I’ve been known to say (ad nauseum, likely) that cooking is art, baking is science. The function of cooking is largely to apply heat to food to make it edible and kill things that might make us sick. Everything on top of that is just ways of making food more delicious. In cooking, you’re encouraged to experiment. Try a bit more of this, try adding a bit of that, try replacing this thing with that thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the end result is only truly ruined if you apply too much heat and burn the thing.
Baking, however, is often dependent on strict chemistry. Change the amount of, say, baking soda, and you not only change the flavor, you change whether or not your biscuits rise at all. Many baking ingredients are there to create a mad science reaction in your thing that isn’t yet actually food. Get it wrong? The thing you make will still not actually yet be food. Much like that combination of words is barely a sentence.
I’ve been teaching myself how to bake off and on for eight or nine years. I have a kitchen lab book where I keep track of all the recipes I try and whether or not they work and, if possible, why I think that is. And I’m just now hitting the point where I can start getting a little fast and loose with the process. Where I can throw a bunch of recipes into the blender of my mind and come out with something decent. I’ve got enough experience under my belt that I can–just barely–manage to improvise.
This is my first improvisation. Right after I read William Gibson’s new novel The Peripheral, I had an intense craving for banana bread. And, as it happens, we had ripe bananas. But no loaf pan. But we did have muffin tins. So I read a bunch of banana bread recipes and cobbled this together and the results were… pretty good. More importantly, the recipe is easy enough that it can be executed while still waiting for the first cup of coffee to take effect, meaning I’ve now made these two or three times a month since coming up with the recipe.
Is there a better recipe for banana muffins out there? Oh, sure, probably. But are these banana muffins easy to make and easy to eat? Yep. They’re pretty good.
JONESY’S PRETTY GOOD BANANA MUFFINS
1. Put 1/3 cup of butter out on the counter to soften.
You can do this the night before. You don’t want to go into this with cold butter. And no, microwaving it isn’t the same. You don’t want melted butter either. Room temperature butter. Leave it on a metal surface, it’ll warm up quicker.
2. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
3. Assemble the rest of your ingredients:
The Wet Team:
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
the aforementioned 1/3 cup butter
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 bananas, as ripe as you can handle¹
The Dry Team:
1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4. Cream the butter and cane sugar.
I’m using speed 4 most of the way, bumping up to 6 for a hot second. You know your mixer better than I do. You might even know my mixer better than I do.²
While you’re creaming, use the butter paper to grease your muffin tins.
5. Add your brown sugar and egg. Keep it creaming.
6. Turn off your mixer. Add your bananas.
Turn on your mixer. Keep it on a super low setting, then boost a bit.
7. Add your vanilla extract. I never measure vanilla extract. I always just pour until it seems right.
8. Combine your dry team.
You want to get the salt and leaveners evenly mixed. You can use a food processor, or a sifter, whatever you have at hand. I’ve got a thing that attaches to my stick blender. It has a turbo button.
Of course I use the turbo button. IT’S A TURBO BUTTON.
9. Put your mixer on the lowest setting and add your dry team. Mix until it’s just barely incorporated.³
I usually use a piece of cardstock to funnel the dry team into the bowl. But that’s hard to do while also taking pictures.
10. Gloop the batter into your muffin tins, trying to keep them pretty equal, but don’t stress too much about it.
11. Bake for 25 minutes.
¹ Don’t have three bananas? Somebody ate one of your bananas? Good news: you can replace one of the bananas with applesauce. How much applesauce? Well, the total banana by measure should be around 1 1/4 cups. So shove the bananas you have into a big measuring cup and add applesauce until you get up to…
Yeah, me neither. Here’s the lazy version: one banana is roughly equivalent to one of those little single serving cups of applesauce. No measuring required.
² This recipe was developed without the use of a stand mixer. I only recently got my KitchenAid, like, a few weeks ago. So I know how it is to be excited about a recipe and come to a screeching halt when you see “now turn on your stand mixer to the awesome setting….”
Trust me, this comes out just fine without a stand mixer. My favorite no-mixer mixing tool? Pastry blender.
It mashes. It shmashes. It mixes herbs into ground meat better than anything. And it’ll combine your butter and sugar and bananas just lovely.
Snoop around and find one that is a solid piece of metal, not those useless things you see that are like three pieces of armature wire stuck in a dowel. Those things are bunk.
³ If you wanted to add half a bag of chocolate chips? This is where you’d do that thing.