Tag Archives: muffins

Banana and date muffins

You know something I hate? The school summer holidays. I used to love them as a child. Unlike today, when we seem to get our best weather in May and June, before schools even break up, in the seventies and eights, summer seemed to really happen in August. It went on and on and was a delight. Thinking about my childhood now, it sounds like something from the thirties or fifties – long games of French cricket, roaming in the water meadows and Downs, chasing round the garden with brother trying to catch stag flying beetles (successfully) and bats (unsuccessfully) with a minnow net attached to our long bamboo laundry prop.

Obviously, my kids are a lot younger, but I can’t imagine them forming any particularly fond memories of this summer just passed. Aside from the summer weather seeming to end the moment school broke up, to be replaced by weeks of grey, the whole experience seemed very unsettling for my three-year-old son, T-rex.

After nearly a year at nursery, he was thriving. He’d made a lot of friends and by and large seemed settled and happy. He was sleeping well, making decent progress with his food fussiness, pretty much out of nappies, and getting excited about the prospect of “Big boys’ Lego” for his fourth birthday later in the year. Then suddenly all the routine disappeared and things regressed, became increasingly unsettled.

It’s hard to create a routine when you may be away for a spell, may be visited by family, may be able to grab a bit of sunshine, but then get wrong-footed by rain. As most organised summer holiday activities are for ages 5-6 plus, I had to try and create my own. But three-year-old boys aren’t the biggest fans of arts and crafts. Mine certainly isn’t. All he wants to do is watch The Lego Batman Movie.

I try to cook with them, and the Raver, now aged two, enjoys that – well, some “mix-mix” and the licking spoons at least. As T-rex has decided he doesn’t like “nana shake” – one of his long-time breakfast favourites – any more, I had to come up with other solutions for over-ripe bananas. Googling didn’t really satisfy, so I reached for my vintage copy of Fresh and Natural, a New Zealand hippy classic, published in 1980 and gifted to me by my old friend Nadia the final time I saw her at her home in the Malborough Sounds in October 2013, a year before her untimely death. It includes a nice flexible recipe for banana muffins, one I remember using when I lived with Nadia in 1994-95 and helped feed her large family in the Yellow House at Old Man Mountain in the Buller Gorge.

I tried to get T-rex interested in this project, but even before making or seeing the finished product he said “I won’t eat those.” It’s a protest and control tactic he’s using quite a lot currently. Refusing tea before I’ve even put it on the table, before I’ve even made it.

We hoped the return to nursery would settle him, but instead we underestimated the shock of how much his class would have changed. Loads of his friends have gone up to reception. I realise now he’s a boy who feels particularly settled when he slots into a social group of older boys, whose more alpha ways give him guidance and stability. The teachers had said the older kids often get into the role of being in charge, being the guides themselves. I hope T-rex does. I hope he likes these muffins.

This isn’t a parenting or adoption blog, so I want to keep things light, but T-rex is, in the technical term my wife taught me, dysregulated. England isn’t like France or Italy where people may take the whole of August off and hang out at the beach with family. Here, primary carers can face a long slog through the summer and sometimes children struggle. And it’s not like we need this Victorian institution of long summer holidays that freed up children to help with the harvest. The most my kids harvest is under-ripe tomatoes. So anyway, I also dearly hope that politicians move to adjust the length of the summer school holidays. Though if those in power are all wealthy, reactionary deadbeats who never even change their own kids’ nappies, I suspect it’s unlikely.

So yes, a slog – hence this blog has been a bit quiet lately. And even now I’m posting, it’s for something very undemanding. Not sure I’ll be able to muster any fancy stuff any time soon…

Here’s the recipe. Converted to new money, with added dates. The original uses nuts. You can use either or both, or neither.

50g butter, softened
50g golden syrup
1 egg (that is, about 50g without shell)
5g vanilla essence
2 mashed bananas (that is, about 200g)
105g milk
4g baking soda
300g plain flour, ideally stoneground or even wholegrain
5g baking powder
50g chopped dates

1. Preheat oven to 200C. Like a muffin tin with cases, or just grease it if you don’t have any.
2. Beat together the butter and golden syrup until creamy.
3. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well.
4. Dissolve the baking soda in the milk.
5. Mash the bananas.
6. Alternately add the milk and banana to the mixture.
7. Sieve together the flour and baking powder and add.
8. Add the dates.
9. Equally divide the batter into the muffin cases (or not).
10. Bake for about 20 minutes, until nicely browned.

Nice for breakfast, with some butter and maybe a drizzle of golden syrup or honey.

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Chocolate beetroot muffins

Beetroot chocolate muffin

If you try to eat local and seasonal produce in England, you will have had a lot of brassicas and root vegetables recently. It might be have been dry, warm and sunny the past few weeks, but we’re only just in Spring really. Spring produce – sprouting broccoli, fennel, spring onions, green garlic – has been arriving the past month, but it’s still the tail end of the root veg season, notably that of finger and chopping-board staining, love-hate relationship beetroot.

As much as my tastes were in part shaped by old skool school dinners in the 1970s and 80s – oh, the stodgy puddings! – I never really clicked with beetroot. I eat it now and can enjoy it, especially braise-roasted with thyme, bay and citrus zest but frankly, as a cake man and a chocolate lover, I like these. The recipe was originally from Jill Dupleix but is now tweaked somewhat.

250g beetroot
3 eggs
5g vanilla essence
200g cooking oil – corn or sunflower
75g cocoa powder
180g plain flour
10g baking powder
200g caster sugar
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven 180C
Put 12 cases in a muffin tin

1. Boil 250g beetroot until tender. (You can do this in advance.)
2. Peel the beetroot then purée. You can do this in a food processor, though I’ve found the best way to achieve a smooth result is in a liquidiser with some of the oil.

Colour4

3. Pour the purée into a bowl, then add the eggs, vanilla essence and the rest of the oil.
4. Stir in the sugar and a pinch of salt.
5. Sieve the cocoa, flour and baking powder into a larger mixing bowl.
6. Pour the beetroot mix into the dry mix.
7. Mix until smooth and combined.

Chocolate beetroot muffins before baking

8. Divide the mix equally between the muffin cases.

Chocolate beetroot muffins after baking

9. Bake for about 25-30 minutes and nicely risen and firm to the touch.
10. Cool on a rack.

Enjoy. Ah, the benign deceit of sneaking vegetables into fussy children! We had some sitting on a fine outcrop of Malling Down, looking over the Weald towards the North Downs, with my friends Russ and Saira and their eight-year-old daughter, Selvi. Selvi said they had beetroot brownies at school, then reeled off several other cakes with vegetables. Each one of their ten a day.*

Enjoying on the South Downs

 

* I’ve got an issue with this whole three a day, five a day, ten a day rhetoric. I try to scratch make as much food at home as possible, or at least do things like make fresh pasta sauces. But most Britons don’t, apparently; most of us, and indeed most in western Europe and North American, rely on packaged food, ready meals etc, something I consider almost synonymous with junk food.

This article talks about how the “UK eats almost four times as much packaged food as it does fresh produce”. This is quite depressing. You can make excuses about busy modern lifestyles and time poverty, but to me it just represents a massive disconnect between people and real food. Not to mention inconceivably vast, vast amounts of packaging that ends up in landfills, where it’ll lie for thousands of years, a record for alien archaeologists who arrive long after our civilisation has driven itself into unsustainable oblivion.

As we’re a family that doesn’t rely on packaged food, I don’t buy into the ten-a-day line. If you live on packaged junk, then maybe the ten a day is aimed at you, to offset the damage done by an estrangement from real food. But if you live on real food, with nutritious wholegrains in real bread for example, I don’t believe you need to sit and assiduously eat ten apples or whatever.

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Sweet Sussex stout chocolate muffins

Sweet Sussex and chocolate

Today, 16 June, is Sussex Day. It’s probably not a festival many people celebrate – especially as it was only invented in 2006. Though it is based on the saints day of St Richard, patron of Sussex, the land of the south Saxons. Richard de Wych was a 12th century bishop of Chichester, now the county town of West Sussex. I’m over here in Lewes, the county town of East Sussex. The historic county of Sussex, based on the ancient kingdom of the south Saxons, was divided into two modern, administrative counties in the 1860s. Chichester and Lewes are very different, notably because the former is a cathedral city of about 24,000 people, while Lewes only has about 14,000 people, and the only “cathedral” is Harveys brewery.

Later on today I plan to head down to Harveys and check out the new St Richard’s Ale, which they’re launching on Sussex Day, but in the meantime, here’s recipe made using another Harveys, county-themed ale: Sweet Sussex.

Ye olde stout vs porter
On the label and site, Harveys says Sweet Sussex is a “lush, sweet stout named after the county in which it is brewed.” It has an ABV of just 2.8%, which raises the interesting question of what truly defines a stout. Well, in linguistic terms “stout” originally meant proud, brave and courageous, but this segued into meaning physically strong, well built. As a description of people it evolved again to start meaning bulking, then fat, but in beer terms it stuck with strong. Specifically it was used to describe strong porter, the type of beer that emerged in London in the 18th century as a refreshing, nutritious, fortifying drink of hardworking porters

Dark brown or black ales, porters were made with well roasted malts, which lent them a sweet, charcoally flavour. Eventually, the term “stout porter” shifted again, with stout becoming its own town for a rich, dark ale – though not necessarily a strong one. Indeed, today, the terms stout and porter are fairly interchangeable.

Sussex Sweet may be called a stout, but it’s certainly not stout in the sense of strong. Indeed, it’s so weak, compared to those old historic stout porters which will have been 8% ABV or so, that it’s more defined by its sweetness. It’s almost like a kind of charcoal milkshake. And just the thought of thing that goes well with dark chocolate.

Muffin

Muffins vs cupcakes
I wanted to bake something chocolaty yesterday, but didn’t want something as rich as a full-on cake (like I made here with dark ale) or iced cupcakes, so I made some muffins instead. Like stout and porter, the terms muffin and cupcake have slightly blurred meanings, though broadly I’d say a muffin contained less sugar, less butter, and were broadly a tad healthier. A lot of muffins, of course, contain bran, or fruit, or are even savoury. These ones are only vaguely sweet, and have a hint of that charcoally flavour from the beer.

20g cocoa
230g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
50g butter, melted and cooled slightly
70g sugar (I used caster, but you could use a dark muscovado say)
150g dark chocolate (at least 65% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g Sweet Sussex or other stout or porter, or a mixture of stout or porter and milk

1. Preheat the oven to 200C.

Light cacao
2. Sieve the cocoa, flour and baking powder into a bowl.
3. Stir in the sugar and chocolate chips.
4. Add the eggs, vanilla and beer, or beer and milk mix, along with the melted butter, to the flour mix.
5. Beat to combine.
6. Fill about a dozen muffin cases and bake for about 25 minutes.
7. Cool and enjoy, with a cuppa or perhaps with a stout. Or porter.

Muffins, baked

A note on the cocoa
There’s only a little bit of cocoa in here, but I was also using a very light-coloured type of cocoa powder, hence the results aren’t very dark. This cocoa powder I’m using is actually the Raw Chocolate Company’s Raw (organic, Fairtade, thoroughly right-on) Cacao Powder. See here for more info.

Cocoa? Cacao? Whaʼ? Don’t worry about the difference. There isn’t really one. The English word cocoa is basically a synonym for the cacao, with Theobroma cacao the scientific name for the tree that yields the beans that produce those all-important chocolate products, with “cacao” coming from the Mayan and Mesoamerican language word for the tree and “Theobroma” from the Greek for “food of the gods”. Beer and chocolate – both worthy of that name I’d say.

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Buckwheat muffins

Buckwheat muffins

More Dan Lepard from the essential book The Handmade Loaf. Some proper teatime muffins. It’s crazy I feel I have to refer to these as “English muffins”, as I’m English and was eating these long before US-style muffins invaded Britain.

Muffins are like yeasted buns, but are cooked on a griddle or hotplate. Alongside crumpets, muffins are wonderful teatime fare, especially when slathered with butter and jam or honey.

Dan L has added toasted buckwheat to this recipe, which adds a nice depth of flavour. Though not a crunch, as he uses 75g of buckwheat, toasted, and then soaked in 100g boiling water and 2 T of cider vinegar, which soften the seeds (they’re not grains, folks).

Make the dough by adding 1 t fine sea salt to 350g strong white flour.
Add 3/4 t fresh yeast to 200g water (at 20c), then add the soaked buckwheat.

Pour the yeasty, buckwheat liquid into the flour, and mix to a soft dough with 25g melted butter.

Give the dough two more short kneads at 10 minute intervals, forming into a ball and putting in a covered bowl in between. Then leave for an hour in the covered bowl.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to about 2cm thick, and cut out rounds with an 8 or 10cm cutter (Dan L says the latter, I used the former and it finished result seemed a suitable size).

Rest the muffins on a floured baking sheet, covered, for another 45 mins.

Preheat a heavy pan or flat griddle over a low-medium heat. Dust each muffin with a little extra flour, then griddle them over a medium heat for about 5-7 minutes each side. Serve warm, or cool, then split and toast.

We had them for afternoon tea along with some rather cute biscuits.

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