Banana Muffins for a Good Cause

Today's post is for banana lovers only; if you're not a yellow-peeled fan, I apologize in advance (plus, I come without ideas for substitutions). However, the recipe in question, which comes from Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural Cooking," asks us to re-evaluate our pantries in the spirit of more wholesome, healthful eating. Swanson goes the extra mile to source out more wholesome ingredients for her recipes, which, in some cases, bear some explanation.


Banana-walnut muffins flavored with a jolt of espresso. (Kim O'Donnel)

To wit, the Espresso Banana Muffins that I tried out over the weekend call for natural cane sugar rather than regular ole white granulated stuff and white whole-wheat flour rather than all-purpose.

Although I'm a regular user of natural cane sugar (sugar from sugarcane -- not from beets -- with a natural brown color), it was my first time working with white whole-wheat flour, and for that I owe Swanson a big high-five. Hardly a new concept, white whole-wheat flour is processed from white wheat rather than red wheat, the plant with which most of us associate whole-wheat flour. Turns out that the white wheat offers all the wholesome goodness and fiber of the red wheat but without some of its reputed heaviness and bitterness. It's light, it's kind of sweet and it's "wheat" qualities are undetectable in these muffins. I am excited to start using it in place of unbleached all-purpose flour, which I've used for years.

Over the past year, white wheat has become more readily available on national shelves; two brands offering white wheat include King Arthur Flour (I bought a five-pound bag at Whole Foods), and Bob's Red Mill.

Swanson also advocates the use of aluminum-free baking powder, a notion I agree with wholeheartedly. After all, I searched high and low until finding an aluminum-free deodorant; how hard could it be to find a more virtuous baking powder?

Baking powder, by the way, is a leavener made with baking soda, an alkali and an acid (this is where the aluminum comes in, in the form of sodium aluminum sulfate) and usually a moisture-absorber (such as cornstarch). Aluminum-free brands, such as Rumford, use calcium acid phosphate and/or corn starch in its place.) I offer Swanson's baking powder Plan B in recipe notes, below.

Although it took a little extra time to source these ingredients, I'm glad I did. The end result -- lots of banana notes, but not too sweet -- in fact, this might be the first time in years I ate a muffin that didn't taste like a cupcake! You can feel good about eating this for breakfast, yet it's a major upgrade to those cement-style versions often found in health food stores.

As soon as they cooled, the muffins released their espresso-y notes, but on the second day, the java thing kind of faded out. I'd also note that these are a little toothy on the second day - but certainly far from cement rocks.

The best part? Learning something new. Got a healthy muffin trick up your sleeve? Share in the comments area below.


Espresso Banana Muffins

From "Super Natural Cooking" by Heidi Swanson

Ingredients
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (King Arthur and Bob's Red Mill brand offers it)
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder (Rumford and Bob's Red Mill brands; alternatively, combine 1 part baking soda, 2 parts cream of tartar and 2 parts arrowroot.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups toasted walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon espresso powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plain yogurt
1- 1 1/2 cups mashed overripe bananas (2-3 bananas)

Method
Heat oven to 375 and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. (I sprayed muffin tin with nonstick grapeseed oil.)
Combine flour, baking powder, salt, 3/4 cup of the walnuts and espresso powder in a bowl and whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl using a mixer, cream butter until light and fluffy. Beat in sugar and eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla, yogurt and mashed bananas, then gently mix in dry ingredients; overmixing will result in tough muffins.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin (an ice-cream scoop works well), top with remaining 1/2 cup walnuts, bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Fill cups two-thirds full for regular muffins or to brim for a big-topped version. Cool in tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins. (My batch yielded 16.)

Espresso Banana Muffins
From "Super Natural Cooking" by Heidi Swanson

Ingredients
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (King Arthur and Bob's Red Mill brand offers it)
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder (Rumford and Bob's Red Mill brands; alternatively, combine 1 part baking soda, 2 parts cream of tartar and 2 parts arrowroot.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups toasted walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon espresso powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plain yogurt
1- 1 1/2 cups mashed overripe bananas (2-3 bananas)

Method
Heat oven to 375 and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. (I sprayed muffin tin with nonstick grapeseed oil.)
Combine flour, baking powder, salt, 3/4 cup of the walnuts and espresso powder in a bowl and whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl using a mixer, cream butter until light and fluffy. Beat in sugar and eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla, yogurt and mashed bananas, then gently mix in dry ingredients; overmixing will result in tough muffins.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin (an ice-cream scoop works well), top with remaining 1/2 cup walnuts, bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Fill cups two-thirds full for regular muffins or to brim for a big-topped version. Cool in tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins. (My batch yielded 16.)

By Kim ODonnel |  March 19, 2007; 11:01 AM ET Baking , Breakfast , Nutrition
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Comments

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Scott Peacock has a recipe for homemade baking powder in the book he co-authored with Edna Lewis. I'll look it up and will send it to you.

Posted by: holleahock | March 19, 2007 11:56 AM

I've been using white whole wheat in baking for about 6 months now and I've had mixed success in substituting it for all of the AP flour in a recipe. High moisture recipes work well, as do ones with enough fat, but I haven't prefected the flour swap in low fat baking. It needs fat to tenderize the crumb more than all purpose, otherwise it's too dense and dry for my taste. I'll be curious to see what your experimenting yields. I'm looking forward to trying these after Lent. They sound wonderful.

Posted by: Falls Church Jen | March 19, 2007 11:57 AM

Holleahock, thanks for that reminder. I've got it handy, too, if you don't. Holler.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 19, 2007 12:04 PM

I've been making these fab vegan muffins lately (they're low on sugar, which is also great):

Yummy and Delicious Vegan Blueberry Muffins (adapted from the Candle Cafe Cookbook)

1 cup white flour
1 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup veg. oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup blueberries

Oven to 350 F. Grease a muffin tin or line with papers.

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, sald in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk oil, maple syrup, soy milk and lemon juice until foamy. Pour wet ingredients into flour mixture and mix until batter is smooth. Fold in blueberries.

Bake in muffin pan for about 20-25 mins until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Posted by: nicole | March 19, 2007 12:33 PM

Kim,

Can I use all wheat flour or does it not to be white-wheat? If not, what difference would it make? (Novice baker here). Thanks.

Posted by: hoyablue | March 19, 2007 12:53 PM

beware of just whole-heartedly replacing the white whole-wheat for AP flour. it absolutely will affect your recipes, making them heavier and in some cases more difficult to work with. try just replacing a fraction of the flour called for with the white whole-wheat or maybe try the king arthur whole grains baking book for some ideas.

Posted by: puu | March 19, 2007 1:02 PM

Here in the mid-west, we've been using white whole wheat flour since last spring. I have yet to use Bob's Red Mill, or King Arthur because my local grocer carries a brand in the self-serve section.

There are TWO types of white whole wheat -- hard winter wheat and soft spring wheat.

The hard flour is used more for breads and things where you want density.

The soft flour however is a wonderful substitution for baking things like Italian Creme Cake (which yeilds a soft, delicate crumb or muffins or the wildly delicious vanilla cupcakes I made for my wedding this weekend.)

Posted by: Columbia MO | March 19, 2007 1:34 PM

Hey, Columbia, MO-- how about sharing that recipe for the wildly delicious vanilla cupcakes, I've been looking for a great cupcake recipe? and congrats!

Posted by: dc | March 19, 2007 3:45 PM

Kim, per the post by puu above, were you using hard white wheat or soft, or maybe in this recipe it doesn't matter? Also, where can I find espresso powder (what exactly is it)? Thanks!

Posted by: chrishpl | March 19, 2007 9:51 PM

OK - these are deceptively simple - and very delicious.

Ingredients
5 oz (150g) Butter - softened
5 oz (150g) superfine sugar
6 oz (175g) self-rising soft white whole wheat flour
NOTE: I make a self-rising mix and use that for my baking. Self-rising = 6 cups flour, 3 tbls baking powder, 1 tbls salt)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350oF (180oC).
2. Line a 12 cup cake pan, with cup cake papers.
3. Crack the eggs into a cup and beat lightly with a fork.
4. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl.
5. Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes, until light and creamy.
6. Divide the mixture evenly in baking pan.
7. Bake for 17-19 minutes until risen and firm to touch.
8. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack.
9. Allow to cool fully before icing.

Posted by: Columbia MO | March 20, 2007 10:03 AM

If you want to make a low fat version, you can subsitute applesauce for the butter or the oil. I've found that it works really well with gluten free flours and regular flours as well. Especially if you plan to freeze them for future use. When you want one, take it out of the freezer, wrap it in a napkin or thin towel, and pop it in the microwave for 15- 30 seconds. The applesauce prevents it from becoming hard once it gets cold which happens when you use too much oil in the recipe.

I second the request for the vanilla cupcakes and congrats on the wedding!

Posted by: GF | March 20, 2007 10:09 AM

The flour in question (King Arthur's Organic White Wheat Flour) is in fact milled from hard wheat. It appears that KA has organic and "all-natural," which appears to be milled from soft wheat. Thanks for the good questions.
Re: espresso powder: it's instant espresso, sold in jars.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 20, 2007 11:28 AM

Thanks Kim for following up on this blog and answering my question re. espresso powder and KA flour. I'll look for the espresso powder at Whole Foods, MOM's didn't have it...thanks again, can't wait to try the recipe! :-)

Posted by: chrishpl | March 20, 2007 3:17 PM

There is a nice banana bread recipe in Home Baking by Jeffry Alford and Naomie Duguid. It calls for dried shredded unsweetened coconut that I buy at the coop. I love the bread even though I don't really like coconut. Everyone I've served it to has liked it also. In fact, everything I've tried from that book has turned out great.

Posted by: Karen | March 20, 2007 3:23 PM

I assume the homemade baking powder recipe has cornstarch in it. Do you know of any (either recipes or packaged) baking powders that don't?

Posted by: Rockville, MD | March 22, 2007 5:04 PM

I've been using KA white whole wheat (the hard stuff, I guess) for a couple of years and love it for many things....pancakes, waffles, muffins, quickbreads, oatmeal cookies. For some things I need to use half white whole wheat and half AP flour; for some things, it's KA WWW all the way and you'd absolutely never guess it (oatmeal cookies, oatmeal pancakes, sweet potato muffins, pumpkin bread).

There are a few things where all AP flour is an absolute must...WWW will just not cut it, even in part...chocolate chip cookies, brownies, yellow cake.

I will have to look for the softer variety and give that a whirl!

Posted by: Vienna | March 27, 2007 4:46 PM

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