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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.