NYT Cooking is a “digital cookbook and cooking guide alike,” available as a subscription service of the respected newspaper, “that helps home cooks of every level discover, save and organize the world’s best recipes, while also helping them become better, more competent cooks.” Over the past few years, as a daily reader of the print New York Times, I’ve noticed a wide-ranging variety of recipes, sourced from NYT Cooking, which are also shared in the print newspaper.
A few weeks ago, I took special note of a recipe by Erin Jeanne McDowell for Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread, that required less sweetener than many holiday desserts, which was appealing for this home cook, who likes to limit consumption of refined sugar. It’s been several years, since we reviewed the documentary Fed Up, which focused on the causes of the obesity epidemic in the United States, which has spread world-wide. Whenever a dessert recipe appears of interest, a close review of the amount of sweetener required is a determinative factor.
This recent recipe for Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread from NYT Cooking called for “1 cup of light or dark brown sugar” as well as “1 cup of finely chopped chocolate or mini chocolate chips.” And in itemizing the use of the “chopped chocolate or mini chocolate chips,” the baker was advised to “see Tip.”
The “Tip” was “To make chocolate chocolate-chip banana bread, reduce the all-purpose flour by one-quarter cup and whisk in 1/3 cup of cocoa powder with the other dry ingredients.” I recently experienced a “light-bulb moment” and learned the important distinctions between (i) cocoa powder and cacao powder and (i1) hot cocoa and hot chocolate.” Knowing these distinctions has resulted in an ever closer review of ingredients in my food purchases.
One useful discovery, after this light-bulb moment, resulted from a close review of the nutrition facts on a container of Equal Exchange, fairly traded and organic, Baking Cocoa, which showed that one tablespoon (.5 grams) had 15 calories. To transform the chocolate chip banana bread into chocolate chocolate chip banana bread, which required 1/3 cup (30 grams) of cocoa powder meant an additional 900 calories. So be it for an indulgent and very occasional dessert!
I had overripe bananas in the kitchen and knew well the advice from the ever-handy cookbook, Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (New York, NY: Scribner, 1997) that muffins invite substitutions and inventive flavoring, and that any coffeecake, quick loaf, or corn bread batter can be made into muffins as well” (p. 782).
Further, the cover story from the most recent Health & Nutrition Letter from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy (May, 2022) spotlighted “Phytochemicals: The Nutrients You Never Heard Of.” This informative article, noting that “phytonutrients” was a more “consumer friendly term” than “phytochemicals,” had two basic tips: eat plants and aim for a healthy dietary pattern instead of consuming supplements. Surprisingly though, in suggesting the eating of a “Rainbow” of Foods, no mention was made of chocolate. Doesn’t chocolate have phytochemicals?
A little research also disclosed an earlier article in this highly-recommended Health & Nutrition letter from Tufts, “Should You Show Your Love with (Chocolate) Flavonoids?” (January, 2019) that confirms that “cocoa beans contain dozens of different phytochemicals” described as “powerful phytochemicals.”
That confirmation was enough to prompt this home baker to indulge and prepare chocolate chocolate chip banana muffins with some alterations to the ingredients specified in the NYT Cooking recipe.
Instead of using 6 tablespoons of melted butter, I used organic sunflower seed oil. Instead of Greek yogurt, I used a favorite local and organic whole milk yogurt from pasture-raised cows. Instead of all-purpose flour, I made certain to use organic all-purpose whole wheat flour. Instead of a cup of light or dark brown sugar, I used only 3/4 cup of maple sugar. And instead of mini chocolate chips, I used organic bittersweet chocolate chips.
The recipe from NYT Cooking also suggested the option of using 3/4 cup of coarsely chopped toasted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts or pecans. I chose to use pecans in my muffin recipe below.
I also decided to add the bittersweet chocolate chips to the batter after I first used up some of the batter to make three jumbo “chocolate pecan banana muffins” (without the added sugar of the chocolate chips).
And by baking banana muffins instead of banana bread, baking time was reduced from the the 60 to 75 minutes specified in the NYT Cooking recipe to 25 minutes!
Chocolate Chocolate Chip & Pecans Banana Muffins (makes a Baker’s Dozen)
4 very ripe medium bananas, peeled
6 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1/3 cup whole milk, plain yogurt
3/4 cup maple sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup of cocoa powder
3/4 cup coarsely broken or chopped pecans
Heat the oven to 350 degrees
In a large bowl, mash the bananas coarsely using a fork. They should be fully broken apart, but it’s OK if some larger lumpy pieces remain. Whisk in the sunflower seed oil, yogurt, maple sugar, eggs and vanilla until well combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder to combine.
Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and stir to combine using a wooden spoon. Scrape the sides and base of the bowl well to make sure the mixture is uniformly combined.
Line a muffin pan with baking cups. I use If You Care Baking Cups which come in medium and jumbo sizes.
Since I decided to use half the batter to make Chocolate & Pecan Banana Muffins (without the added sugar of the chocolate chips), I filled three Jumbo baking cups with half the batter in a separate muffin pan, before adding only 1/2 cup of chocolate chips to the remaining batter.
After adding 1/2 cup of chocolate chips to the remaining batter, I was then able to fill 7 Medium baking cups with the remaining batter, resulting in 7 medium muffins and 3 jumbo muffins.
Bake in the oven, preheated to 350 degrees, for 25 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in 1 or 2 of of the muffins and if it “comes out clean,” the muffins are done. The Jumbo muffins might take slightly longer, but I found they were also done after 25 minutes and didn’t seem that much larger than the medium muffins.
Let cool for 10 minutes. A delicious and very rich dessert for chocolate lovers!
(Frank W. Barrie, 4/29/22)