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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ijj's Low-Fat, Whole-Wheat, Banana Oat Muffins

This recipe has its roots in an old one handed down from my mother; I'm not even sure from where she originally got it, but it suffices to say that we've used it often.

After I started baking regularly myself, my mom sent me this recipe (among others) for my own rolodex. Since then, however, it has undergone heavy overhauls, and many tweaks.

Without laying down an entire chronology of its progression, allow me to just skip to the end. What I've made it now is very low in fat, and very high in fibre. The only thing which has remained the same from the original is the amount of sugar. I'd say that it “remained constant” throughout all its iterations, but that would not be the truth. Several essays involved cutting the sugar significantly, but it eventually got restored back to its full allotment.

Firstly, I'll say it is often hard to just plain out-and-out substitute whole wheat flour for regular all-purpose flour. It rarely works well. So most of the tweaking involved getting that to work. The addition of the oats was just pure personal preference, I liked the added texture (and fibre). It's been so long since I've had the original kicking around, I forget if it used butter or margarine, but in any case the margarine is the only real fat in the recipe other than the egg, and doesn't add up to much overall.

So, after about 10 years worth of tweaks, I finally got this recipe down if I do say so myself. It's delicious, and hearty, and pretty healthy for a baked good. I jokingly refer to them as 'breakfast substitutes', but that really isn't far from accurate. They definitely fill you up, and are certainly good for you.

Without further preamble, here is my final recipe for Banana Muffins:

ijj's Whole Wheat Banana Oat Muffins Recipe
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You can use fresh bananas for this recipe, but the riper the better. This is important! Not only are ripe bananas sweeter than unripe, they're also much easier to mash. I find that frozen bananas are even better however, (not just adequate, but actually preferred!) for two reasons. First, it is exceptionally convenient to just huck a banana or two into the freezer once they hit the “too-ripe-to-eat” stage. Second, freezing any organic material causes the the cells to lyse* (see utterly fascinating addendum below) which ends up making the entire thing mushy; not awesome for most applications, but great for cooking or baking!

So, the first thing we're going to do is take out all our frozen bananas, and let them start to thaw. Don't do this too early, however, as you don't want to deal with them completely unthawed. Next, rather than try to peel these suckers as you would a fresh one, grab a paring knife and make a decently deep incision down the length of the banana.

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It's OK if it slices the fruit itself. Then it's a simple matter to just pick off the peel. Make sure you get all the bit of peel, including that stringy stuff which is sort of in-between peel and fruit. You can just run your thumb along the whole fruit and should be able to clearly feel where there is still bits of that which need to come off.

Peeling these frozen bananas can actually be a little painful. Like frostbite painful! :D
What I've taken to doing is just filling up a couple inches of tepid (not too warm) water in my sink, into which I can just dunk my hands every minute or so between bananas. It helps.

After peeling all your bananas into a large mixing bowl, set that aside for now, and grab a whole other large bowl, for your dry ingredients. No real order is necessary here, just measure the flour, oats, soda, powder, and salt, and dump 'em in. Do mix this very well, however, and even bring in the hand-mixer to ensure it is all mixed really, really, well.

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Set your bowl of dry ingredients aside, (this is probably a good time to heat your oven – 350° - because we're only about 10 or 15 minutes from the finish line) go back to your bananas, and mash away; feel free to just have at 'em! Depending on how thawed they are at this point, I'll often give them a quick once-over with a fork first, before unleashing the terror of the hand-mixer upon them.

Truly my hand-mixer is a terror, but more to me than to any food. The thing was probably only $15 and is by now over 10 years old. <sigh> It still works OK, despite emitting some strange smells if left on high for too long.

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This step is crucial unless you want to have chunks of banana in your muffins. My wife and I do not, so I like to puree this fruit until it is almost liquid.

Next add the margarine, beat that in well before adding the sugar in batches until that is all nicely uniform. Don't add the eggs until last, and then just beat the mixture enough to ensure it is evenly distributed throughout.

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Now just standard procedure for mixing wet and dry: dig a well in your dry, pour in the wet, and then mix well.

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Once that is mixed smoothly, and everything has blended nicely, you're ready to grease up your muffin tin(s) and fill them up! I like to grease the entire tin, including not just the cups but the flat surfaces between as well. One thing my mom and my grandma before her never did (for whatever reason) was fill the muffin cups up enough. Their versions of muffins were really like little buns, short and squat. The characteristic “muffin” shape, with the mushroom-like top and skinnier bottom, can only be achieved if the tin's cups are filled all the way to the top. This way, when the batter rises it will balloon up and over, spilling on to the flat part of the tin (thus the grease on those parts as well).

So fill the tins up all the way flush with the surface.

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(don't judge my muffin pans - they've seen a LOT of action in their day)

At this point, assuming your oven is ready, bake away!

I put ~20 mins @ 350° on my recipe card, but I start checking to see if they're done already by about 15 minutes. They are done when the tops get deliciously golden brown (and hard to the touch), or when you can stick a bamboo skewer or toothpick in the middle of the middle muffins and have it come away dry. Usually this is about 20 minutes. Always better to take them out for a minute and check however, as they can always just get put back in again if unready.

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That's it!

Take em out, let them cool in-pan for a minute or two before trying to remove them, and then just give them a little bit of a circular wiggle, very gently, and they should pull right out. If you've got a baking (cooling) rack, place them all on there to cool.

Whole Wheat Banana Oat Muffins
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Don't wait too long, or let them cool too much, however, before cutting one open and digging in!!!

Whole Wheat Banana Oat Muffin
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*Lyse is a term which basically just means 'rupture'. The actual phenomena of cell lysis is pretty neat (scary, but cool): because all organic cells are mostly water and because when water freezes it crystallizes, then when an organic cell freezes, the sharp water crystals will literally pierce the cell membrane. As it pertains to plant matter such as fruits and vegetables, once frozen, they will never have the same consistency, because cell walls are the only thing lending them any structure. They've literally lost the ability to hold together, and are irreparably damaged.  When we're talking about food this basically translates to very mushy, and often watery, food.


  1. Found the original recipe that calls for less bananas, less flour less egg .....pretty much less everything. It also calls for 2/3 full in each muffin cup .... no wonder your muffins are bigger and better!!! I've copied your version to add to my original.

  2. Crazy! Like I said, I've taken this through so many iterations, I'd completely forgotten the original.
    As for filling it up 2/3 only, I feel you could safely ignore that; it is nice to have muffin tops.

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