November 16, 2012

After the storm...Double-chocolate muffins with mini chocolate chips

I might always think of these as my post-Hurricane Sandy muffins because they were the first thing I baked after our power was restored.  When the lights came back on, I was thrilled at the thought of using my oven again.  It sounds silly because I know there were and are far greater things to worry about than having a functional oven but it brought a little extra comfort to me in my little world.  I think we all want to feel useful and being able to cook and bake for my family gives me that feeling.  At the same time, the repetitiveness of cooking and baking is a great stress reliever, with an added bonus of a tasty reward at the end.  And speaking of stress relief, is there any better medicine than chocolate for the job?

Being mindful of conserving power, I baked these double chocolate muffins, which only take about 15 minutes in the oven.  I whipped up a small batch, just a half dozen (partly given limited resources at home – it was much too soon to venture out for groceries when much of the neighborhood was still without power), early the next morning after our power was restored and before my husband went off to work at a nearby office temporarily.  It felt good to be able to offer him something homemade before he took off to see what our world looked like post Sandy.
I found the recipe for these muffins a few weeks ago in a special Chocolate issue/magazine published by Better Homes and Gardens.  I’ve been on the lookout for a good chocolate muffin recipe because it satisfies my continuous craving for chocolate cake without the guilt of over-indulgence (no frosting and less sweet).  My last attempt at chocolate muffins was disappointing but these looked and sounded good – in particular, I like the use of oil as opposed to butter for a generally moister cake.

And I was very pleasantly surprised by these muffins!  It may have had something to do with the relief and joy I felt from having power again but I really like them and plan to make these from time to time.  They are moist (though not my favorite chocolate cake type moist but remember these are muffins, not cupcakes) and tender, and the use of mini chocolate chips really works here.  The chocolate flavor of the muffin itself comes from cocoa powder while the small chocolate chips blend throughout the muffin and provide a noticeable presence of actual chocolate in each bite.  In other words, they satisfy my chocolate craving.

I tweaked the recipe just a bit, adding some vanilla extract which was oddly missing, and I’m happy I reserved some of the mini chocolate chips to scatter on top of the muffins right before baking.  I like seeing the little chocolate studs on the surface, reinforcing the all-important presence of chocolate and giving a clear idea of what’s involved.  I’ve been experimenting with whole wheat pastry flour lately, and used a mixture of that and regular all-purpose with good results (i.e., unnoticeable taste difference as long as you keep the whole wheat pastry flour at no more than 50%).

I liked these so much, I made a second, full batch, a few days later!  The excuse was my brother and his family was staying with us part-time as their house remained dark after the storm and I thought we needed more breakfast/snack provisions.  I’ve discovered that when housebound with little to do and few places to go (scarcity of gasoline at the pump being one major issue), we need plenty of food and something to go with all those cups of java.
Interestingly, I almost like the flavor of these better the next day.  They may be a tad dryer versus fresh (I recommend re-warming them in the microwave for about 10 seconds just before eating like I do) but I think the flavors blended together and the whole wheat pastry flour (if you’re using) mellowed to the point of being totally indiscernible even when I experimented with using a bit more in my second batch.  I upped the ratio to 60% WW pastry flour and I could taste the whole wheat in that second fresh batch; the next day, however, it was not discernible at all.
Now the other good news is the lights came back on for my brother and his family (including my 3 young nephews) late that afternoon after I whipped up the second batch of these.  The way I figure it, they must be good luck!

I woke up early in the morning to make my first batch of these muffins.  They are quick and easy to mix up although the list of ingredients is on the long side.  I like that the recipe calls for milk, as opposed to buttermilk, since I'm much more likely to have that around the house (though I find myself buying buttermilk much more often these days).  

These muffins are simply mixed together by combining dry ingredients with wet.  Start by whisking together flour, granulated and brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 

On the subject of flour, this recipe calls for all-purpose but I substituted about half with whole wheat pastry flour, something I'm experimenting with right now.  With these muffins, I found that if you stick with no more than 50% WW pastry flour, you can't taste the difference.  In my second batch where I went higher than half, I could taste the whole wheat flavor when the muffins were fresh from the oven but it was not noticeable the next day.  Something to consider...
Add the mini chocolate chips to the flour mixture, reserving some (not too much; 2 tablespoons is enough if you are making a dozen muffins) to scatter on top later.  You could chop up mini chocolate pieces yourself if you prefer but I think the mini chocolate chips are a great time-saver and actually work very well here.  I like saving some of the chips as a topping to make sure I see studs of mini chocolate bits on top after baking. 
Push this dry mixture away from the center of the bowl to make a little well in the middle.  In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients: egg, milk, oil, and vanilla extract.  Add the wet mixture into the well and stir everything together gently and just enough to combine and moisten the batter.
Divide the batter into lined muffin cups.  They should each be about two-thirds or so full.  Take the reserved mini chocolate chips and sprinkle them among the top of the muffins.  You can use your fingers and very gently poke them down into the batter a bit.  I started with a half batch the first time I made these and made a full recipe (12 muffins) a few days later.
Bake in a 375 degree oven until the muffins are set, puffed up, and the edges are firm.  The original recipe says this takes about 18 to 20 minutes but I found 15 minutes to be right for me. 
Try one of these when they're still a teeny bit warm.  When I eat them the next day or so, I reheat them in the microwave for about 10 seconds. 
I'm glad I found this recipe.  For anyone interested, some nutritional information was listed with the recipe.  Calories per muffin is listed as 295, with 15 grams of fat and 38 grams of carb. 


Double-Chocolate Muffins with Mini Chocolate Chips
Adapted from special Chocolate issue published by Better Homes and Gardens
- Makes 12 standard size muffins -
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I substitute half with whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a standard-size muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the mini chocolate chips and set aside.  Stir the remaining chocolate chips into the dry mixture.  Make a well in the center of the mixture.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine egg, milk, oil, and vanilla extract.  Add this mixture all at once into the center (the well) of the dry ingredients.  Gently stir together until batter is moistened and just combined.  Spoon the batter (or use an ice cream scoop) into the lined muffin cups, about two-thirds of the way full.  Take the reserved mini chocolate chips and scatter them among the tops of each muffin.  You can very lightly press some of the chocolate chips slightly into the batter.

Bake until the muffins have risen with slightly rounded tops and the edges are firm, about 15-20 minutes (Mine are done at 15 minutes).  Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the tin.  Serve slightly warm, if possible.  They taste best the day they are made but you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days.  I like to microwave them for about 10 seconds right before eating.

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