Recipe quick take: Zoe Nathan’s Banana–Poppy Seed Muffins

You probably know the drill by now, but just in case: I’m baking lots of stuff this summer — more complicated things like cakes on weekends, easier things like muffins and cookies for midweek — and bringing them in to feed my co-workers. It’s the middle of the week, so here are some muffins — with a bit less of the step-by-step photos and exposition I usually do, which is why it’s a “quick take”.

This recipe comes from Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes from Our Kitchen (Chronicle Books, 2014), by Zoe Nathan with Josh Loeb and Laurel Almerinda. This is actually not one of the recipes that I included on my original list (I asked each co-worker to pick their three favorites, judging only by title and recipe source), but I stumbled across it in my frequent quest to use up excess ingredients — in this case, buttermilk. She calls it “Banana Poppy Seed Muffins”, although I would argue at least a little with the “muffin” part: it’s baked in a cupcake wrapper, so clearly it’s a cupcake, or at least in that neither-here-nor-there space between cupcakes and muffins. It’s also made by the creaming method, like a butter cake, rather than by the muffin method. On the other hand, it’s not as sweet as a cake. In any event, here’s how it went:

Mise en place
Hey, look at that! It’s a mise en place! This really is all the ingredients, this time: flour (a mixture of whole-wheat and all-purpose), buttermilk, plain whole-milk yogurt, butter, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, salt, two eggs, sugar, and of course bananas. The tall thin bottle that claims to be vanilla beans actually has poppy seeds in it (because reuse is better than recycling). An unfortunate lacuna in this recipe is the absence of any measurement for the bananas: as anyone who’s ever been down the produce aisle can tell you, bananas come in a variety of sizes, so a recipe like this one, which calls for “7 bananas” without specifying exactly how much that is, is really lacking some very important information.

Mashed bananas
The recipe calls for “5 mashed bananas” — again giving no hint of the desired final quantity. I find that nothing beats a glass pie plate for mashing bananas; I used a potato masher for the initial work, and then a dinner fork to reduce some of the lumps that the masher couldn’t get to.

Bowl full of batter
As I mentioned, this recipe is built something like a butter cake, starting with creaming butter and sugar. Nathan says to do it in a stand mixer, but my stand mixer is simply too big to cream the small quantity of butter called for in this recipe (and I bet in her bakery they do larger batches than this!) so I used a hand mixer instead. The value of the stand mixer became more obvious after beating in all that mashed banana, followed by the dry ingredients — but having already dirtied one mixing bowl I wasn’t about to double the mess. This batter is extremely liquid, probably more than Nathan actually intended; if she had bothered to say how much mashed banana was desired, it would probably have been thicker. As a result, I had trouble portioning these: although I was able to fill my #16 disher with batter, actually emptying the disher into the aforementioned cupcake wrappers without dumping it all over the muffin tin was somewhat challenging.

Sliced banana for top
The remaining two bananas (out of the seven called for) are sliced thinly and distributed three per muffin on top of the uncooked batter. The muffins are then topped with sugar to make a crisp top and protect the bananas from further oxidation (I used demerara sugar, which is good for this sort of thing).

Baked muffins
The recipe makes sixteen “muffins”, which is a really odd number when you consider that muffin tins invariably hold either six or twelve normal-sized muffins. You’ll note that these “muffins” are not very muffin-shaped: for whatever reason — probably related to the ill-specified quantity of banana — they ended up slumping in the cups and don’t form a proper domed top.

Comparison of muffins
This photo makes it clear. I took some old blueberry muffins out of the freezer (they had been there for several months and it was time to get rid of them anyway) and put one next to a banana muffin to get a good size comparison.

Crumb of banana muffin
The crumb of this banana muffin looks a bit odd — perhaps something didn’t get completely mixed? Oh well, too late now.

I brought both the old blueberry muffins and the fresh banana muffins into work in the same container, and left them out for people to eat. While some co-workers gushed about the banana muffins, others agreed with me that they were rather “meh”. The banana flavor is nice, but the texture and overall mouth feel leaves a great deal to be desired. They are a bit sweeter than a proper muffin should be, but not as sweet as a true cupcake. I personally thought they would be improved by some nuts — say, chopped walnuts or pecans — but not everyone agreed.


No guarantees, of course, that the nutrition database’s notion of “1 ripe banana” corresponds with what I actually used here, never mind what you’ll find in your kitchen.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 “muffin”
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 216 Calories from fat 63
% Daily Value
Total Fat 7g 10%
 Saturated Fat 4g 20%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 44mg 15%
Sodium 218mg 9%
Potassium 214mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 36g 12%
 Dietary fiber 3g 10%
 Sugars 19g
Proteins 4g 8%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 7%
Calcium 6%
Iron 6%
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