One of our major gripes about “healthy” cookbooks is that they are often the culinary equivalent of kissing your cousin. The recipes kinda work, but the result is usually “meh” food that celebrates what isn’t in the dish, and not giving you something that is healthy and tastes good. We think food, “healthy” or not, should taste good and satisfy your soul. So when we recently got Heidi Swanson’s “Super Natural Cooking”, we were curious to see how the recipes would turn out.
If you are unaware of Heidi Swanson, she is a successful food blogger and designer. Her blog 101 Cookbooks is a nationally recognized blog for simple recipes using sustainable, whole foods. We are fans of the blog and decided to give the cookbook a try. The theme of “Super Natural Cooking” is the use of whole, natural foods in easy, basic vegetarian recipes. Think of the book as a solid introduction to the world of whole-foods cooking (and if you don’t know about ingredients like amaranth or quinoa, you soon will).
Happily, Swanson does a good job of providing simple recipes that highlight the natural ingredients, rather than trying to re-engineer classic dishes. We are moving through her recipes and they are clear, well-written and the results are tasty. One of the first recipes we tried from the cookbook were for her Espresso Banana Muffins, but Swanson notes that adding chocolate chunks is a good option- so we ran with that and adapted the recipe.
Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip muffins sound exactly like what they are. The “natural” adaptation is the use of white whole wheat flour and cane sugar instead of their refined cousins white flour and sugar. The white whole wheat flour provides a slightly nuttier flavor than white flour, which is welcome in this dish, as it compliments the bananas. As for the use of cane sugar, most people will be hard-pressed to taste a difference in flavor. Cane sugar has more of the natural molasses than refined sugar and gives a bit of pleasant (at least to us) “funk” to the sweetness of the sugar. To be honest, we use cane sugar syrup in cocktails all the time but could not taste it in the muffins. But this is fine, it just makes the point that cane sugar is a worthy option to replace refined sugar, if you are so inclined.
As for making the muffins, it’s a traditional muffin recipe. The dry and wet ingredients are combined separately and then the dry ingredients are folded into the wet ingredients. Mix as little as possible to keep the muffins from getting tough. Pour into cups and bake. The only “extra” step is mashing the bananas, which takes less than a minute. And you can use a stand mixer, or not. Easy.
And very tasty. Our boys enjoyed the muffins for breakfast, and so did we. Sweet, nutty and with good texture and some richness from the chocolate, the muffins didn’t last long. The “healthiness” or “naturalness” of the ingredients didn’t come up. Now you might say “that’s just a muffin recipe with white whole wheat flour and cane sugar”. And you would are right. But that’s the point. Swanson’s recipes do a good job showing what you can do with “whole” and “natural” ingredients. And they taste good. We are all for it, and recommend you check out 101 cookbooks or “Super Natural Cooking” if you have the time. Or just make these muffins, you will be happy.
Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins:
Notes Before You Start:
- You can substitute white flour and white sugar in this dish, the color and flavor may be slightly lighter. But white whole wheat flour really is the better flavor for this dish. (King Arthur Flour is a good source for white whole wheat flour).
- Swanson’s recipe includes 1 and 1/4 cups of chopped walnuts. Our kids don’t like walnuts so we omit them. If you want to include them, just add 1 cup of the walnuts to the dry ingredients and then sprinkle the 1/4 cup of walnuts on the muffins just before baking.
What You Get: Tasty, rich muffins that happen to come from white whole wheat flour and unrefined sugar.
What You Need: No special equipment required, but an ice-cream scoop or disher makes it much, much easier to put the muffin batter in the cups.
How Long? 60 minutes of total cooking with about 15 minutes of active time. This can be an anytime dish and is certainly a good weekend breakfast or brunch recipe.
- 2 cups white whole-wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder (aluminum-free if available)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks
- 1 tablespoon fine espresso powder
- 6 tablespoons unsalted, room-temperature butter
- 3/4 cup natural cane sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 and 1/2 cups of mashed overripe bananas (3 large or 4 medium bananas)
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees and place the racks low in the oven. Line your muffin tin with 12 paper liners.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, chocolate and espresso powder in a medium bowl.
- In a separate large bowl or mixer bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, yogurt and mashed bananas.
- Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix lightly, until just combined, to avoid tough muffins.
- Spoon the batter into the muffin tin. Place into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow the muffins to cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Then remove the muffins from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Serve.