Friday, February 19, 2016

A Superstar Muffin and Steampunk Shawlette

Ever since our trip to New Zealand my muffin expectations have been heightened.  Before that trip I had never been much of a fan because muffins here in the United States are typically puny, unexciting and heavy tasting, with very few exceptions.  But New Zealand opened my eyes to the potential for muffins.  Every coffee shop sold an amazing selection of wonderful looking jumbo muffins.  I remember how appealing they looked piled high in woven baskets in sumptuous sounding flavors like raspberry and chocolate, lemon and blueberry, and white chocolate with buttercream frosting to name just a few of the combinations that I recall.  I think I'll have to go back to New Zealand as I would like to refresh my memory on all the combinations. There's nice scenery too, if you care for that sort of thing. I'm just kidding, the scenery in New Zealand is incredible and you really should go and not just for the muffins.

After years of disappointment and grumbling about American muffins you can imagine my interest was peaked when I saw the Bake From Scratch magazine was featuring "Morning Muffins Reinvented."  Was this going to be the same old American muffin I wondered?  My first sampling was the Cinnamon Swirl Muffins with Pecan, and I loved them, but it was when I tried the Banana Chocolate Espresso Swirl Muffins that I knew that I had found that special muffin.  A Superstar Muffin!  One that could compete with muffins anywhere (even New Zealand)!  And fortunately for you when I reached out to Bake from Scratch they graciously gave me permission to share their recipe. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do and have fun baking them and sharing them with your friends!

Quickly, before I get to the recipe I want to give you my chocolate melting tip as you will be melting chocolate for this recipe.  Yep, it has melted chocolate in the batter.  Need I really say more about these muffins?

Tip for Melting Chocolate:

The recipe shared below gives the recommended and preferred method for melting chocolate which is to use a double boiler.  That method works great.  If you have the patience of a saint.  But I'm no saint.  So this is my quick and dirty method for melting chocolate.  To melt chocolate pour morsels into a micro-wave safe bowl and give it short zaps in the micro (10 to 15 seconds) stirring well after every zap as this helps the chocolate to melt evenly.  Once the chocolate gets to the stage where it's almost all melted set the bowl on the counter and allow the heat of the melting chocolate to finish the job.  Chocolate scorches easily so short zaps is the key.

Banana Chocolate Espresso Swirl Muffin Recipe

Shared courtesy of Bake From Scratch (recipe found in Winter 2016 issue).  For more baking inspiration follow them on Twitter and Instagram ~

Yield  8 jumbo muffins

1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
11/2 tablespoons (6 grams) espresso powder
2 cups (256 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (185 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
11/2 cups mashed banana
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (108 grams) vegetable oil
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* N.B.  I garnished mine with a few jumbo bittersweet chocolate chips sprinkled on top just before baking.  This is purely optional and my addition because, like Emeril Lagasse, I like that little extra bam to my baking.

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 8 jumbo muffin cups with parchment or paper liners or coat well with cooking spray.

2.  In the top of a double boiler, melt chocolate with espresso powder.  Remove from heat, and let cool.  In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Make a well in the center of mixture.  In a medium bowl, whisk together mashed banana, eggs, oil, buttermilk, molasses, and vanilla.  Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.  Spoon 11/2 cups (330 grams) batter into a separate bowl, and stir in chocolate-espresso mixture.

3.  Spoon banana batter into prepared muffin cups, filling two-thirds full.  Using the back of a spoon, make a shallow trench in the middle of each muffin cup.  Spoon in chocolate-espresso batter, and swirl with a wooden pick.  Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Vis-a-vis the chocolate chip garnish, without the chocolate chips they are perfect with a morning cup of coffee but if you like a sweet pick me up the added chocolate chips make this muffin a great midmorning snack.

Steampunk Shawlette ~

As a transitional piece to Spring this shawlette is just the thing.  Knit in a sport weight yarn it has more heft than most shawlettes and the best part is that it's a free pattern!  It has a steampunk vibe but you probably recognize it as the Age of Brass and Steam Kerchief  (designed by Orange Flower Yarn) as it has been hugely popular with online knitters.   My only "modification" if you will was to add a knit broach as it's really too small to tie effectively (I made the broach by knitting a simple flower and adding a silver button for the center.  A broach clasp is sewn to the back). Gifted to my sister who wears blue well and seemed very pleased with it.

I'm sad to report that this yarn is no longer available as La Lana Wools closed its doors with the death of its founder and inspiration, Luisa Gelenter.  This was a unique yarn company located in the American Southwest in the artsy community of Taos, New Mexico selling plant dyed yarns and custom proprietary patterns. Today there are a lot of beautiful yarns being hand dyed but this yarn was truly artisanal with each skein being unique, rustic and beautiful.  I knit this shawlette using the last of my stash so there will be no future projects using this yarn but I'm grateful that I have the La Lana wool creations that I have including my Sea foam Shawl, several scarves (gold) and (blue) and my Gaucho Vest.  La Lana Wools was a unique experience and the passing of its founder was a tremendous loss to the knitting community.

Until next time be well, love well and while it's still cold and wintery be sure to enjoy some rich and indulgent muffins..... like Banana Chocolate Espresso Swirl Muffins.... with your morning cup of coffee.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why I Knit ~

This post should really be titled "Why I knit as Much as I Do."  Because I was a knitter for many years before I morphed into the somewhat prolific knitter that I've become.  There is a reason behind this. What happened about 10 years ago was I hit a really rough patch and for reasons that were unfathomable to me I was swamped with bad news on top of bad news.  Nothing life threatening but, upsetting nonetheless.  At the time I shopped for yarn in a traditional LYS using mass produced commercial yarns, but decided to treat myself to a splurge purchase and bought some gorgeous Noro silk garden yarn along with the pattern book to knit the Sursa shawl that I had seen made up as a store sample.  As I sat down and began to knit that shawl the beauty of the yarn and the soothing simple pattern was a healing balm to my soul.  It was the first time I had ever knit with a yarn like Noro that was handcrafted in beautiful colors and in a luxury fiber.  To this day I can remember how thrilled I was to see the gorgeous fabric the yarn created and I was happy when knitting despite everything else going on.  And that made that period of my life easier to bear.

To this day I rely on knitting to help me through stressful times.  I'll go back to the basics which is a simple garter stitch shawl paired with a wonderful yarn and that's exactly what the shawl I am wearing is.  It's the Stripe Study Shawl and I knit the majority of it over Christmas when I (along with my dad, sister and Steve) spent many days in the hospital with my Mom as she was recovering from an emergency surgery and during the weeks of ups and downs inevitable when someone is recovering from a serious operation such as she had.  Of course my mother who knit herself when she was young enjoyed seeing my progress.  There's no one who quite gives you the enthusiastic encouragement as a parent, bless her heart.  And I'm extremely happy to report that she's home now and recovering well and I feel once again able to tackle more challenging knitting.  But I'll always turn to a particular type of knitting as an escape during difficult times and I think in a way this also explains why I knit as much as I do even in the best of times.

Particulars:  Stripe Study Shawl designed by Veera Valimaki (Rain Knitwear Designs); US 6 needles; 2 skeins Plucky Knitter Snug (70% merino 20% cashmere 10% alpaca).  Yarn was purchased as part of a 3 skein "mystery kit."  I had less yarn than the pattern called for and only had enough of the Hudson (pink) to knit 10 instead of 12 repeats.  I had a fair about of the grey leftover and could have knit a longer border but felt the overall balance of the shawl worked best stopping when I did.  This yarn knits up beautifully and creates a beautiful shawl.

The Staff of Life  ~

I was happy to hear that Oprah Winfrey eats bread everyday.  I do too so I'm hoping this will help dispel the negative image it's gotten these past few years.  I think the key to eating bread, as with so much in life, is to eat it in moderation and as part of a well balanced diet.  Although as a caveat I am not eating brioche every morning.  Instead I have a slice of my homemade country sourdough loaf that has no butter or fat whatsoever as the wild yeast and long rising process gives it flavor and texture.  I also have along with my bread a bowl of steel cut oatmeal and fruit and a pot of tea.   But every once in a while I splurge and enjoy a treat such as freshly baked brioche on a Sunday morning as pictured above.  I made this petite brioche using the recipe from the Le Pain Quotidien cookbook (Amazon link) and I like them better than those they sell in the bakery.  Just wonderful and pairs perfectly with a tart cherry jam.

Until next time be well and love well and happy knitting.  May it help you through the difficulties you encounter in this life as it has me.