Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Whole Grain Banana-Nut Yogurt Bran Muffins

Hi friends,

I wanted to make bran muffins that had these ingredients: wheat bran, whole grain flour, yogurt, bananas
and not these: excessive sugar, excessive oil/butter
and were not dessert trying to pass themselves off as breakfast but also not possessing that dreadful, super-dry, silica-gel or sawdust quality so many bran muffins unfortunately have. You know, where you feel obligated to eat the muffin because it's supposed to be good for you, and it certainly tastes that way, but there's nothing enjoyable about it. And then you stay away from bran muffins for about a year or more, until you come across one in a bakery and you think, "That looks healthy, I'll get that," but then you have the same unpleasant experience yet again. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Thus began a quest, filled with adventure, sorrow, regret, and ultimately victory, to create the perfect whole grain, banana-nut, bran yogurt muffin that was healthy but tasted good. And where does one brave, young, amateur home-baker start her trepidacious mission? The internet, of course. Google, specifically. With the obvious string of search terms: whole grain wheat bran yogurt nut muffin.

However, my not very extensive research on the internet was not providing the recipe I yearned for. There were plenty of bran muffin recipes and plenty of banana muffin recipes and even banana bran muffin recipes and EVEN yogurt muffin recipes of varying types, but inevitably, all these also-ran recipes did not measure up to my vision in some key way. To further my research frustration, I had recently made a wgbnybm recipe and it came out to disappointing reviews of, "wow, these are dry," or "can i have some water, please" which was not exactly the reaction i was going for.

And then it hit me: after nerdily reading up recently about the difference between baking soda and baking powder and when you need one or the other or both, i realized the tasks before me. i am pretty sure that i had a cartoon lightbulb appear above my head when this realization appeared in my brain. First, though, let me briefly and incompletely explain the difference between baking soda, baking powder, and when you need one, the other or both. I will definitely be getting some stuff wrong here, so don't quote me in your term papers or anything.

Paraphrased very roughly from The Joy of Cooking, baking soda is sodium bicarbonate (which is an alkaline) and baking powder is baking soda plus an acid of some sort. In mine it's calcium acid phosphate. In baked goods, where you want things to rise and have a good texture (called crumb, i think) you need to have an acid-base reaction that creates carbon dioxide bubbles and causes things to expand. Something else also happens with the heat, etc, to create a certain desirable crumb texture (which I don't really understand yet so I'll stop that thread right here.) Sooo, the baking powder has the acid and the base right in there, and that creates the reaction necessary. However, sometimes you may also use an acidic ingredient (like yogurt, buttermilk, etc), which would render baking powder unnecessary as the baking soda can react with the lactic acid (produced by our good friends, the lactobacilli) and produce the necessary CO2.

Now you might be thinking, "What's the problem here? She had yogurt and baking soda. Acid, check. Base, check." Well, my problem was that I took an existing recipe, also from the JoC, but I cut the yogurt in half and foolishly did not replace the missing acid. The resulting muffins were as described above. Still eatable (I have an incredible capacity to eat the food I make no matter how bad), but not the muffin that filled my daily visions and invaded my dreams at night. Not the muffin I longed for, riding in on a white horse in shining armor, to whisk me away. I knew my muffin was out there, and I was determined to get it.

Thus my quest continued on, but this time to find the amount of baking powder I would need to add to make up for the loss in yogurt. Further perusal in the JoC and the spirit of cooking adventure and exploration (which rarely comes to me, I might add) led me to  try using a teaspoon of the powder and a half teaspoon of the soda. (For comparison's sake, my previous recipe had 1 1/4 teaspoons of soda.) The result - success! Lighter, fluffier, overall more pleasant muffins! Yay! Time for celebration! I should caution you, however, before you bust out the champagne, that I don't know if I would say that these muffins are empirically fluffy. On the universal scale of fluffiness, with 1 being an iron ball and 10 being the brain of a new-age hippie in Santa Cruz, I might give these muffins a 4. But if your scale only includes bran muffins and nothing else, I'd give them an 8.

One other note. These muffins just came out of the oven, which might add to the fluffiness. Tomorrow might be a whole new story in the fluffy bran muffin saga.

So, with a tip of the hat to chemistry, modern baking science, and the Joy of Cooking, and without any further ado, I present to you, Tracy's Whole Grain Banana-Nut Yogurt Bran Muffins.

2 cups whole grain spelt flour (you can probably use whole wheat, but I find it a bit dense in baked goods)
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
2 tablespoons sucanat, rapidura, or evaporated cane juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt
1 egg, beaten
2 big very ripe bananas, mashed up
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup walnut pieces (optional, and suitably replaced with other nuts or dried fruit)

Pre-heat oven to 350. Grease a 12-muffin tin. (If it's teflon, THROW IT OUT! Dupont does not need anymore of your money for their cancer-causing cooking utensils.)
Mix your dry ingredients (minus nuts) in one bowl.
In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients.
Combine the wet and dry with as few strokes as possible. This is very important! The more you mix, the tougher your final product will be. It's okay if your batter is lumpy.
Fold in the nuts or dried fruit, if using.
Fill your muffin cups and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Cool them in the pan for about 10 minutes and then remove from pan. Continue to cool them on a wire rack, or eat them while still hot.

Note #1: the Joy says to fill the muffin cups 2/3 of the way, but I just filled mine the whole way and did not have any sort of muffin crisis.

Note #2: My plan is to store them in an airtight tupperware like container. I will report back on the fluffiness level if I notice a remarkable difference.

Note #3: I know, there are some folks out there, and you know who you are, who probably think my obsessive attention to measuring ingredients and following recipe directions is laughable and unnecessary, but you know what? I like things to taste good and have a pleasant texture. In my world of cooking/baking, there is some room for flexibility around certain kinds of recipes, ingredients, etc, but there are also parameters that you kinda need to follow if you want things to come out a certain way.

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