a learning experience: double chocolate muffins

I’ve always been told that baking is a science and not an art (unlike other culinary endeavors). Proportions and chemistry are to be respected and not messed with. At the same time, some of the best bakers are the ones who push the envelope and experiment and tweak. The key is to remember that for every successful baking experiment, there are a hundred failures.

I recently checked out a handful of baking books from my local library, and once I got over my initial “I have to buy a copy of each of these books” impulse, I resolved that I would select and bake one recipe from each. My first selection was Chocolate Zucchini Muffins from The Only Bake Sale Cookbook You’ll Ever Need: 201 Mouthwatering, Kid-Pleasing Treats by Laurie Goldrich Wolf and Pam Abrams, adapting the recipe as I saw fit. With that, my current streak of making unproblematic baked goods came to a screeching halt.

Here are some of the ways I changed the recipe and what I learned:

(1) The recipe calls for 1 1/2 sticks of butter (or 3/4 cup), which way exceeds my personal “acceptable use of butter in a 12-muffin recipe” policy, so I substituted unsweetened apple sauce for (I thought) a third of the butter. As it turns out, I actually added 4 oz. (1/2 cup) of apple sauce to the 4 oz. (1 stick or 1/2 cup) of butter rather than 2 oz. (1/4 cup), which resulted in an additional 1/4 cup of liquid. This caused problems later down the road (see (4) below).

(2) I also cut a 1/2 cup of the sugar, since I thought a ratio of 2 cups of sugar to 2 1/2 cups of flour was a bit excessive. The finished muffins were perfectly fine in the sweetness department.

(3) I did not squeeze out the shredded zucchini. The recipe calls for 2 cups of shredded zucchini (“about 4 medium zucchini”) ; my 2 cups came from only 1 1/2 medium zucchini. Even though the recipe did not suggest squeezing out the excess liquid, doing so would have compacted the zucchini (likely to the tune of 4 zukes). So I was off on that measurement.

(4) When I filled the muffin pan, I had way too much batter, which completely stymied me at the time. I had enough to fill the cups to almost full, and enough leftover from that to make 6 mini muffins. The reasons why? See (1) and (3) above.

(5) When the recipe says to fill the muffin pan cups about two-thirds full, it’s best to fill them just that full. Not more. If you have too much batter, grab another pan.

(6) I’ve been on a bit of a paper wrapper-free muffin kick and greased the muffin pan lightly. Unfortunately these muffins stuck like, well, something really sticky. In hindsight, this was likely due to the reduction in fat in my version.

(7) My finished muffin tops merged together so I had to cut them apart (ugliness ensued). Furthermore, the muffins stuck to their cups and I had to jimmy them loose (more ugliness) and all of them tore apart to some degree in the progress (an extra helping of ugliness).

(8) It seems the extra liquid in the batter made the crumb finer and more cakelike than muffinlike. This didn’t hurt the taste, but it helped if you closed your eyes when you ate them.

They are actually fine-tasting muffins, just not presentable to anyone you want to impress. Since I made them fully planning to share with friends and coworkers, this was a bit of a blow. Because now I have to eat them all myself.

Many-Mistakes Double-Chocolate Muffins
(with corrections)
adaptation of Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
from The Only Bake Sale Cookbook You’ll Ever Need

301g unbleached all-purpose flour
40g natural cocoa powder, sifted
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
113g (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 oz. unsweetened apple sauce
3 large eggs
2 cups shredded zucchini, with liquid squeezed out
1/2 cup milk
112g semi-sweet chocolate chips (preferably mini chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line muffin pan with paper muffin wrappers. Whisk together the flour, sifted cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and creamy. Add applesauce and mix until combined; mixture may look curdled — this is fine. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until combined. Add half the flour mixture, then half the zucchini, followed by half the milk, and repeat with the remainder of each, mixing each until combined before adding the next. Fold in the chocolate chips. Fill each muffin cup two-thirds of the way full. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the the tops spring back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and let rest for 3 minutes before removing muffins from the pan to dry on a cooling rack. Makes 12 muffins.

(You can also make mini muffins with the batter; bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes. Makes approximately 24 mini muffins.)

well, duh

Remember how I found my cupcake figures disappointing last week? I was late and harried, I had one less working index finger than normal, and I thought maybe my icing was kind of funny. I wasn’t certain, but I felt like the tinting was a little uneven and the consistency was a little mushy. When I piped my bears, for example, the icing seemed to explode out of the tip. In the end, I decided my dissatisfaction with the figures was just me being unhappy (once again) with having to use the “Crisco icing.”

This afternoon, I was mixing up more class buttercream icing for tomorrow’s cake and made a discovery — last week’s icing only contained 50% of the confectioners’ sugar it should have. Apparently I am incapable of converting convert pounds into ounces in my head, and put 8 oz. of sugar in the icing rather than the full 16 oz. No wonder the icing didn’t perform — it was mostly shortening!