The best base recipe for muffins

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I’m back in Seattle and loving it. I haven’t straightened out my kitchen since I unpacked it, so this week’s recipe is an oldie but a goodie.

It’s based on Joy’s classic muffin recipe, which can be easily tweaked or added to in order to create different flavors. It is the best muffin recipe I’ve ever tried, and I’ve stuck to it ever since. The original says you can use vegetable oil instead of butter, and cream instead of milk, but I’ve found the combination below works best. Take out the poppy seeds and the lemon zest, and you’ve got the base recipe. Have fun creating your own flavors.

Next week, I’ll have a new recipe to share. In the meantime, enjoy.

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a standard 12-muffin pan or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, butter, vanilla and lemon zest. Add to the flour mixture and mix together with a few light strokes, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter should not be smooth. Divid the batter among the muffin cups.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes before removing from the pan.

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Banana pancakes to savor for brunch

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I like to take my time getting up on weekends, when my cat lets me, and making a big breakfast before starting my day. I usually go for omelets or silver dollar pancakes, but sometimes I like to try something new.

I had a couple bananas ripening on my counter last week, but wasn’t in the mood to make banana bread. So I transformed them into these banana pancakes from Williams-Sonoma. Of course, just reading the recipe got Jack Johnson’s “banana pancakes” song stuck in my head, so I had to dig it up to play while I got to work in the kitchen. It set the tone for a lazy Sunday.

These were the best banana pancakes I’ve ever made. They were fluffy and — because I chose not to completely mash the fruit — had tiny chunks of banana in them. I used almond milk because I didn’t have regular milk on hand and it worked surprisingly well.

I cut the recipe in half since I was only cooking for myself and it made six pancakes, so I had them for two breakfasts. They were beyond delicious both times.

So get your Sunday started right by heading to the kitchen and making a batch of these pancakes. You’ll be glad you did.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (use 2 teaspoons if at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 small, very ripe banana, peeled
1 cup milk (almond milk can also be used)
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Maple syrup for serving
Sliced bananas for serving

Cut the butter into 3 equal pieces. Put 2 of the butter pieces in a small saucepan and set the remaining piece aside. Set the pan over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a pot holder, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix with a fork until well blended.

Put the banana in a small bowl. Mash with a fork until almost smooth. Add the milk, eggs and vanilla and stir with the fork until well blended. Pour the banana mixture and the melted butter into the flour mixture. Mix gently with a rubber spatula until the batter is just blended. The batter should still be a little bit lumpy.

Put a griddle over medium heat until hot. To test if the griddle is hot enough, flick a drop of water onto it. It is ready if the drop dances quickly and evaporates. Put half of the remaining butter onto the griddle and spread it with a metal spatula. Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the griddle, spacing them about 3 inches apart.

Cook until a few holes form on top of each pancake and the underside is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully slide the metal spatula under each pancake and turn it over. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and the top is puffed, 1 to 2 minutes more. Using the spatula, transfer the pancakes to a serving plate.

Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the pancakes while still hot with maple syrup and sliced bananas. Makes 12 4-inch pancakes.

Smashing expectations with simple scones

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I have never met a scone I liked. Every scone I’ve ever had has been dry, plain and crumbly. They were all like eating a stale biscuit. So, for the majority of my life, I’ve avoided them. Last week I decided I make them at home to see whether I would like them better. I did.scones2

The recipe I used was the Simple Cream Scones recipe from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. I figure it’s always best to start with something simple. I added a vanilla bean to the recipe and the flavor of the scones was great. They didn’t crumble all over the place when I bit into them like ones I’d purchased from coffee shops did. They were soft and a bit moist inside instead of dry through and through. They were enjoyable, instead of being overly sweet. They were perfect for breakfast.

As with most recipes, I made a mistake on the first try. I left the oven rack in the upper third of the oven and didn’t rotate the scones halfway through the cooking process as instructed. I left them in a little longer than I should have, but they were still good. In fact, the next weekend I made them and added about a half cup of chopped strawberries to the mix and I liked them even more than the vanilla bean scones.

I’m glad I decided to make them at home because now I know that not all scones are dry and crumbly. Not all scones are bad biscuits. Not all scones are worth writing off.

scones4Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder (use 3/4 tablespoon if at high altitude)
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
1 vanilla bean
1 cup heavy cream

Adjust oven rock to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on, stir flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until combined. Add butter and stir until mixture resembles coarse meal with some slightly larger pieces of butter.

Cut both ends off the vanilla bean and cut the bean in half lengthwise. Using the back of a knife, scrape the seeds from inside and add them to the mixture. Stir until just combined. Stir in cream until dough begins to form.

Turn dough and any floury bits onto a floured counter and knead until a slightly sticky ball forms. Pat dough into a 9-inch round and use a knife or pizza cutter to cut into eight wedges.

Place wedges on prepared baking sheet and bake until tops of scones are lightly golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes (10 to 12 minutes if at high altitude), rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Just add chocolate for a more decadent muffin

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I was craving chocolate last week. When I started thinking about what I should bake, those giant chocolate muffins from Costco came to mind. Except I didn’t want a muffin the size of my hand. I wanted little noshes I could keep on hand for a little while. Because “The Joy of Cooking” has my go-to muffin recipe, I thought I’d see what I could find in the way of chocolate muffins.

Baked goods with melted chocolate can be difficult to make at high altitude. In my experience in the year I’ve been here, I’ve found such treats are one of the most susceptible to collapsing during the baking process. I’ve had the outside cook and crisp before the inside fully cooks. I’ve also had the centers cave in. It has been a learning process. doublechocolatemuffins2

I couldn’t have asked for these to turn out any better than they did. The batter had a slightly stiff quality to it, which ultimately seemed to help them turn out well. I’ve also learned to spray the paper muffin cups with cooking spray so the muffins won’t stick to them. These are a decadent muffin that can either be a rich breakfast or a dessert for later in the day. Next time I’m craving chocolate muffins, this will be my go-to. No more searching for a better recipe.

Ingredients
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (use 1/2 teaspoon if at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup chocolate chips

Melt chocolate and let cool.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a separate bowl. Set aside.

Combine buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl. Set aside.

Beat butter in a large bowl until creamy. Gradually add and beat in brown sugar until lightened in color and texture, 4 to 5 minutes. Add egg and beat until mixed. Beat in the chocolate just until blended. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in two parts, beating on low speed or stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Stir in chocolate chips. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in 1 or 2 of the muffins comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes in the pan before removing to cool completely on a rack.

Banana oatmeal muffins great for breakfast to go

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This week’s recipe comes from Pinterest. I was looking for a recipe for chocolate chip muffins and found these banana chocolate chip baked oatmeal singles.

There is no flour used in these muffins. Instead, the main components of the mixture are oats, bananas, milk and eggs. The muffins don’t end up light and fluffy; they end up with a bit more of a dense, eggy texture. The flavor is well-rounded and the ingredients make this recipe healthier than other options may be.

These muffins are nice to have on hand during a busy week — you can make them ahead of time and have them grab-and-go ready for weekday breakfasts or snacks. I used mini chocolate chips when I made them because I prefer the smaller bits of chocolate in smaller muffins.

One step that I have found is particularly important to take at high altitude is to spray the paper cupcake holders with cooking spray. For some reason, baked goods tend to get a good grip on the paper otherwise, leaving the person eating them to have to peel away a good layer of the muffin. Who wants to do that with something so delicious?

Ingredients
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (1 1/2 if you’re at high altitude)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1 egg
1 1/4 cup skim or soy milk
3/4 cup mashed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly mist 18 cups in a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Combine the oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg whites, egg, mashed banana, milk and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until blended together. Mix in chocolate chips.

Spoon the oatmeal mixture evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Bake uncovered for 18 to 22 minutes or until oatmeal is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.