Monday, March 4, 2013

(Gluten-Free) Chocolate Buckwheat Banana Nut Muffins


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.


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(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. 

18 comments:

  1. Mm, these look everything you describe them to be! I can't tell you how much I agree with your sentiment—a muffin should not be cake-like. That would defeat its purpose altogether!

    I've never made the conscious effort to bake gluten-free before, but I could be well on my way—I have all the ingredients on hand except the rice flour. What would you recommend as a substitute?

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    1. Hi Linda,

      Hm... a gf all-purpose blend, or almond or coconut flour, would probably by my top choices. Extra oat flour will likely work, but the muffins may be a bit more dense or dry or take longer to bake. If gluten isn't an issue, though, go ahead and use all-purpose. Let me know what you end up using and how it comes out!

      Ps. Your blog is beautiful, and I love the title! :)

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    2. Almost-gluten-free muffins it is! Thank you Alanna! :)

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    3. Cool - let me know how they come out! Oh, and you'll be better off using the weight measurement, since rice flour weighs a bit more per cup than wheat flour.

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  2. I love muffins, and I agree with you on making them healthy and hearty. These look amazing and worth a try :)

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    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! Please let me know how you like them.

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  3. Hi...how would they be without crem cheese or is there a nondairy substitute i could use? Thanks! They look amazing!

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    1. Hi Sanderson, I know there are some vegan cream cheese substitutes out there, and I'd guess that any of them would probably work in these muffins, though I can't say for sure as I haven't tried it. Please let us all know what you end up using, and how it comes out!

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  4. Oh my gosh, I can't believe there are people that don't like muffins! I'd say 90% of the time, I'd take a muffin over a cupcake. I mean, a really well-balanced cupcake is awesome, but they just feel so...fussy. (I say this as someone who cannot use a piping bag to save her life.) And I feel like there's so much room for making a not great cupcake when you have the two separate elements of frosting and cake. Sometimes there's too much frosting, or it's too dense, or too sweet, and/or the cake just doesn't stand up to it or tastes kind of meh — so much room for problems! And then I try to eat it and get frosting up my nose. Yuck.

    I love banana bread/muffins with chocolate chips, and adding in cacao nibs sounds so good! I've actually never worked with buckwheat flour before, but it's one of those things I've always been rather curious about. (This goes back to the days when I used to wait tables in a sap house that served weekend breakfast, and a lot of buckwheat pancakes. I remember how much richer and nuttier they smelled when I carried them from the kitchen to the tables.) I should stop being curious and actually do something with it. (And I should probably order a buckwheat pancake next time I'm having breakfast back home!)

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    1. Ha! Well, to Kelley's credit, I don't think she likes cupcakes, either. :) I completely agree about the fussiness, the frosting up the nose, and the greater margin of error when it comes to getting the two different components right! On the other hand, I just had the best cupcake of my life at a party last weekend. They were tiny, gluten- and dairy-free chocolate cupcakes with coffee frosting and crunchy sugar on top, and though I begged and pleaded and gave the cupcake-maker my card, she wouldn't divulge the recipe. I very nearly cried, but managed to keep my dignity.

      I'm insanely jealous that you worked in a sap house! Those places sound like absolute heaven (though serving jobs, not so much). I'm pretty sure you will fall in love with buckwheat's earthy flavor (it tastes a bit like toasted hazelnuts with a whiff of cinnamon). I've added some of my favorite buckwheat recipes to the above post, and respectfully suggest that you get thee to thy kitchen and mix up a batch of buckwheat chocolate chip cookies without delay! :)

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    2. Holy cow, buckwheat chocolate chip cookies!! Ahhh!!! Yup, those are totally happening this weekend. :D

      The abundance of meh cupcakes makes me have a huge amount of respect for people who can make amazing ones. (I also love a tiny cupcake, since it's much easier to eat!) There's this girl at the winter farmers' market who makes the most amazing, work-of-art cupcakes I have ever seen. And they are delicious. You can tell that she puts a lot of thought into making each one an "experience," rather than just cake and some frosting. (Like s'mores cupcakes with graham cracker crust on the bottom and the root beer float cupcakes with a cherry in the center and frosting that tastes like creamy soda foam — it's crazy.)

      Working at the sap house was so much fun. I didn't get to be around the actual sapping equipment all that much (I was in high school at the time, and all I knew was that there was this mysterious sliding door, and behind it was a lot of noise and steam, and some burly dudes yelling and cursing). I mostly stuck to popping candies out of molds and bagging up things and what not. Waiting tables at that age was SUCH a good experience for me, especially in a small town where everyone knows each other and most people are super nice. It's so much fun to go back there and see regulars that I used to wait on! :)

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    3. Yay! I hope you love the cookies.

      Those cupcakes sound AMAZING - I wish I could try one right now! And your sap house experience sounds beautiful. I hope I get to visit one someday. :)

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  5. These just finished baking in the oven. You are right, the whole house smells great! I made my husband find the sticky sweet rice flour, used buckwheat and GF all purpose baking flour. We didn't have the right type of chocolates so used a slightly less amount of what we did have. They are wonderful! Much appreciated as way to warm up after a long snowy cold day. Thank you again! Such genius.

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    1. Yay! So glad you like them! Thanks for all your sweet comments. :)

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  6. Just made these and they were delicious!! I will certainly be making these again! I've had buckwheat flour sitting around at home for months and now I've finally found a use for them. I did make some substitutions to increase the protein value of these though - replaced the butter for smooth peanut butter, used almond flour instead of rice flour and added 1 scoop of unflavored whey protein. The kitchen smelt amazing! Honestly so so so good! :D

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad you liked them! I'm fascinated by your substitutions, and psyched that they worked out. :D

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  7. Hi - I'd love to make these but I don't have a standing mixer with a paddle attachment. Is there some other method I can use?

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    1. Definitely! Make sure the butter and cream cheese are really soft, and beat them and the sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. You could also try using an electric egg beater if you have on. Let me know how you like them. :)

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Nice comments make me warm and fuzzy!