Best Ever Banana Muffins with Brown Butter, Hazelnuts, and Dark Chocolate

Banana Muffins with Brown Butter, Hazelnuts, and Dark Chocolate

Happy 2013, dear readers! Whether you make resolutions or not, it’s as good a time as any to let go of what was, and start fresh and forward thinking. I have my own positive changes to keep tucked in the back of my mind.

I want to share a recipe with you that has personal significance as a fresh start for me. These muffins were born from a step I took into the great wide open.

Sky with balloon

Up to that point, I had made my career decisions based on money, prestige, expectation, and to prove something to a certain few somebodies. My feelings about where that practice had left me were many and complicated. But the heaviest and most unshakable feeling was unfulfilled.

I started with small steps toward a new path, then bigger ones. Eventually, with perseverance and luck, I was offered a dream internship across the country.

The decision of whether to leave my job (and all that I’d worked for up to that point) was a very difficult one. But, when it came down to it, there was only one answer.

Less than two weeks later I was on a plane to Boston, leaving my fiancée behind (temporarily), to lead grocery procedure, prepare mise en place, cook 5 versions of a dish at once, assist in developing recipes, and soak up the whole experience at America’s Test Kitchen like a sponge.

Pork Tenderloin Roast 5 recipes Canned tuna taste test
5 recipe test for pork tenderloin roast and canned tuna taste test

Oh, and be kitchen bitch. There was that part, too. The pay was terrible, the work hard, and I missed my family all the time, but I felt more energized and alive than ever.

JD in the test kitchenStarstruck while mise-ing
Starstruck photo of Bridget from my mise post (please excuse the knuckle)

I was given the opportunity to develop my very own muffin recipe and accompanying article, utilizing ATK’s rigorous recipe development process. It had to be completed in a shortened time frame after-hours in whatever kitchen we’d managed to find housing with.

Whenever I have bananas that have gone over the hill, I get excited. Yes, the uglies would soon be transformed into banana bread. Just thinking of the way it smells melts away my stress. I was sure I could make banana muffins that were even more enticing. The best ever.

Very Ripe Bananas

After full days working in the test kitchen, I researched, photocopied recipes from the library, stuffed my backpack with items from the walk-in and pantry, and hauled it all back to my apartment on the subway. The Boston area got more than their average snowfall for the entire year all in that month of January. I was bundled up in a long puffy parka shivering like a West Coast wuss.

Waiting for the T

For my recipe, I steered clear of dense squat banana muffins that were basically banana bread in muffin form, as well as highly-refined rich and sweet muffins that would be better labeled as cupcakes. I set out for “just the right balance of moist, tender, comforting and refined.

5 recipes test for banana muffins

I balanced bowls, trays of ingredients, and bags of bananas on chairs and couch arms, bouncing around the tiny apartment kitchen as my roommate, a Harvard post-doc, watched in awe. I made more than 20 different batches of muffins to test theories and fine tune parameters. Friends and my roomies’ lab-mates tasted samples A, B, and C, and filled in my printouts to evaluate them. I was determined to be the mother of a true gem.

After months of working side-by-side with the pros on their recipes, I had actually created a new recipe all on my own! I felt so proud and accomplished giving this recipe my stamp of approval and receiving ATK’s. I still wouldn’t change a thing.

My banana muffins

Browning the butter gives a depth and complexity to the muffins that is even more addictively delicious when paired with the warm full flavor of bananas. Hazelnuts are my favorite, and an homage to brown butter’s French namesake, buerre noisette (which translates to “hazelnut butter”). Oh, and once I tasted these with dark chocolate, I simply couldn’t have them without.

So, without further ado, my muffins!

Main ingredients for banana muffins

You want to use very overripe bananas — I mean mostly or all brown and black, soft, and with a slight boozy aroma. You should not feel comfortable offering these bananas to someone as a snack. They will give your muffins the best banana flavor and texture. You’ll need 4-5 big ones.

On the bananas…

  • Unless you bought bananas specifically for this purpose, you probably won’t have that many at once. So, as you find yourself with a banana or two heading south, stick it in the freezer, peel and all. When you want to use the frozen bananas, leave them out on the counter until softened again or defrost at reduced power in the microwave before using.
  • Bananas are almost always sold slightly green or all yellow. Placing them in a closed paper bag with a rotting apple (for ethylene gas production) helps accelerate ripening, but in my testing, these bananas are not as soft, fragrant, and flavorful as bananas that have ripened naturally. Use naturally ripened bananas, if possible.

Peel the bananas and place them (and any juicy stuff inside), in a bowl. Previously frozen bananas will be more watery than fresh, and that’s fine. Mash them up really good and smooth, with minimal to no lumps remaining.

Unmashed bananas Mashing bananas Very thoroughly mashed bananas

Spray your muffin pan with baking spray (the one that has flour in it).

Spraying Muffin Pan in dishwasher

Here’s a nifty trick that I picked up in the test kitchen: Open up your dishwasher door, set the muffin tin on the door, and spray away. The excess baking spray will land in the dishwasher’s interior and be washed away the next time it’s run! I’m way more likely to get in there and ensure good coverage with the spray if it’s not getting all over my kitchen, so I love this one.

Place a rack in the middle position of the oven, and preheat it to 350 F (177 C).

Now turn on some good music for swirling. Grab a small skillet (8-10 inch diameter, not a dark nonstick one), a wide heatproof bowl, a spatula, and a stick of unsalted butter. We’re making brown butter. For complete instructions on how to make brown butter, see Technique: Browning Butter.

Set the bowl next to the burner where you’ll be working. Place the butter in the skillet over medium heat and let the butter melt. Once the butter has melted, start swirling the pan constantly in small circles parallel to the floor.

Melting Butter Melted Butter Butter beginning to brown Brown Butter

When the butter has a nutty aroma, a deep golden color, and the bits are very browned but not burnt, immediately transfer the butter and bits to the wide bowl, scraping the browned bits from the pan. Set aside to cool.

Mix equal parts brown and white sugar (1 ½ teaspoons of each) together and set aside. We’ll use that as a topping later.

White and brown sugar mixture

Whisk together your flours, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Flour mixture

And now for a little arm workout. In a large bowl, whisk together the ¾ cup brown sugar plus the eggs and egg yolk briskly for 60 seconds (it’s tiring, I know, but keep going). The mixture should lighten in color with no visible sugar crystals and become thick and homogeneous.

Brown sugar and eggs Whisking brown sugar and eggs

Whisk in the cooled brown butter (the bits, too!), buttermilk, mashed banana, and vanilla to combine.

Add brown butter Add mashed banana Add buttermilk and vanilla

Then fold in your chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts, reserving 1/4 cup of hazelnuts for topping.

Add chocolate chips and hazelnuts

Add the flour mixture and stir gently until just distributed and moistened. Over-mixing will result in tough muffins, which is not what we’re going for!

Add dry ingredients

The batter will be lumpy and streaks of flour will remain.

Mixing wet and dry ingredients Just incorporated batter

Divide the batter evenly amongst the 12 muffin cups. The cups should be full and mound slightly, and you’ll want to make sure you were fair with the batter. This helps the muffins to all be done baking at the same time, instead of some being more or less cooked than others.

Divide batter between muffin cups

Give the filled muffin pan a few solid raps on the counter to settle the batter evenly in the cups.

Settle muffin batter

And for the final flourish, sprinkle the tops with the white and brown sugar mixture and the reserved chopped hazelnuts.

Sugar topping Hazelnut topping

Into the oven they go, until the edges are a nice golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Rotate the pan front-to-back halfway through cooking to ensure even cooking. It should take about 17 to 21 minutes total.

Place the pan on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from the pan to cool for another 5-10 minutes before serving. Inserting the tip of a paring knife under the muffin top and angling it upwards makes removing the hot muffins from the pan easier.

banana muffins cooling in pan Banana Muffins with Brown Butter, Dark Chocolate, and Hazelnuts

These are best served warm (if they’ve cooled, pop them in microwave for a few seconds to warm just before eating). I like to pull them apart down the center and inhale the aroma of banana and notes of butterscotch from the brown butter before taking a bite.

Seriously and a little dangerously yummy.

Recipe: Banana Muffins with Brown Butter, Hazelnuts, and Dark Chocolate

NOTE: Very overripe bananas mashed thoroughly with minimal lumps are essential for the best flavor and texture. They should be almost completely brown or black, speckled, and soft. Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter; the dark nonstick surface makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is sufficiently browned.

½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) plus 1 ½ teaspoons packed light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
1 ½ cups (7.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup (3.25 ounces) cake flour
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon (3 grams) salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
¼ cup buttermilk
1 ¾ cups thoroughly mashed very overripe bananas (about 4 to 5 large bananas, almost completely brown/black)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
⅔ cup of dark chocolate chips
1 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts, divided

Special Equipment: 12-cup muffin pan, baking spray containing flour, 10-inch skillet (not nonstick), wire rack.

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin cups and pan with baking spray containing flour.

2. Heat butter in 10-inch skillet (do not use nonstick skillet) over medium heat until melted, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma. Remove skillet from heat and transfer brown butter to large heatproof bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes.

3. Mix together 1 ½ teaspoons light brown sugar and 1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar for the topping with fork in small bowl. Set aside.

4. Whisk together flours, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in medium bowl. Set aside. Whisk ¾ cup brown sugar, whole eggs and egg yolk together in large bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 60 seconds. Whisk in cooled brown butter, buttermilk, bananas, and vanilla until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and ¾ cup hazelnuts.

5. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and stir gently with spatula or spoon until just moistened. Batter will be lumpy with a few streaks of flour remaining. Do not over-mix.

6. Using ice cream scoop or large spoon, divide batter equally into prepared muffin pan (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Rap muffin tin a few times on counter to settle batter. Sprinkle each muffin with generous pinch of sugar topping, then sprinkle each with about 1 teaspoon of remaining chopped hazelnuts.

7. Bake until muffins are golden brown and toothpick inserted in middle of muffin comes out clean, about 17 to 21 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Set on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from pan and transfer to wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.

Makes 12 muffins.

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© 2013 by Revel Kitchen. All Rights Reserved.

3 thoughts on “Best Ever Banana Muffins with Brown Butter, Hazelnuts, and Dark Chocolate

  1. OG! I just got such a kick out of reading this story. Ah, the memories of ATK and muffin development. Too funny. And I don’t think I ever had your recipe before – I will have to make it some time!

  2. Hi Sue! Glad you enjoyed this. Yes, I was a muffin baking machine! Very good memories. I’d love to hear how these turn out for you.

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