Thursday, February 25, 2010

the mark bittman minimalist club: whole wheat muffins are my frenemy

Muffins don't do much for me: I prefer savories to sweets at breakfast, and I figure that if I'm going to eat a baked good, it might as well be a slice of cake. But when I read Mark Bittman's column about whole wheat muffins a couple weeks ago, I thought I'd give them a try—it's February, after all, and I appear to be on an extended carb load, yet the muffins are whole wheat, which basically makes them health food, right? But having eaten a few of those whole wheat muffins over the course of this week, plus a homemade donut muffin someone brought to work on Monday, I'm faced with a dilemma.

It's like when I was in seventh grade. My best friend during elementary school was H., who had long, straight, blond hair that she wore parted in the middle and pulled back in matching barrettes. She also rocked monogrammed sweaters on a regular basis, could run faster than anyone else in our class, and was very bossy. I liked H., but by middle school we were still friends mostly because we always had been, not because we wanted to continue to be. And then A. moved to town. A. also had blond hair, but hers was feathered and a little greasy, and she preferred stone-washed denim ensembles to monogrammed sweaters. For awhile the three of us hung out, but soon it was just A. and me, spending our Friday nights in her bedroom getting high and hyperventilating to make ourselves pass out while her parents watched TV downstairs. Out of habit or guilt I'd still hang out with H. from time to time, but she seemed dull compared to A.—who wants to spend a Friday night practicing wind sprints in the backyard and being bossed around when there's pot to be smoked?

These whole-wheat muffins are the H.'s of the muffin world: better for you than the A's, but much less fun. I found myself eating them because they were around, but not really enjoying their taste—they're cloyingly sweet yet still have that dusty whole wheat flavor. I brought one with me to work on Monday, but when I met the donut muffin, I dropped the whole wheat one like we'd never met.

Which brings me to my dilemma: I'm no longer in junior high, and if I'm going to eat muffins they should probably be of the whole wheat variety rather than the kind that emulate donuts. I don't want to end up like A., after all, addicted to meth and spending Saturdays visiting her baby-daddy in jail. But I don't really want to be an H., either—an elementary school teacher who lives in the Midwest and has three kids. To avoid these fates I plan to stop eating muffins altogether. Or only eat the occasional donut muffin. I can quit any time I want to, I swear.

Whole Wheat Muffins
Adapted from the New York Times

½ cup melted unsalted butter, more for greasing tins
2½ cups whole wheat flour, preferably pastry flour
¾ to 1 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit [I used a whole cup, and my muffins were a little too sweet]
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed or puréed banana, sweet potato, apple, zucchini, cooked or canned pumpkin, or other fruits or vegetables [I used banana, and what these muffins reminded me of was whole wheat, overly sweetened banana bread.]

1 egg, beaten
½ cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease two 6-cup muffin tins [I used one 12-cup tin] or fill with liners. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, banana, egg and buttermilk. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined.

2. Fill muffin tins or liners;

bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are puffed and turning golden brown on top. Serve warm if possible. [They were definitely at their best right out of the oven—warm and spread with salty butter.]

Makes 12 muffins.


  1. Weekends are days too. Please no more pictures of bananas.

  2. wait a minute...i don't see a muffin liner in that pan...did you dare to bake the muffins without a liner? they just popped right out?

  3. No more bananas, check. No muffin liners, either -- they did just pop right out!

  4. Whole wheat muffins are inherently sad.