gluten-free mini banana muffins

First off, I need to work on my photography skills because this photo does not do the product justice. These mini-banana muffins are moist, little bites of heaven. They are sprinkled alternately with a crunchy crust of demerara sugar or dark chocolate chips. You can easily pop 3 or 4 in your mouth in under five minutes without realizing it. That is to say, they will not last long, but they will be enjoyed immensely while they are around.

These do take a bit of planning because the batter sits overnight in your fridge, but rather than seeing this as a negative, think of it as an easy way to wake up to freshly baked muffins. Make the batter on Tuesday, wake your family up Wednesday morning to the smell of sweet banana muffins without all the mess.

I first found this recipe in Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery cookbook which has much better pictures than my website. I mean, you might even drool on the pages of this book. Seriously. I checked the book out from the library and kept re-checking it out and re-checking it out until I finally broke down and bought it. A little silly, since it is not a cookbook focused on gluten-free baking.... but I'm not the kind of person to let that stop me. (I'm looking forward to the challenge of cooking through an entire cookbook later this year, adapting all the recipes to gluten-free. Stay tuned for more on this later.)

Anyhoo, I was amazed how well this recipe turned out using my GF flour blend....

6 cups white rice flour
3 cups tapioca flour
1.5 cups potato starch
1 cup powdered milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons xanthan gum

It was nothing like any GF muffin I'd ever made and nothing like the GF banana breads I've had that often sink in the middle, are too dense, or too wet. These muffins are fluffy clouds of banana goodness. Fluffy clouds! I'm actually convinced this is not because of my flour blend, but rather because of the overnight rest in the refrigerator. According to Keller, resting the batter overnight in the fridge allows "the flour to hydrate... which results in a very moist muffin... (it) also enhances the flavor and gives a better crumb."

Yeah, what he said.

From reading many, many (too many) cookbooks and baking blogs, it really seems like the best way to measure your ingredients is with a scale. Keller does it and I've found it to be both helpful and convenient. You don't have to spend a ton of money on a scale. My scale doesn't do a great job with small amounts, like .4 grams, so for small amounts, I'll often go with the teaspoon measurement and not the scale. At the same time, I'll still weigh it to try to get it close to the amount called for. If there is a huge discrepancy between the scale and teaspoon (like with salt... kosher salt is heavy), I'll usually defer to the scale.

Finally, you'll see that the recipe calls for either vanilla paste or vanilla extract. As far as I can tell, vanilla paste can be substituted wherever a recipe calls for vanilla extract and you can substitute it 1:1. The paste simply cuts down on the amount of liquid added to the recipe. Also, you have the option of either crème frâiche or plain greek yogurt. I've made this recipe with both and the batches turned out equally well. So, go with whichever is easiest for you to find. I think you might even be able to get away with sour cream if you have that handy.

One thing I've learned from baking gluten-free and adapting recipes is that the hype about baking being this precise, exact art is somewhat exaggerated. You can and should experiment, just as chefs get to do with their mains. Baking is finicky, but not so much that you should feel like you can't make substitutions. And, you should definitely not be intimidated into buying boxed mixes. You can bake from scratch. Just try!

Gluten Free Mini Banana Muffins (adapted from Thomas Keller Bouchon Bakery)
-makes about 36 mini muffins-

  • 168 grams gluten-free flour blend (with xanthan gum)
  • 3.6 grams baking soda (3/4 teaspoon)
  • 2.4 grams baking powder (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 4.4 grams kosher salt (1-1/2 teaspoon)
  • 120 grams unsalted butter at room temperature (4.2 ounces)
  • 144 grams light brown sugar (3/4 cup lightly packed)
  • 80 grams eggs (approximately 1.5 large eggs)
  • 7 grams vanilla paste or extract (1-1/8th teaspoon)
  • 24 grams crème frâiche or plain greek yogurt (1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons)
  • 256 grams mashed banana (approx 3 bananas or 1 cup)
  • chocolate chips and demerara sugar for sprinkling (to taste)

So, like I said above, this is a 2-day baking project... BUT DON'T BE OVERWHELMED. I swear, it's not that hard. Let's start nice and easy by making the batter. Get yourself a medium-sized bowl and add your flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to the bowl. Give it a good mix. If you want to go crazy, you can sift it all in... but I've found that you don't need to.

Pull out your stand mixer and cream your room-temperature butter on medium-low speed. Thomas Keller actually has this amazing chart for mixer speeds. Have you ever wondered what a recipe means when it says "cream your room-temperature butter on  medium-low speed?" Is that on 4? 6? 8? Well, Keller doesn't make you wonder and I won't either. Here is the cheat sheet of all cheat sheets-- 

  • mix on low = 2
  • mix on medium low = 4
  • mix on medium = 6
  • mix on medium-high = 8
  • mix on high = 10

Of course, Keller specifies that this is for the 5-quart Artisan Kitchen Aid mixer, but let's not be so precise (because like I said before, you don't always have to be when it comes to baking) and say it works for all stand mixers. Once your butter is creamy like mayo, add your sugar and mix for 1-2 minutes until the mixture is fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add your eggs and vanilla paste or extract.

Keller weighs his eggs and even does this trick to separate the chalazae using a mesh seive.

Wait, you don't know what chalazae is?!?! OMG!!!

Don't feel bad, neither did I. Apparently, chalazae is that white stringy thing that connects the yolk to the white of the egg. Now, do I do this fancy trick? I do not. I figure since I didn't know what the chalazae was and I've been baking with it forever, I'm not going to stop now. That said, feel free to remove it if you like. If you don't have a scale, I've found that the average large-sized egg weighs about 50 grams which makes two of them about 100 grams. Beat your two eggs together and dump out what looks like about 1/5 of what is in the bowl, leaving 80 grams of eggs for your recipe-- right? Is my math right?  Add the lightly beaten eggs to your mixer, along with the vanilla. Mix for about 15-30 seconds on low speed- check the chart- that's right, mix it on 2! To keep your muffins fluffy, don't overmix.

Now, we're going to add all the dry ingredients you whisked up earlier. Add them to your mixer in two additions, mixing on low until just combined. Scrape down your bowl. Add your crème frâiche (if you're feeling fancy) or your plain greek yogurt and your mashed bananas. Mix it all together on low for about 30 seconds or until just combined. 

Ta-da! That's your batter. Throw it in a tupperware and stick it in your refrigerator overnight or up to 36 hours. Nighty night.

Good morning, Beautiful! Today is your day to be amazing. You're making gluten-free mini banana muffins! Preheat your oven to 425 and begin filling your mini-cupcake tin with liners. I like to double up on liners because I think it makes a prettier finished product. All that delicious butter can seep through a single liner. If you double-up, your liners stay bright and brilliant. Fill your muffin liners about 3/4s of the way up with your refrigerated batter. I like to use a small ice cream scoop to keep the muffins relatively uniform in size. It also makes me feel like a professional baker. (It's the little things, right?)

Now, it's your chance to really personalize your muffin. You like chocolate? Top your muffins with 4 or 5 chocolate chips. You like a crunchy top? Sprinkle a heavy layer of demerara sugar on top. How about cinnamon or almond? Add that to your sugar and sprinkle it on. Have fun with it. After all, it's not like you're saving the world. You're baking muffins!

Once your muffins are properly topped, turn your oven down to 325 and pop the tin in. Do not forget to lower the oven temperature or you'll end up with burnt muffins! You won't have saved the world or made delicious muffins. It's a real bummer, trust me. I've heard that the shifting oven temperature helps your muffins puff up more, a challenge for many GF baked goods. I haven't tested it with many other recipes, but it is definitely true for this one. 

After 10 minutes, give your muffin tin a spin, moving the muffins from the back to the front. Bake for about another 7-10 minutes, checking after 7 for doneness. You'll know they're done when they're golden brown and spring back to the touch. When they are done, pull them out to cool for a few minutes and then remove the muffins from the tin to cool completely on a rack. At least, that's Keller's advice. My advice? Live a little! Eat them while they're still warm! Slice one open, add a pat of butter and gobble it up. A-MAZ-ING, right? Maybe you did just save the world....


maple ice cream with salty buttered pecans

Maple Ice Cream with Salty Buttered Pec  ans

Little known fact. Ice cream tastes better in the winter. That's right. All of our years running after the ice cream man in the summer was for naught. There's something about eating something cold in the cold that is pretty magical. I learned this when I studied abroad in Russia. My friends and I loved buying the flattened pre-scooped ice cream cones from the street vendors. They only came in vanilla and chocolate and the wafer cone was soft and chewy, but who cared? It was super creamy and it was snowing out and it tasted amazing!

Last Friday I woke up to the news that Winter Storm Jonas was barreling down upon us and we were setting up for a real #snowmaggedon. So, what did I do? Make a big pot of soup? Dash to the store to stock up on milk? Nope and nope. I put some maple syrup on the stovetop and pulled out my ice cream maker. 

Making ice cream from scratch does take longer than running to the store to pick up a pint. But, trust me, once you taste homemade ice cream-- made with whole milk, heavy cream and no preservatives-- you will have a hard time going back to Haagen-Dazs. You do have to eat your homemade ice cream more quickly than store-bought (it melts faster and won't last as long in your freezer), but trust me, these are not problems you will have to face. Your ice cream will be gone before you know it! It's that good.

Maple Ice Cream with Salty Buttered Pecans (adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home)

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch (you can use tapioca starch if you have corn sensitivities)
  • 3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I use Maldon or bigger-grained salt, not tiny-grained table salt)
  • 1-1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons cane syrup (I use Steen's, but you can use light corn syrup instead)
  • 1-1/2 cups Grade B pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup pecans (you can use almonds, walnuts, or hickory nuts if you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Thanks to my Mainer Aunt Jane, I have a HUMONGOUS jug of organic pure Maine maple syrup which is just perfect for this recipe. If you don't have a Mainer Aunt Jane, you're missing out, but you can still make this recipe. Just go out and get yourself some pure maple syrup, aka not Mrs. Butterworth. Bring the maple syrup to a boil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Keep an eye on it and let it reduce by one-half. Depending on how hard you're letting it boil, this can take anywhere from 15- 20ish minutes.

While your syrup is reducing, you can prep the rest of your ingredients. In a smallish bowl, mix your cornstarch (or tapioca starch) with 2 tablespoons of the milk to make a thin paste. In a largish bowl, mix your cream cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of your salt together. (You want to use a big enough bowl that you can add your ice cream base to this cream cheese mixture at the end.) And, finally, in a larger measuring cup, stir together your heavy cream and cane syrup.

Now, go back and check your syrup. Is it reduced by half? Good. It's Go-Time. Leaving the reduced syrup in your pot, take the pot off the heat and add your cream & cane syrup mixture and the rest of your milk to the pot. Stir it all together and return the pot to medium-high heat. Bring it back to a boil and let it boil for about 4 minutes-- it may look slightly curdled, don't worry. While it is boiling, prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl. You will cool your ice cream off in this before adding it to your ice cream maker. 

Has it boiled about 4 minutes? Ok, remove your pot from the heat and add your pastey cornstarch mixture, whisking it completely into the pot. Return it all ONE MORE TIME to the medium-high heat and boil for about a minute. Mix it with a rubber spatula to feel the ice cream base thickening up. Once it starts to thicken, remove the pot from the heat. Take a whiff of that sweet buttery maple smell. Amazing, right? Now, pour that boiling mixture of goodness into your prepared bowl of cream cheese & salt. Whisk it gently until smooth.

Here comes the really messy part. Set an opened gallon-sized zip lock back in your ice water bath and carefully, carefully pour the mixture from the bowl into the bag. This is super messy, but at least all the inevitable drips and drops will give you the chance to sample your ice cream. (Always look on the bright side, right?!) Once you've gotten all you can into the bag, seal it up and submerge the ice cream in the ice water bath. Let it sit there about 30-minutes, adding ice cubes to keep the water cold as needed.

While your ice cream cools off, it's a perfect time to make your salty buttered pecans. Preheat your oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean-up. Use your microwave to melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small bowl. Add your nuts to the melted butter along with the remaining half teaspoon of salt. Mix and mix and mix. Then, spread the salty buttered pecans out on the baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, tossing after 5. Keep a close eye on them, burned buttery nuts get bitter and don't taste so good. The good news is you can always make a second batch-- I've had to do this-- in a short amount of time. So, defintiely keep an eye on them. When, they're golden and buttery (not burnt) smelling, take them out and set them aside to cool.

We're almost done, I promise. Set up your ice cream maker. I have a basic Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker (in red because I just think red looks nice in a kitchen) and it works perfectly. If it's been about 30 minutes, pour your now chilled ice cream into your ice cream maker and turn it on, baby! I like to let mine churn outside where it is colder because I think it helps it thicken up more quickly. Even so, it will take 30 minutes or so before it gets to a good consistency. I know mine is well mixed if it is getting close to the top of the ice cream maker. Every machine is different though, so trust your judgement. Once it is well thickened (it should at least be like soft-serve consistency), fill up your ice cream tub, folding in the cooled salty buttered pecans. I sometimes place a sheet of parchment paper over the top of the ice cream before putting the lid on to protect the ice cream from air/freezer burn. I don't know if this works or not and I'm sure my sister (who is really smart) would tell me this does nothing, but it makes me feel better. So, if you choose, put a piece of parchment paper over your ice cream (like you're tucking it in for the night), put the lid on your tub and place it all in the freezer for at least 4 hours.

Flash forward four hours. Put a few scoops in a cup and go sit on a park bench in the snow and enjoy. I dare you to tell me that that's not the best thing you've ever had! Ice cream just tastes better in cold weather... and when it's homemade.