Banana and Nutella Swirl Muffins

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Oh, the dreary January weather has hit Brussels. And how. It’s true couch-weather, surely one shouldn’t be allowed to go to work on dreary, cold January days, which scream out for blankets and cocoa and movies and naps. I’ve decided to leave my Christmas decorations up until at least my birthday, which is later this month. I feel as though January-weather makes cosy, twinkly lights even more imperative than December-weather does, and I’m not completely ready to let go of Christmas just yet.

According to an old Danish and Swedish Christmas song from around 1700, Nu er det jul igen (‘it’s Christmas again’), Christmas lasts all the way till Easter, except it’s broken by the Lent. Danes traditionally dance around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, holding hands and singing Christmas carols, and this song is one of the more up-tempo ones, where we keep changing direction as we’re singing, and everyone gets winded and confused! It may sound a bit nuts, but it’s super fun, and apparently this type of dancing, where you hold hands and almost run, is called a kehraus, dates back all the way to the 1750s, and is rooted in an even older kind of folk dancing from the middle ages (says this article, unfortunately in Danish, from the National Union for Danish Folk Dancers’ magazine! I find the fact that such a union exists extremely comforting, for some reason!). People used to do this not strictly at Christmas, but whenever there was a celebration such as a wedding, first in their home, and then around the entire village, holding hands. And Nu er det jul igen has become the most popular ‘jule-kehraus’ (Christmas kehraus) 🙂

Anyways, my ‘when should Christmas be over’ musings brought the song lyrics to my mind, and the line about fasting/Lent piqued my curiosity. So I took to Google, and according to wikipedia, Lent is only really observed in Catholicism, not in Protestantism, which is the main form of Christianity in Denmark. Not that I’m very, if at all, religious, mind you – but in Denmark you become a member of the Danish Church when you’re baptised, which I was, and Christmas was, traditionally, a religious holiday… even if now it’s become more cultural than religious, to most people I know. But should you observe Lent, the interwebs tell me that it begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on the 10th of February this year. So as far as I’m concerned, keeping Christmas lights up for the better part of January is completely reasonable, Lent or no Lent.

I’ve nearly reached the bottom of my Christmas cookie tins, so it’s time to fill my tummy and pantry with other comforting baked goods, in the name of Winter. I saw a recipe for Nutella financiers on Instagram, which looked delicious and made my mind go one step further, to some kind of beautiful banana and Nutella mess. So again I Googled, and came upon this recipe which I had to try. Nutella swirls? Yes please. The original recipe said it makes for 12, but I made 1 ½ portions to bring some to work with me as well. But I ended up with 30 little muffins! So I guess one portion makes for 20 🙂 I also put in slightly less Nutella because I figured my muffins must be smaller, since there were more of them… but next time I’m going to put a full tsp in each, as the Nutella is really what makes this muffin… I’m also going to put in more bananas, as I found that I wouldn’t mind an even moister and more banana-y muffin. Once I’ve experimented further, I will update this post posthaste 🙂

Banana and Nutella Swirl Muffins
Adapted from myrecipes.com – yield: 20 little muffins

  • 250 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour or a mixture of all-purpose and whole-wheat (I used all all-purpose)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • 115 g (8 tablespoons/1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 150 g (3/4 cup) sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (as mentioned above, I’m going to use 4, next time)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 75 g (2/3 cup) chopped walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts (I used hazelnuts)
  • 20 tsp Nutella

Anyways, my ‘when should Christmas be over’ musings brought the song lyrics to my mind, and the line about fasting/Lent piqued my curiosity. So I took to Google, and according to wikipedia, Lent is only really observed in Catholicism, not in Protestantism, which is the main form of Christianity in Denmark. Not that I’m very, if at all, religious, mind you – but in Denmark you become a member of the Danish Church when you’re baptised, which I was, and Christmas was, traditionally, a religious holiday… even if now it’s become more cultural than religious, to most people I know. But should you observe Lent, the interwebs tell me that it begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on the 10th of February this year. So as far as I’m concerned, keeping Christmas lights up for the better part of January is completely reasonable, Lent or no Lent.

I’ve nearly reached the bottom of my Christmas cookie tins, so it’s time to fill my tummy and pantry with other comforting baked goods, in the name of Winter. I saw a recipe for Nutella financiers on Instagram, which looked delicious and made my mind go one step further, to some kind of beautiful banana and Nutella mess. So again I Googled, and came upon this recipe which I had to try. Nutella swirls? Yes please. The original recipe said it makes for 12, but I made 1 ½ portions to bring some to work with me as well. But I ended up with 30 little muffins! So I guess one portion makes for 20 🙂 I also put in slightly less Nutella because I figured my muffins must be smaller, since there were more of them… but next time I’m going to put a full tsp in each, as the Nutella is really what makes this muffin… I’m also going to put in more bananas, as I found that I wouldn’t mind an even moister and more banana-y muffin. Once I’ve experimented further, I will update this post posthaste 🙂

Preheat your oven to 175°C/350°F, and line your muffin tins.

In a medium bowl, mix together your flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar for a few minutes, then beat in the eggs, bananas and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the flour a bit at a time, then fold in your nuts, making sure to mix just until combined, no more, so the muffins don’t become heavy.

Scoop the batter into your muffins tin, and spoon 1 tsp of Nutella onto each muffins, swirling it into the batter with a toothpick (I found this rather tricky, although I keep my Nutella at room temperature – I think this may be because the cookie liners kept moving around as I was attempting to ‘swirl’! I ended up using two toothpicks to swirl simultaneously, but I may have over-swirled slightly. Next time I think I’ll deposit the Nutella as three little blobs instead of one big, and swirl those around slightly 🙂 ).

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Bake for about 22 minutes until the muffins are golden, and a toothpick inserted in a less Nutella-y bit of muffin comes out clean. After they’ve cooled a bit in the pan, place on a cooling rack to cool completely. The muffins keep for several days in a cookie tin or plastic container.

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I’m going to Milan this weekend, and these are coming with me! ❤

(FYI – stuffing them in a plastic bag and stuffing said plastic bag it into your suitcase, running out the door with your bags because you’re going to the airport straight from work, then realising you left your passport at home and turning back, wasting almost an hour and slightly manhandling your bag in the process, like I did, will result in pretty smushed muffins).

 

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Marble Crumb Cake

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A while back, I’d planned on making a blueberry crumb cake to bring to a dinner I was going to. I was also going to make a tomato tart, and a vegan tahini and orange blossom cake. It didn’t quite work out that way, because on my way home from work, I got caught in a summer storm (told you it was a while back!) of epic proportion; it was pretty great 🙂 I love a bit of dramatic weather. I left work, and the heat and humidity hit me like a wall as soon as I left the clinically cool air conditioning of my office. Everyone was wearing shorts and skirts and mellow ‘gee it’s hot ‘ end-of-the-work-day expressions. I was  sitting on the tram, lost in thoughts about the week, when the sky went almost completely black. When the tram stopped and the doors opened to let people on and off, you could feel the drop in temperature, the wind picking up, and a sort of collective sigh of relief going through the passengers, despite the sudden darkness and promise of rain.

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I got off at my stop, and immediately big fat raindrops began to hit the hot asphalt, so I legged it to the supermarket, trying to dodge the worst of it (unsuccessfully, but gleefully – lightning and thunder overhead, and the wind making my umbrella turn inside out). I did my shopping, drenched. And legged it on home with my groceries.

But when I emptied my shopping bag, lo and behold, I’d forgotten blueberries. And the tomatoes. And also several of the ingredients for the vegan cake. It didn’t really seem all that dramatic, what with everything else in my head, so I just sort of shrugged my shoulders, and decided I’d buy a Spanish tortilla the next day, to bring to the dinner instead of the tomato tart, and, in the name of improvisation, to make the crumb cake, but to try substituting apricot jam for the blueberries (this really, really amazing apricot jam I got in Provence). But let me tell ya, it did not taste good. Way too sweet, too much lemon zest, and the jam just sort of fused itself to the crumble topping, making a sort of hard but chewy layer, rather than crispy, buttery crumbs. I must have not swirled the jam into the batter properly. But at least I learned that, were I to make it again, and this time with actual blueberries, I will definitely cut both the lemon zest and sugar quantities down a bit.

Anyways, there I was, sans (edible) cake. So I flipped through one of my baking books, and, since I’d had my heart set on crumb cake in particular, decided to try out this one recipe I’d been meaning to for years but somehow never got around to (and for which I happened to have all of the ingredients): a marble crumb cake – vanilla and cocoa pound cake with chocolate chips, and a thick layer of dark cocoa streusel on top. And thankfully, it was really good! Phew 🙂 And very, very moreish. I had a piece of it warm, at 11 pm, for testing purposes. And another for breakfast, still for testing purposes. Still good. And even though there were plenty of other desserts at the dinner the next day, there was barely any cake left over to bring home. Even my friend who doesn’t like chocolate cakes liked it. I think everyone likes crumble 🙂 I even made it again a couple of times over the following weeks ’cause I was craving the dark and not too sweet, intensely cocoa-ey streusel topping.

So here is a super comforting, super easy, and super quick-to-make cake, one that can very easily be made the day before as it doesn’t go dry. I baked it in a square baking tin, but I think next time I might try a loaf tin! I’m really into baking things in loaf tins at the moment. Like carrot cake. And this dense chocolate loaf cake.

I don’t think there are many situations or shitty weeks that can’t be made a little bit better by including cake of some sort; and if nothing else, it can’t make things worse… And the process itself, even if the result isn’t always what you’d hoped, is so soothing… at least to me. It’s the only thing that makes my mind go quiet for a bit. I’m terrible at meditation, and making my mind be still. It’s always buzzing, ah-ing and ooh-ing over something, thinking about that thing that I forgot to do, or that thing I need to do tomorrow. Or that time, 10 years ago, where I spilled coffee all over myself and the floor of a newsagent’s when trying to purchase a newspaper, by dropping said newspaper, bending over to pick up said newspaper, spilling the hot contents of the coffee I’d just purchased 5 minutes earlier all over my hand (ouch) and said newspaper. With people all around, staring. You know, stuff like that. Buzz buzz buzz. Anyways, my point: baking quietens that buzzing. And then, afterwards, there’s cake. 🙂

A friend of mine sent me this article from the guardian because it made her think of me, all about how baking is inherently feminist, even though some consider it to be a feminine cliché, a step backwards for feminism. The author posits that “Women who bake and write about it want you to understand what is impossible to understand without personal experience. They want you to know about the magic of it: how you combine a heap of powders which have no real-world meaning (to conceptualize flour, for example, feels impossible), and add something wet, and heat it up, and watch it change. There’s some power in this. And more than that: baking requires (and imbues) a kind of trust that is absent in everyday cooking.”

And I loved this sentence: “People can’t see wild yeast, even though it’s all around us all the time. Wild yeast is what is used in sourdough bread, but here’s the thing about it: you have to catch it.” 🙂 🙂 🙂
I need to start baking some bread. But in the meantime, there’s cake.

Marble (Chocolate Chip) Crumb Cake
Adapted from Dan Lepard’s recipe from How to Bake

Crumb topping:

  • 125 g flour
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 75 g cold butter
  • 75 g sugar (preferably light brown or unprocessed cane sugar)
  • a few good pinches of flakey sea salt

Cake batter:

  • 175 g sugar
  • 175 g butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla sugar
  • 175 g flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 100 g dark chocolate, chopped into medium chunks

Line a cake tin (about 20 cm/9 inches) with baking parchment, and preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F.

Make the crumb by mixing the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl, then rubbing the butter into it with your fingers. Add a few drops of cold water to the mixture to bring it together, leaving some bigger chunks in amidst the rubble-like crumbs, and set aside while you prepare the batter.

Make the batter: In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and butter till light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time, and the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking powder, then beat this into the butter mix.

Spoon blobs of batter around your pan, leaving gaps, using about 3/4 of the batter. Mix the remaining 1/4 with the cocoa powder, and stir in the chocolate chunks. Spoon blobs of the chocolate batter into the pan, between the blobs of vanilla batter, then make swirls with the handle of a wooden spoon. Even the batter out a little bit but not too much. Little peaks and valleys are nice 🙂

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Bake for about 15-20 minutes, then remove from the oven and add the crumb topping. Bake for a further 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out with no batter
on it.

Leave to cool in the tin (but be sure to taste some as soon as possible – be careful not to burn your tongue on the buttery crumb topping). I don’t like milk, but if you do, I imagine this would be very good with a glass of cold milk.

Should keep for at least a few days covered in tin foil, if you have any left over.

Travels well in the tin. Serves 8-12 people 🙂

Sunny Super Quick and Easy Carrot Salad

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Today is a beautiful Autumn day in Brussels; these sorts of clear and sunny, crisp days almost make me favour Autumn over other seasons (until it begins to rain again, that is – and Brussels is notoriously rainy).

I love the cosiness of Autumn (scarves!), the windy, sunny days and the leaves turning red and yellow. I’ve been drinking a lot of hot cloudy apple juice with cinnamon and ginger (best when made in a pot with a stick of cinnamon and a slice of fresh ginger, but in a pinch can also be made directly in a glass or mug with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon and ginger and microwaved for a few minutes 😉 ). We carved some pumpkins last weekend for Halloween – first time pumpkin-carving for me, so I’m afraid the result was less than spectacular. Although my boyfriend’s one reminds me of a Ninja Turtle, which I think is ace. I propped them up on pots on the terrace outside my window so it looks like they’re peeping in, which makes me smile every time I come home. Here’s the Ninja Turtle one; please don’t judge us for our less than stellar carving abilities.

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Sunny, windy days aside, I’ve been feeling the lack of daylight already, and have found myself being drawn to and craving really vibrant, brightly coloured foods.  Enter this super bright and sunny carrot salad.

I started making Orangette’s French-style carrot salad years ago, and have sort of adapted it into an even simpler version, mainly out of laziness, and also because for a while I didn’t own a mandolin. The original recipe calls for a tiny bit of garlic, but I now completely omit this step because I often cannot be bothered to clean the garlic press, and also have tended to add a bit too much garlic and found it a bit too conspicuous when I brought the salad to work as part of a packed lunch..
Although I am a garlic fiend, I think this salad tastes just as bright and delicious without garlic.

I very often make this carrot salad, as it takes next to no time to make, keeps well in a tupperware for a day or two, and feels like pure vitamin when you eat it. The lemon juice and olive oil make a sort of juice if the salad is left to sit in the fridge for a little bit before eating, and it is simply delicious.

I have tried both julienning the carrots and grating them on the large-hole side of a grater, and I’ve come to prefer the grated version, as I find this allows for more juice to accumulate, which is very yummy. Julienning, on the other hand, makes for a prettier, crisper salad.

Anyways, here goes:

  • 1 kg carrots (just over 2 lb)
  • 5-8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-5 tbsp lemon juice (more or less the juice of one lemon)
  • about 1/4 tsp sea salt, or to taste

Peel and rinse your carrots, then grate (or julienne!) them all into a large bowl. Add the olive oil and lemon juice (you can play around with this a little, adapting it to your taste and making it more lemony/more olive oil-y according to your preferences – just taste it as you go along and be careful not to add too much lemon juice!), and the salt (add a bit at a time; I use fleur de sel, but the amount of salt needed may vary according to the type of salt you use/how salty you like things). Mix thoroughly with a fork.

Store in a tupperware container in the fridge for up to two days.

P.s.: You can also add a tsp of toasted cumin seeds to the salad for a more dressed-up version – it’s delicious, and goes really well with Lebanese food, for example, especially hummus and falafel with a yoghurt-tahini dressing! 🙂

P.p.s.: Found this awesome little candle holder at my local thrift store, who’d throw this away?? Managed to break the little dude in the bag on my way home, but glued him back together and it hardly shows, I think.

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