Muffins: the cake method

AriCooks, breakfast, quick breads and tea cakes, Tips and Tricks

Chocolatey, moist, banana-y, tender, sweet breakfast deliciousness. How does that sound?

That’s what I though.

As I mentioned in my post ‘Marathon Muffins’, Nick Malgieri of The Modern Baker, likes to make his muffins using the ‘cake method’ as opposed to the ‘muffin method’. For those of you familiar with the differences between those two methods, feel free to skip ahead a bit, for the rest of you, I’ll explain:

In the realm of Quick Breads — which is how we refer to baked goods such as tea cakes, muffins, scones, biscuits and so on (pretty much anything that goes into a tin or a pan and contains flour, baking soda or powder, eggs, butter or oil, sugar and so forth) — there are three main mixing methods.

The Muffin Method (named aptly, because it is traditionally used to make muffins) involves putting your dry ingredients into one bowl (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder/soda, and spices) and your wet ingredients into another bowl (oil, eggs, vanilla) and combining the two mixtures with as few swift strokes as possible.

The Cake Method will usually call for butter (or margerine) instead of oil, and milk or buttermilk as well. The butter will be creamed with some sugar, the eggs and vanilla then added in, and after they are all combined nicely the flour/salt/baking powder mixture will be added alternately will the milk or buttermilk.

The Biscuit Method is what we use to make scones and biscuits. It involves keeping the butter or shortening very very cold and ‘cutting’ it into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, two knives or a food processor with a ‘pulse’ setting. The liquids (often cream and sometimes and egg or two) and then added quickly and the whole thing comes together with as little handling as possible.

The muffin method is appealing when making breakfast on the spot because it is very fast and involves little fuss. I appreciate not having to use an electric mixer or to soften anything ahead of time and getting as few bowls and kitchen implements dirty as possible, always makes me happy, since we don’t have a dishwasher these days. Muffin Method, I salute you.

That being said however, I am a convert now to the cake method when it comes to making muffins, because the results are FAR superior and certainly seem worth the time and effort if you can spare it. These cocoa banana muffins were the stars of our Mother’s Day brunch this past Sunday and in spite of this recipe making 16 instead of 12, by the next day they were gone.

Cocoa Banana Muffins, Adapted from The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri

Update 8/26/10: I added 1/4 cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger to these and will be making it this way from now on! Yum!

Makes 16 standard muffins

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour  (spoon flours into dry-measure cup and level off)

2/3 cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder, sifted after measuring (I substituted in a couple of Tablespoons of black onyx cocoa powder available from

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3  very ripe medium bananas (they should be mottled with dark brown and black spots, otherwise your muffins will be lacking flavor), peeled and mashed with a fork to make 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup sour cream (I used toffuti brand non-dairy sour cream, with wonderful results)

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar

3 large eggs (I did not try to make these egg-replacer, if you do, please let me know how they come out)

1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped (optional)

Two 12-cavity muffin pans with 8 paper liners in each

  1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir well to mix.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together the mashed bananas and sour cream; set aside.
  4. Combine the butter, sugar, and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and place on mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about a minute, or until well mixed and a little lightened in color.
  5. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating smooth after each addition.
  6. Decrease the mixer speed to low and beat in half the flour mixture. Stop the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to scrape down the bowl and beater.
  7. On low speed, beat in the banana mixture. After the batter has absorbed the banana mixture, beat in the remaining flour mixture.
  8. Stop and scrape down the bowl and beater again.
  9. add the crystallized ginger, if using
  10. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to give a final mixing to the batter.
  11. Divide the batter equally among the paper-lined cavities in the muffin pans.
  12. Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes, or until they are well risen and feel firm to the touch. Because this is such a liquid batter, test a muffin with a toothpick or the point if a thin-bladed knife – it should emerge with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
  13. Cool the muffins in the pan on a rack.

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