I remember sitting in front of the television several years ago completely mesmerized by a warm and friendly looking lady making orange yogurt on the Food Network. Using a cheese cloth and sieve she strained a tub of plain yogurt and made it into a creamy rather than watery dessert, adding orange zest and juice, honey, and vanilla. Utterly simple but simply genius!
What does this have to do with banana bread and who is this mystery lady?
From that moment on, after witnessing the transformation of something seemingly unpalatable as plain yogurt into a lively combination of sour and sweet, tangy and mellow, I was hooked on Ina Garten — more popularly known as the Barefoot Contessa.
Ina Garten’s thoughtful recipes combine simple ingredients that intuitively complement each other to yield wonderfully tasting food that just makes sense. Easy but elegant without a touch of pretension, it’s easy to see why the Barefoot Contessa has such a devoted following.
The banana crunch muffin recipe was the first that I tried when I finally got my hands on one of her cookbooks this past summer. I love muffins because they’re so versatile, lending themselves easily to a filling morning breakfast or a sweet afternoon snack. I’ve tried other recipes for banana bread and muffins but none have come out as good as these.
The flavorful bananas clearly lay the foundations for both the tastes and textures of the remaining ingredients. The bread bakes to a golden perfection that is soft and moist with the delicate flavor of the bananas seeping through every spongy fiber. The little specks and gooey bits of banana scattered through the bread creates a striking and rustic pattern to the eye. But it’s definitely not all aesthetics with this recipe.
Banana Crunch Muffins, from Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 extra-large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
1 cup medium-diced ripe bananas (1 banana)
1 cup small-diced walnuts
1 cup granola
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Dried banana chips, granola, or shredded coconut, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 18 large muffin cups with paper liners.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the melted butter and blend.
3. Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas, and add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Scrape the bowl and blend well. Don’t overmix.
4. Fold the diced bananas, walnuts, granola, and coconut into the batter. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each 1 to the top. Top each muffin with dried banana chips, granola, or coconut, if desired.
5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, remove from the pan, and serve.
I usually don’t have walnuts, granola, or coconut lying around so I omit those ingredients from the recipe. I’ve made these muffins several times now and I’ve yet to be able to add all three of those optional ingredients — I think the closest I’ve gotten to the original recipe is adding granola and the diced bananas and yet this recipe comes out great every single time.
Although the recipe doesn’t call for it, I usually add a pinch of cinnamon to the batter as well. The cinnamon scent and flavor goes really well with the banana bread. When I make these as muffins, I sometimes also make a streusel topping with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon that creates a wonderful crunchy textural contrast to the softness of the bread.
I also halve the recipe and get eight or so good-sized muffins which are just enough to last me the week. These muffins stay really moist and soft even after a couple of days if kept in an air-tight container.