Thursday, September 22, 2011

Molly Wizenberg's Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar for Cook The Books: A Homemade Life

There is a cupcake place on the main road going home that I have to pass several times a week. Most of the time I can happily ignore it. Sometimes, I whimper quietly to myself as I drive by, longing for a sweet treat. During the really tough times I give up and go in and order a couple of my favorite flavor. (You can't really order just one since it makes the bag unbalanced. I promise. I have tried.) Driving by gives me the urge to go home and bake something sweet and comforting, like these Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon by Molly Wizenberg. Sure, they don't have a pile of fluffy frosting on top like a cupcake does, but the banana-chocolate-cinnamon combination is delicious and they are like a little hug in a muffin liner. Molly's recipe is for a loaf of banana bread, but cupcakes are great portion control for me and although they do have plenty of sugar and chocolate, the recipe contains no butter or oil. So with that and the half wheat flour I swap in, I can feel better about my choice but still feel like I indulged.

Many moons ago, in my P.B. Days (that's Pre-Blogging), I typed banana bread in Google search one day looking for a good recipe and I stumbled across Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette where I found this recipe, made a loaf and promptly formed a bit of a blogger-crush on Molly. The bread was a big part of it, but her conversational writing style and simple but gorgeous pictures drew me in and sealed the deal. When her book; A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen came out a couple of years ago, I promptly bought a copy and then for some reason, I let it languish on my "to read" pile. A shame because it is a delightful book. It took a few rounds of hosting Cook the Books, the bi-monthly virtual foodie book club that I co-host along with Rachel and Johanna for me to put it in the mix as my pick for our August / September book selection.

A Homemade Life is a mix of Molly's memories and experiences, includes a plethora of delicious-sounding recipes, and is written in that same warm, lets-have-a-cup-of-tea-and-chat conversational style as her blog. Although food had always played a part in her life, Molly didn't initially head for it as a career path. It wasn't until her father passed away from cancer that she packed up and retreated to Paris ostensibly to research her dissertation, that she found herself drawn to the kitchen. Her writing evolved into her blog which quickly gained a large following, including one "fan" whom she later fell in love with and married. In the book, Molly shares in loving detail memories of food shared with family, especially her father, and then describes her time in Paris and her courtship with Brandon. The recipes are mostly simple comfort food and are woven into the narrative with care and skill. A Homemade Life is an enjoyable read, perfect for curling up in a chair and tucking into along with a cup of tea and maybe a banana muffin or two.

Molly has a few different banana bread recipes--including one with ginger and chocolate in her book. Since this recipe was my first introduction to her, it seemed fitting that I make it as my Cook the Books entry dish, inspired by the book. You can find the recipe on Orangette here. I mostly stuck to the recipe as written, just using half-whole wheat pastry flour, making my chips mini--because I like how well they sprinkle into every bite, and of course turning the loaf into muffins.

Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar
From Orangette, Molly Wizenberg
(Makes 1 large loaf or 12 muffins)

Molly says, "This lovely stuff comes together in less than an hour, including baking time. And unlike more conventional quick breads, which are best when allowed to cool fully before slicing, this one doesn’t suffer when it’s eaten warm. That makes it, in my book, a perfect last-minute dessert or afternoon treat. It’s a good one to have in the old repertoire.

Oh, and while we’re here, let’s talk about frozen bananas. I always keep a stash of them in the freezer, and I highly recommend it. I chuck them in there, peel and all, and when I want to use a few, I just pull them out, sit them in a bowl, and let them defrost at room temperature for a few hours. It doesn’t take long. You can then use them in place of fresh ripe bananas in any baked good, and they’re easier to mash, to boot. The only bad thing is that they look pretty nasty. Think wet, slippery, and slug-like, and don’t say I didn’t warn you

3 very ripe bananas (the size doesn’t much matter; medium to large works)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini chips)

For topping:
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter or spray an 8-inch square pan. (Or a muffin tin with liners)

In a medium mixing bowl, mash the bananas well with a fork or potato masher. Add the eggs, and stir well to combine. Add the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and vanilla, and stir to mix. Add ¾ cup of the chocolate chips, and stir briefly. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the batter in the pan, and top with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. (I baked mine in a 350 degree oven for about 21 minutes.)

Note: This bread, like many banana sweets, freezes beautifully. Sometimes I even like to eat frozen, cut into thick, cold, chewy slices. It’s the perfect snack for a hot summer afternoon.

OK, nothing to do with the book or the muffins, but isn't my little turquoise/white cup and tea pot set pretty darn adorable? It gets even better when you find out I stumbled across it in a church thrift store and paid $1.50 for both pieces. ;-)

Sweet enough to feel like a treat but with enough good qualities that baking them makes me feel healthier and slightly superior to my cupcake-buying persona. The cinnamon adds warm notes, the bananas make the muffins moist and tender, and the cinnamon-sugar topping gives a nice little crunch when you bite into them. These muffins are perfect with a cup of tea, and as Molly mentioned, they freeze really well too--if you can make them last that long. Banana muffins make things right in the world, so I will definitely make these again.

As mentioned, these muffins are my entry for Cook the Books. If you love to read and cook, join us. The deadline for this selection is this Monday, September 26 and Molly Wizenberg is taking the time out of her busy schedule writing a new book (yay!) to pick her favorite interpretation. Our Oct/Nov selection will be Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis, hosted by Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food.

Happy Reading and Cooking,


  1. I really need to get back into Cook the Books...I really do miss it! Maybe I'll try to hit up a Barnes and Noble tomorrow...

    Pre-blogging days...those seem kind of like the dark ages now :P This banana bread sounds lovely...I adore that you made it in muffin form, as that's what I've been doing with all my quickbreads lately! It also makes it easier to give them away.

  2. These muffins sound wonderful, very comforting. I love anything with cinnamon and chocolate. I, too, must get back to CTB. With a family wedding, volunteering, yoga, quilting, and blogging, I can't imagine how I used to work. I am going to read this, though, since I've visited Molly's blog.

  3. I was already composing my comment about your adorable teapot and cup when I got to the part about the thrift sale! You are so lucky!! I love it!

  4. love the new teapot and cup :) I have that book and need to read it soon!

  5. You pegged her writing style to a "tea"! She is one you would want to sit down with a nice steamy cup o'tea and just visit. (Especially with your nice "new" teapot!) Great CTB post. Good choice for a recipe.

  6. Great find at the rummage sale. I think I need to stop avoiding them. And a very tasty pick; those muffins are on my to try list.

  7. Your food photography on this post is just exquisite. Love the comments on Molly's book too.

  8. I admired the teapot and cup before reading your sentence about them: they are really nice. And so are the muffins.

  9. I LOVE LOVE LOVE these muffins! Cook the Books is such an awesome club and I'm so glad that I'm in my 2nd month--you made these muffins look incredible, and the book sound just as good! I love your way with words and beautiful pictures.


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