquid, and if butter is used, it has to be melted. Oopsie! Round 2. We were running around frantically “mise en placing” all over again. We were feeling pretty good about things, and we decided to mix early and hold off on adding the blueberries so they wouldn’t run. The mixture looked a little dry, but we thought maybe it needed some time to sit. It didn’t taste like the muffins I’d made at home so many times, but I thought maybe they’d be a little less sweet than previous muffins before them. Yes, we realized now, that that was dumb. We finally tasted our neighbors’ batter and theirs was creamy, light, and silky – tasted great – like normal muffins. So we finally sucked it up and called Chef Kim over. I think she almost gagged, but she took it like a champ, like one who’d tasted many a foul batter. We (meaning I since I was doing the dry ingredients) definitely forgot to add sugar, which in turn adds moisture. I perseverated for a bit, wondering how I’d left it out. And as I type, I realize why I thought I put sugar in them for certain – because I DID in the first mixture – the one I remembered dividing into three sugar piles for the three recipes. But this was Round 2. Oh crikey. So on to Round 3, circa 10 PM. We were again running around like crazy, but this time we had to go search for the ingredients, since we’d all put them away by this point. It was 10. On a positive note, again, we did get out of washing dishes which was nice. But then instead we stood there and stared at the oven. We got it right this time, and they were the best muffins I’ve ever had – definitely made with love, but also a quick mix. When they say the third time’s the charm, now I know what they mean.


nasty blueberry muffins, take 1


And so the first week comes to an end. I think I’m gonna like this class. Three valuable lessons: sugar can count as wet or dry depending on the technique, if you use the mixing method and use butter you have to melt it, and don’t forget the sugar! Unsweetened muffins are just plain nasty.


Next week – Yeast breads! Woot woot!

Round 3 Blueberry Muffins
from Professional Baking, 5th edition

printable recipe

 
2 lbs, 8 oz pastry flour
1 lb, 4 oz SUGAR
2.5 oz baking powder
0.5 oz salt
12 oz eggs, beaten
1 lb, 12 oz milk
1 oz vanilla extract
1 lb butter, MELTED
1 lb blueberries, drained

instructions
Mix using muffin method (dry in one bowl, wet in another – sugar with wet). Mix together into one bowl and gently fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups 1/2 to 2/3 full.

Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes – until they’re done, in Chef Kim’s words. Makes about 2 dozen soft, fluffy, delicious blueberry muffins.

chef demo