Monday, February 23, 2009

Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins

My son's 4th grade class recently invited the parents to a "Poetry Coffee House" in their classroom. We received written invitations and upon arrival, the kids took our order for drinks and refreshments and we were treated to a string quartet and later a flute and clarinet mini-concert.

The kids have been learning to write different forms of poetry and had their works published into a hard-bound book to keep at home. The poets recited one poem from their repetoire in front of the audience, while we enjoyed tea, fruit and muffins. I sent in a miniature version of these banana muffins. The poetry was enlightening and the muffins were delicious!

What to do in Pittsburgh, PA
by Ben, age 9

Going to Pittsburgh is like eating an enormous piece of pie
Scream! Shout! Go to a Pitt Penguin game and watch them score
Visit the zoo and watch the lions sprint
Walk to "The Point" where the three rivers meet to peer at the fountain
Learn about electricity at the Carnegie Science Museum
Enjoy all the screaming and shouting at a Steelers Game
Catch a home run ball and go to a Pirates game
Float up to Mt. Washington on the incline
Go to the Byham Theater to see a show
Sleep in at a hotel and dream of what to do tomorrow

Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins
From Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

1 1/2 cups mashed, very ripe bananas (about 4)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, stir together the bananas, sugars, butter, milk, and egg.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, instant espresso powder,baking soda and salt. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and stir just until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Fill each cup about 3/4 full. Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean.
Let the muffins cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Then remove the muffins from the pan and allow them to finish cooling on the cooling rack. Store up to 2 days in an airtight container.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cupcake of the Month: Vanilla Cupcakes

Aaaah... the kitchen is finally clean and now I can get on to blogging. My daughter chose this month's cupcake flavor because I was making these sweets for her first grade Valentine Party at school. I started making the cupcakes and used Amy Sedaris's Vanilla Cupcake recipe from They were baked at 375 degrees and I think next time I would bake them at 350. The flavor was delicious and moist, but they were a little brown and ugly on top. Maybe that's how cupcakes got into the habit of being iced? Anyway, I then baked another vanilla cupcake recipe from the Hello, Cupcake cookbook. Their recipe was ok, but I decided there was not enough vanilla flavor (it only called for half the vanilla extract that the other recipes called for). For the sake of research, I then decided to try another recipe from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle. This recipe called for cake flour and only egg whites and also a little lemon zest, so they were very white with a very subtle lemon flavor. I might have been tempted to try a fourth recipe (which I found on the King Arthur bag of cake flour), but I was then out of cake flour - and this was getting a little ridiculous anyway! I couldn't decide on a clear winner, but felt the Hello,Cupcakes recipe was not nearly vanilla enough. Maybe vanilla is just a little too plain for me, but the treat girl claimed they were the best she's ever had - and she's a cupcake aficionado so I'll take that as the highest compliment! - although I can't be sure which cupcakes of the three she got. The buttercream recipe came from Fine Cooking. I'm my biggest critic and still think there must be a better buttercream out there and I will find it yet! Anyone out there know of the perfect recipe for a meringue buttercream (NOT "American" Buttercream)? If you have a great recipe please let me know!

Basic White Cupcakes
Adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle
Makes 2 9-inch cake layers or about 24 cupcakes

3 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1 T baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large egg whites
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest (optional)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups whole milk

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the cupcake pan with cupcake liners, or grease and flour the cake pans.
Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl with a whisk and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at med-high speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed until light, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg whites, one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla. Add the flour mixture at low speed in three additions, alternating with milk in two additions and mixing just until the flour is incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, filling each cupcake liner 2/3 full.
Bake for about 20 minutes (25-30 minutes for cake pans), until lightly browned around the edges. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. If making cake layers, invert the cakes onto cooling racks and cool upside down completely.

Buttercream Frosting
by Katherine Seeley/Fine Cooking

This basic vanilla buttercream can be flavored in an almost endless variety of ways; see Variations below.
Yields 7-1/2 to 8 cups enough to fill and frost a 9-inch four-layer cake or about 5 dozen cupcakes

5 large egg whites
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. light corn syrup
1 lb., 4 oz. (2-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Tbs. vanilla extract

Place the egg whites in the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium-high speed until foamy. Sprinkle in 6 Tbs. of the sugar and beat on high speed to medium peaks (the whites should be smooth, full, and shiny, and the peaks should curl a little). Turn off the mixer.

Combine the remaining 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar and the corn syrup in a medium (3-quart) saucepan over medium high heat, stirring briefly to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook just until the mixture comes to a rolling boil.

Immediately remove the syrup from the heat, turn the mixer onto medium-high speed, and slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl in a steady stream, being very careful not to let the syrup hit the whisk.

Reduce the speed to medium and continue whisking until the whites are barely warm, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the butter 1 Tbs. at a time. Add the vanilla and continue beating until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

In place of vanilla, add one of the following flavorings at low speed to prevent splattering, then increase speed to medium to blend.

Lemon: 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest.
Orange:1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed orange juice, 1/4 cup finely grated orange zest (from about 3 large oranges).
Strawberry or Raspberry: 3/4 cup berry purée (purée the fruit in a blender and strain).
Liqueur: 2 Tbs. liqueur (such as Frangelico, Grand Marnier, Baileys, Kahlua, Chambord), more to taste.
Chocolate: 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted.
Coffee: 1-1/2 Tbs. instant espresso dissolved in 1 Tbs. boiling water.

From Fine Cooking 78, pp. 68
April 1, 2006


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