by Dennis Weaver
We love rich, moist banana bread and we love muffins. But most banana muffins just don't have enough bananas. So we set off to find the perfect banana muffin recipe.
For us, the perfect banana muffin is very banana-rich but still light and cake-like and with a high dome. In our quest, we found what works and what doesn't. We'll share that discovery with you in today's article. We'll include some great banana muffin recipes--including chocolate and cinnamon chippers--plus tell you how to get high domes on your muffins.
You'll make the best banana muffins ever.
The Quest for the Perfect Banana Muffins The perfect banana muffin was more elusive than we expected. We wanted a banana muffin that was light and airy like a cake and with high domes. But when we loaded up the batter with bananas—enough to make it really taste like bananas—the fruit weighed the muffin down so that it was dense and unattractive.
We baked tons and tons of banana muffins. But our beautiful, high-domed muffins didn't have enough bananas and when we used enough bananas, the muffins were dense and flat. Finally we concluded that if we could find a way to use an equal volume of bananas as flour, we would have enough banana flavor. But could we do so and still have a light, high-domed muffin?
A banana muffin contains five main ingredients: flour, bananas, sugar, eggs, and a fat. Each has a role to play. The flour gives structure. The bananas and sugar contribute flavor. The fat from the egg yolks and oil or butter gives richness and "mouth feel."
There must be a balance in these ingredients. To get a high dome, the batter must be fairly stiff so that you can fill the muffin cavities and have it rise instead of flow over the edges as it bakes. It's a balance between the dry ingredients—primarily flour—and the wet ingredients. (Sugar melts during baking and acts like a liquid.)
For fat, we tried vegetable oil, butter, yogurt, and sour cream. We settled on sour cream.
Try as we could, we couldn't use as much mashed banana as flour without creating dense muffins. Finally, the obvious dawned on us: the egg whites were contributing moisture but no fat or flavor. We switched to egg yolks only replacing the whole eggs. We added more bananas, essentially replacing the egg whites with bananas. We now had that 50/50 balance of bananas and flour. To consistently get the flavor depth that we wanted—some bananas are more flavorful than others—we added a teaspoon of banana flavor. The result was a banana-rich muffin that was light and airy and had a high dome. For us, we had found the perfect banana muffin.
After perfecting the, we tried different pans for extra fancy and change-of-pace muffins. We made elegant little muffin-cakes from a mini-cheesecake pan. (In fact, we fell in love with the elegant little muffins from this pan.) We made jumbo muffins. And we made muffin tops in muffin top pans.
Keys for Success: The Perfect Banana Muffins
1. Use the ripest bananas that you can find. Ripe bananas have much more flavor.
2. Adjust the flour if you have to. Because bananas differ in their moistness as they ripen, you may have to add a couple tablespoons of flour. The batter should be half way between cake batter and cookie dough for drop cookies. It should be stiff enough that it can mound in your scoop.
3. Fill the muffin tins almost to the top. It takes a lot of batter to build a dome. If you fill the tins only 2/3's full, you'll have batter left over and smaller muffins. This recipe is designed for 12 standard muffins.
4. Start out with a hot oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then reduce the temperature as directed. The initial hot oven creates a burst of steam that helps lift the muffins.
5. Check the cooking time. Because you turn the temperature down, times are only an estimate and reflect the time required in our oven. Other ovens may retain heat as ours does.
The Secrets of the Dome: How to Make High Domed Muffins
Everyone wants nice, high-domed muffins. We have included this section to help with your banana muffins but these principles apply to other recipe types as well.
1. Fill your muffin tins. Time and again, we see recipes that direct you to fill your muffin tins 2/3's full. That's not enough batter for high-domed muffins. Fill your muffin tins nearly full. Your favorite recipe that calls for 12 muffins may only make nine or ten high-domed muffins. Fill any empty tins half full of water.
2. Make sure that your batter is thick. In a full tin, a thin batter will flow all over your oven before setting. Your batter should be "spoonable" not pourable.
3. Get your oven hot enough. Set your oven temperature to 425 degrees. Yes, we know, most recipes list a temperature of 350 or 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You need a high temperature to create a burst of steam which will lift the top of the muffin and quickly set the starches and proteins in the muffin. After six or eight minutes, set the temperature back to the lower setting. If you leave it on the high temperature, the muffins will bake too rapidly and will likely be crusty.
Only the Tops, Please: How to Make Muffin Tops
The muffin tops are the best part of the muffin. No wonder everyone wants to make the tops only.
We sell muffin top pans. When we received these pans, we experimented with muffin tops, using recipes and mixes in our muffin top pans. This is what we found:
• You can use high-dome techniques as explained above in muffin top pans as well as conventional pans.
• Because the batter is not as deep, it takes less time to bake muffin tops. Reduce the baking time by about a third.
• With a thin batter, less can be put in a muffin top pan. The domes will not be as high and you'll have more muffin tops.
• If you are making high-domed muffin tops they will be larger than muffins. A 12-muffin mix or recipe yields eight large, high-domed tops. A standard muffin top is equal to a standard muffin.
Because you have just shallow indentations on the pan, the muffins remove very
easily. If they stick at all, let them sit for a couple minutes.
What You'll Need to Make Perfect Muffins
Pans and Tools
Muffins start with the pan. Here is a discussion of the pans that you can use.
Standard, jumbo, giant, and mini nonstick muffin pans
Your muffin pans should be heavy and dark and absolutely nonstick. You have a choice of four muffin sizes. If you want to use paper liners, we carry paper muffin liners for all but the giant size muffins.
We use these pans to make classy little high top muffins. The pan is designed for little cheesecakes but it makes marvelous little half-sized muffins. Because the bottoms remove, removing the baked muffins is not a problem.
As far as we're concerned, this is an essential in any kitchen. Why make a muffin when you can make only the tops?
There are three other tools you ought to consider. Even though we used quality nonstick pans, it's a good idea to spray your pans with oil. We like a mister because it's quick and easy and reaches down into the corners.
You need a way to measure out the same amount of batter for each muffin cavity. A quick release ice cream scoop in a large size is perfect. A mounded scoop fills a standard muffin cavity; two scoops are just right for jumbo muffins.
Ingredients for Your Banana Muffins
It's possible to get enough banana taste using the maximum amount of very ripe bananas. Add a teaspoon of banana flavor to be sure.
Adding cinnamon baking chips to your banana muffins is a great addition that will make them extra special. Use them in cookies, scones, and pancakes too. These belong in every serious baker's kitchen. Really good pure dark chocolate chips is a nice addition also.
This is our resulting banana muffin recipe. We think this will be your "go to” recipe. We like the streusel topping but it is optional.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups ripe mashed banana
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream (not low fat)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon banana flavor
1 cup pecan or walnut pieces
Variations on the Perfect Banana Muffin
Once we had our recipe down, we started experimenting--a banana muffin for every occasion.
Jumbo Banana Muffins.
Here's the recipe. All we had to do was change the baking time.
Banana Muffin Tops. Muffin tops are better. We used a muffin top pan. Again, the baking times are different.
Fancy Little Banana Muffins. We used a mini-cheesecake pan to make the classiest little muffins. We made these little "tall hat” muffins with and without streusel. The removable bottoms in the pan make them a snap to remove.
Banana Cinnamon Chip Muffins. These are really good muffins made with cinnamon chips.
Dennis Weaver is the president of The Prepared Pantry, a full line kitchen store in Rigby, Idaho. The Prepared Pantry sells kitchen tools, gourmet foods, and baking ingredients including hundreds of hard-to-find ingredients.