Monday, February 28, 2011

Banana Nutella Mini-Muffins . . . It's Never Too Late!

Despite the fact that I completely missed World Nutella Day on February 5th, I figure better late than never, right? I must have been sequestered in a remarkably secluded cave, or just not paying any attention that day to current baking-and-blogging events, because I heard nothing about it until after the fact.

Shocking, I know.

This was unfortunate, because an unopened jar of Nutella--that divinely spreadable combo of hazelnut and chocolate--had been haunting my basement baking cupboard for a quite a few weeks. No ordinary storage space, this small pantry on wheels is a repository of unusual and/or pricey baking ingredients that I'm loathe to let into the general population of food items in my household.

It's where I hoard cocoa nibs, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla beans. Where I protect super-premium chocolate, jars of really good imported jam or citrus curd, and hard to find honeys from the prying fingers of my kids.  It's also where I store exotic and breakable bottles of orange flower water, rosewater, extracts, oils, and sweet liqueurs to use as flavorings. It's just one of several spots here and there in my kitchen, dining room, and basement that house the many and varied accoutrements of my baking obsession--but that little storage spot is the most rarified of them all. It's a wonder I've never thought to padlock it . . . or maybe booby trap the doors . . .

Anyway, I know Nutella's hardly rare and not especially costly, but that lone jar of Nutella was down there because it wasn't quite safe anywhere else. The only options, as I saw it, were to keep that chubby brown jar under house-arrest in the quiet darkness of the cupboard or force it into the federal witness protection program. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you're a fellow Nutella fan, I know you understand.

About this recipe . . .

This muffin formula was inspired by or, if you prefer, adapted from, a recipe for peanut-butter banana bread found in Cooking Light magazine's October 2010 issue. The original PB banana bread recipe can be found online by clicking here. I made a number of changes to the original, resulting in these incredibly moist and tasty muffins. To say I was pleased with how these turned out would be an understatement. My family loved them--especially Nathan, the 14-year old. He's brutally honest about anything I bake and never sugar coats his opinion (pun intended). I know I've produced something good if he gives it a thumbs up.

Among my alterations to the original recipe: I used sour cream instead of plain yogurt; I substituted Nutella for crunchy peanut butter; I used 1/3 of a cup of fresh hazelnut meal (finely ground hazelnuts) instead of 1/4 cup of ground flaxseeds; I omitted the spices entirely (cinnamon and allspice were called for), and I added in a modest splash of vanilla extract; I also dabbed a little bit of Nutella onto the top of each muffin before baking, and topped some of the unbaked muffins with a single, toasted, whole hazel nut. This recipe could easily produce 48 mini muffins, or up to 24 regular size muffins.

Before we get to the actual recipe, I wanted to mention that I used two different pans for this batch. The cork-shaped muffins were made using a Nordicware mini-popover pan--a sturdy piece of bakeware that I am pretty darn happy with; it has 12 cups.

I bought that pan about three weeks ago, for myself, as a 50th birthday present. Every girl should buy herself a few well-deserved birthday presents when she hits a milestone year like that, don't you think? (Those are, of course, in addition to gifts received from friends and family!  :)  I haven't tried using the pan yet for popovers, but they're on my to-do list. I also used a regular 24-mini-cup pan, and I ended up with enough batter leftover after all that to make one jumbo muffin (I tossed the singular jumbo into the freezer as soon as it cooled off--can't be too careful). Since these muffins lean toward the richer side of the muffin spectrum, the smaller size seemed just right.

Banana Nutella Mini-Muffins

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using baking spray or muffin liners to make 48 mini muffins, or 24 regular size muffins, or about 13 jumbos.

1 and 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup Nutella, slightly softened (Heat it for just a few seconds in the microwave if need be.)
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, large
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
1/3 cup ground hazelnut meal (I made this using 1/4 cup whole, unblanched hazelnuts; since it's such a small amount, I used my mini-coffee grinder to do it.)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)

About 1/4 cup softened Nutella, to dab on top of the unbaked muffins.
A few dozen whole unblanched hazelnuts, if you'd like to top the unbaked muffins with them.

In a large mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment on medium speed, blend together the banana, sour cream, 1/3 cup Nutella, melted butter, and eggs until very well combined (at least a couple of minutes).

Add in the sugars, beating until well blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, hazelnut meal, baking soda, and salt. Stir this into the liquid mixture, or blend it in using your mixer's lowest speed, just until combined. Don't overmix.

Using a small portion scoop, if possible, fill the muffin cups about two-thirds full. Dot the top of each with a dab of softened Nutella; use less than 1/2 a teaspoon for each one. If you like, add a single hazelnut to the top of each muffin.

Bake the muffins for about 12 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in their pans, on a rack, for a few minutes.

Remove the muffins from the pans and let them cool further on the rack.

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