Last week, on a day that fiercely called for chocolate, I decided to make a pan of brownies along with a pan of these chocolate muffins. We brought the brownies to our friends Amber and Annie’s house for a dinner party and kept the muffins on the kitchen counter where they sustained us through a few rainy, busy workdays. Sam’s nephew Kevin is living with us for a while and somehow that fact alone has convinced me that we need more treats in the house (although I would like to say for the record that Kevin is far more conservative with treats than I am on most days and there’s a strong chance I ate more of these muffins than both men combined). They’re humble, boast just the right amount of chocolate, are wonderfully moist and even better the second day.
To be honest, I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to mention these chocolate muffins to you at all. They’re inspired by a recipe in Dan Lepard’s excellent baking book Short and Sweet. You may know Lepard from his food column in The Guardian. He’s a very British baker (although he’s from Australia originally) in the sense that he’s drawn to humble cakes and classic old-fashioned recipes. I find myself returning to his book over and over because he quietly (and sometimes daringly) uses whole-grain flours in unexpected places — and makes no big cheers or to-do’s about it. Each recipe is very much geared towards the home baker, and a quick flip-through always reinvigorates my excitement for baking. So when Dan Lepard described his Chocolate Custard Muffins as “the best chocolate muffin you’ll ever taste,” I thought to myself: Say no more.
In looking at the recipe though, I found myself wanting to futz with it a little — and now we get to the part of this post where my muffin neurosis becomes quite clear. First, what makes these muffins instead of cupcakes? Did I feel o.k. eating them for breakfast or did they seem more appropriate for dessert? Didn’t I find it odd that they begin with 1/2 cup of corn starch? Even in the juiciest of August peach pies, I’ve only relied on half that amount of cornstarch. What was the science behind the cornstarch? Could I make an egg-based custard instead? Maybe I need another cup of tea before turning on the oven? But really, questions and neurosis aside, I trusted Dan Lepard and his bold claim that this is the best chocolate muffin so I plodded forward … with just a few changes.
I have been really loving pairing chocolate with rye flour lately, so I used 100% whole-grain rye flour in these muffins, swapped in coconut oil and natural sugar, added a good dash of salt and cacao nibs to scatter on the tops. In the end, I know one thing for sure: they weren’t very custardy (although they were wonderfully moist), so I’ve opted to call my version Nibby Chocolate Rye Muffins. And while I’m not 100% sure they’re the best chocolate muffin I’ve ever tasted, they do make a ho-hum rainy weekday feel like a little celebration. They’re comforting in a way that a super rich, decadent muffin just wouldn’t be plus they have these wonderfully grooved tops that make them feel decidedly rustic.
I can say firmly that I quite fancy them. Kevin gave them two thumbs up (which isn’t all too common around here) and Sam repeated many times that he was very fond of them. So I decided to share them here with you … all with the hope that you’ll make them and tell me what you think. And even better: maybe you know the science behind the cornstarch? Or perhaps you may share your favorite chocolate muffin recipe here so I can keep this trend of small, daily celebrations going for a few weeks at the very least.
Bay Area! I’m in your neck of the woods next week. Will you come out and say hello? You can find me at the following places (I’ll have granola samples and my pen ready to sign your copy of Whole-Grain Mornings). It’d be cool if we could all have a chocolate muffin or two as well, but that might just be pushing our luck(For future events in Portland, Vancouver or Seattle see an updated tour list on the Whole Grain Mornings book page).
Friday 2/7: 11am-1pm Book Signing + Granola Tasting at Anthropologie, Berkeley (see below for more information and RSVP!) – FREE
Saturday 2/8: 9:30 am-12 pm: Book Signing Birite Divisadaro – FREE
Saturday 2/8: 3-6 pm Breakfast Better Cooking Class at 18 Reasons (there are a few spots left! Come join us!)
Sunday 2/9: 1 p.m. Book Talk + Granola Tasting at Book Passage, Corte Madera – FREE
Adapted from: Short and Sweet
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tray with paper liners (or butter well).
Place the cornstarch, cocoa, brown sugar and water into a saucepan and whisk together constantly over medium heath until boiling and quite thick. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and chocolate until thoroughly combined.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Add the oil, vanilla and eggs to the chocolate mixture and stir well. Fold in the sugar and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and thick. Fold in the flour mixture and stir until no clumps remain.
Spoon the batter into muffin liners, and sprinkle the tops with cacao nibs. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops have puffed and are dry to the touch — yet still a touch jiggly in the center . Let cool on a wire rack before serving.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.