Sunday, 20 July 2014

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Banana Muffins

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California produce
There are many things I love about Berkeley, where I have just moved. The weekly farmer’s market, college kids who are at the heart of this university town, and whose endless chatter I cannot help but overhear as I walk by, and an impressive array of restaurants. And then there’s the public library, only a few steps away from where we live. As far as public libraries go, this one is enormous. It is five stories high, with more bookshelves than I can count. I discovered that it has a vast food section, and that it costs nothing to sign up. When the librarian told me I could borrow up to 50 books at a time (yes, 50!), I fell in love with Berkeley all over again.

The earliest library I remember visiting is one that my mother often took us to in Delhi. Although the ostensible reason for our frequent visits was to let us borrow books as often as possible, with hindsight, I now believe it was also because the library’s “keep silence” sign offered her precious refuge from our never ending childish quarrels.

Displaying photo.JPGI remember the musty smell that this library carried, the dusty ceiling fans that whirred noisily over our heads, the winding staircase that led us to its doors, and the frayed red cloth with which every book inside was bound. I remember the old librarian in charge of the whole enterprise, and the pink library cards on which he wrote our names down in Hindi in blue ballpoint ink.

He was puzzled by our last name “George” which appeared on the bank statements we offered as proof of address. His furrowed brow told us that he’d probably never come across it before. Entirely understandable – George isn’t a common name in India, especially in the northern parts. Before we could offer the pronunciation and the spelling in Hindi, he had gotten the job done. When we received our library cards, we saw that he had decided to rechristen us “Garg” (pronounced almost like you would the first four letters in “gargle”, except that the "a" sound is a little less stretched out), arguably the closest North Indian approximation for “George”. We didn’t bother correcting him. What’s in a name, after all. We went about borrowing books from the library, masquerading as the “Garg” family with no fuss whatsoever.  

The librarian at the Berkeley library had no trouble with my surname. I ended up borrowing Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. I am delighted to say that it was un-put-down-able. I took it everywhere I went until there was nothing left to devour of Molly’s homemade life. The book is a collection of essays centred around food with a recipe at the end of each one. It carries much promise in the form of pistachio cake with honeyed apricot, vanilla-black pepper ice-cream and French style yoghurt cake with lemon. I am yet to try out Molly’s recipes, but I did end up trying out one of Nigella Lawson’s recipes. It is a recipe for chocolate banana muffins. The texture was great, but the chocolate flavour just wasn’t as strong as I would have liked. Next time, I will swap some of the flour with more cocoa powder. Chocolaty or not, here’s the recipe in celebration of The Homemade Life, the Berkeley public library, and old memories.

Here's the recipe:

Displaying image.jpegChocolate Banana Muffins (original recipe at this link)
(Makes 12)

3 very ripe or overripe bananas
½ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
½ cup soft light brown sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons best-quality unsweetened cocoa (sifted)
1 teaspoon baking soda

(I added 1/4 tsp salt and a few chopped walnuts)


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 and line a 12-bun muffin tin with papers. Don’t worry about getting special papers: regular muffin cases will do the job.

Mash the bananas by hand or with a freestanding mixer. Still beating and mashing, add the oil followed by the eggs and sugar.
Mix the flour, unsweetened cocoa and bicarb together and add this mixture, beating gently, to the banana mixture, then spoon it into the prepared papers.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15–20 minutes, by which time the muffins should be dark, rounded and peeking proudly out of their cases. Allow to cool slightly in their tin before removing to a wire rack.

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