with a big cup of tea or coffee.
Saturday, 22 January 2011
My Favourite Vegetable
One quiet morning, back in my Marry Poppins days, I was having breakfast with one of the little girls I was looking after. She took a big gulp of her milk, leaned over the table, and said to me intriguingly: “My dad has a saggy butt!” Now see, how do you reply to such a comment? I don’t mean reply; the word I’m looking for is recover. No one needs to know this kind of information, certainly not an innocent outsider such as myself.
What should be shared, on the other hand, is how a zucchini became a vital ingredient in the realm of chocolate muffins. I know what you are thinking. A zucchini/chocolate combo? Really? Really. Listen, we are not talking just any kind of muffin here. This is a muffin so de-lovely that Cole Porter would have written a song about it had he ever tasted one.
I was bestowed one of these treasures, many, many, years ago, when I was having afternoon-tea with my Fairy God Mother. As always she had brought with her a variety of scrumptious treats. On my kitchen table was a small feast of raspberries, cinnamon swirls and a tray of truffles. Then she pulled out a giant muffin from a brown bakery bag and declared: “This is your favourite vegetable!” I looked at her, then at the object in her hand, clearly not getting it. “It’s a chocolate-zucchini muffin!” she explained. Hmm, I reluctantly took a small, timid, bite, prepared to spit it out if needed. Before I knew it I had taken another bite, bigger this time, then another. Oh my, it was a taste sensation. The combination of the rich flavours and the heavenly texture was to die for. And had I done just that, died I mean, I would have insisted on bringing this muffin to the grave with me. Just in case it turns out that we can bring physical objects with us when crossing over the threshold to the after-life.
I couldn’t believe it, the muffin didn't have the faintest hint of vegetable, and yet I knew a brave little zucchini was in there somehow. Why had this baking secret been kept from me? I felt left out, yet strangely happy to finally be introduced to the inner sanctum where the worlds of chocolate and vegetables seamlessly unite.
Ok, naturally the zucchini was not the only trick this muffin had up its sleeve. It was clearly made from-top quality cocoa, organic flour, and let’s not overlook the generous amount of x-large chocolate chips that adorned the top and created a crunchy seal. In addition, my newfound friend wasn’t overly sweet. Some wise baker had held back on the sugar ratio in order to let all the other flavours come forward. Did I detect a hint of vanilla?
Now, if you live in proximity to the Ashland Co-op, consider yourself lucky. There you can purchase this muffin every day of the week. Helpful hint: make sure to get there it in the morning when the baked goods are fresh out of the oven.
If you and the Co-op are separated by an ocean or two, you have no choice but to make the muffins yourself. The following recipe is the one I have found to be the most true to the original master.
Just for the record, I’m not a big muffin fan. The ones you buy at the store or at coffee houses like Starbucks are too sweet, too boring and totally lacking in character. The ones you make yourself are often too though, some are sponge-like, some are not even worth eating. You are left to wonder how simple things like milk, flour, eggs and butter could end up so bad. This is why we only use top quality ingredients. Even if, for some strange reason, the finished result doesn’t come out the way we hoped, it will still taste delicious. How cares if the muffins didn’t rise properly? Splash on some whipped cream and call it a day.
Best served on a quiet Sunday morning,
with a big cup of tea or coffee.
with a big cup of tea or coffee.
125 g sugar
7 tablespoons melted butter
125 g milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 g flour
125 g cocoa
50 g finely chopped chocolate
1 zucchini, peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1. Turn the oven on to 350 °F (or 177 °C) and grease your muffin tray with melted butter. (So you use some of the melted butter for the tray, some for the batter)
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until it starts to look pale yellow. Gradually add the rest of the melted butter and keep whisking. Add milk and vanilla and whisk some more. Whisk, whisk, whisk, such a fun word.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Then add 2/3 of the chopped chocolate and salt. Whisk everything together until well combined. In this setting “well combined” is used to make sure that the baking soda and baking powder is evenly distributed throughout this dry mix. If not, some of you muffins will rise, some will remain flat, and a few will be stuck in the middle not knowing what to do.
4. Now, the ingredients of the hour, the zucchini. Take your grader in one hand, the newly peeled zucchini in the other, and grade away. If you have one of those 3 or 4 sided graders, use the fine side. If the zucchini is grated too coarsely, like a carrot, the pieces will bee too heavy for our delicate batter.
Take the grated pulp and toss it in with the flour mixture. Stir until evenly combined.
5. Now we are done with the whisking part. Let the folding begin. Make a well in the bowl with the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix and fold gently, and slowly, with a rubber spatula. Do not overmix. I repeat, to not overmix. If you do, your muffins will become too though. So keep your folding to a minimum, no more than 25-30 seconds.
6. Use a large spoon and divide the batter evenly among the greased muffin cups. My muffin tray holds 12 muffins, but your tray might hold 9 or 15 muffin cups. In any case, fill the cups with batter until ¾ full. If one or more cups are left empty, fill those with hot water. This will ensure that the muffins are evenly baked. Take the rest of the chopped chocolate and sprinkle on top before you put the tray in the oven.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes. As always, the baking time depends on your oven. After 10 minutes, rotate the pan. When done baking, put the tray on a cooling rack and let it rest there for 5 minutes. Then gently remove the muffins from the cups and put them on the cooling rack. Muffins are easiest to remove when still quite warm, so don’t wait too long. If they don’t just pop out, use a small knife and carefully lift them out of their cozy cups.
It is widely believed that chocolate consumption releases a chemical into your body very similar to what is produced when you are in love. What are you waiting for?