Almond Topped Chocolate Chip Muffins

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A few months ago I asked Calvin if he wanted something new for school day breakfasts. He eats lunch late, so it is always a challenge to find something that will hold him over all morning. He suggested chocolate chip muffins with almond extract. I figured a few chocolate chips were okay as long as I threw in a few whole grains. With those parameters I took the concept and ran with it.

I have been tinkering with this muffin recipe for several months. I have used various combinations of whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and almond flour. I put oats in the batter, and then I put more oats in the batter. I put chocolate chips inside and on top, then just inside. I made umpteen variations of the crumb topping. I played with the sweetness level. Some versions were a little too grainy, others were too sweet or not sweet enough. Some topping attempts fell off the muffins as I took them out of the pans, some sank into the batter and others melted and ran off in the oven.

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The final recipe (at least for now) is a tender, almond-scented muffin full of chocolate chips and topped with a buttery almond topping. The batter has both oats and whole wheat flour, along with a moderate level of sugar. I used oil in the muffins, but butter in the topping for flavor.

We still aren’t tired of these muffins, and we have been eating them for breakfast and snacks for at least two months now. If that isn’t an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Download or print the recipe here.

Almond Topped Chocolate Chip Muffins
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 muffins

Muffins:
1½ cups buttermilk
1 cup oats, quick or old-fashioned
¼ cup oil
1 egg
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Topping:
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup rolled oats, quick or old-fashioned
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Mix the buttermilk and oats together in a large bowl and set aside while you gather your ingredients and make the topping.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease 12 standard muffin cups and set aside.

Make the topping:
Use a food processor, mini chopper or a pastry blender to mix together the almonds, oats and granulated sugar. When the mixture is fairly finely ground, with the almonds mostly broken up, add the butter and mix until everything starts to clump together slightly and looks like coarse wet sand. Refrigerate topping while you mix the muffins.

Add the oil, egg, sugar, almond extract and vanilla extract to the oat and buttermilk mixture. Mix well.

Mix the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder together in a small bowl. Add to oat mixture and stir gently. Do not beat or you will end up with tough muffins. When the flour is almost completely mixed in, add the chocolate chips and stir until there are no streaks or pockets of dry flour.

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Divide batter evenly among the greased muffin cups, which will be almost full. Use a measuring tablespoon to divide the topping between the muffins, using about 1 tablespoon per muffin. Keep most of the topping toward the middle of each muffin. If the topping is compacted into mounds, use your finger to break them up slightly.

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Bake the muffins for 13-15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and bounce back when touched lightly. A toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin will come out with just a few moist crumbs, if you can manage to miss the chocolate chips.

Let muffins cool in the pan for about 10 minutes to firm up a bit. Then remove them from the pan to finish cooling on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to two days. After that the muffins will start to get dry. Freeze for longer storage. Thaw at room temperature for a few hours, or in the microwave for about 20 seconds per muffin.

 

A Twist on an Old Favorite – Beer Muffins

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You remember beer bread, don’t you? Periodically it is all the rage – nowadays it makes the rounds on the internet, but in the past it would be the recipe passed around at work, church dinners or supper clubs. You stir up self-rising flour, or the equivalent, beer, sugar and sometimes butter and bake it until done.

I saw a tweet about beer bread yesterday that made me want some. It was almost dinnertime and I didn’t want to wait for a big loaf to bake and cool. I decided to make beer muffins instead – shorter baking time and easier to serve hot. I have made the muffins in the past, but not for a few years.

We didn’t have any beer, since we really don’t like to drink it. And our beer knowledge is sketchy for the same reason. The wall of beer at the grocery store was a just a little bit dizzying. Rich was with me and we finally decided to buy hard cider, since we do like to drink that, and see what it did in the beer muffins.

The hard cider worked beautifully, lending a slight apple flavor to the muffins. I cut back on the sugar just a bit, since the cider was sweeter than beer. And I did my usual replacement of half the flour with white whole wheat flour to up the fiber and nutrition a bit. It also added a nice nuttiness. I skipped the butter in this batch, since we planned to spread them with butter at the table. They were a success all around, with just a few left over for today’s breakfast.

I am still hankering for plain old beer muffins, with their clean maltiness. But I am also inspired by the success of the hard cider. Now I am intrigued by the possibilities of using different beers in the muffins. Maybe a dark beer, with some rye flour in the mix. And I am toying with using pumpkin spice ale and maybe a little canned pumpkin to make something truly different.

Once I make my plain beer muffins, with ordinary beer, I am going to start experimenting now that the proverbial wheels are turning. I think it’s time for this non-beer drinker to pick up a few different varieties and start baking.

Download or print the recipe here.

Beer Muffins
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 muffins

Be sure to measure your flour by stirring it in the canister and lightly spooning it into your measuring cups. Level the top with the back of a knife. If you scoop your cup into the canister to fill it, or if you pack the flour, you will have too much flour and end up with dry, crumbly muffins.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups white whole wheat flour*
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar**
12 ounces beer or hard cider of choice
2 tablespoons butter, melted (optional)

*You can substitute all-purpose flour for the white whole wheat, if you prefer. **Reduce the sugar, or even leave it out, if you want less-sweet muffins.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups and set aside.

Mix flours, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Add beer and melted butter and stir to mix. Do not beat and do not try to get rid of all the lumps. You just want to get all of the flour wet.

Divide dough evenly between the greased muffin cups.

Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the tops are have a few golden brown spots and the edges are golden brown. Do not over bake or they will be dry.

Serve warm, when they are at their very best. Store any cooled leftovers in an airtight container. Leftovers can be split and reheated in the oven, toaster oven or very briefly in the microwave.

Raspberry Lemon Muffins

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Fresh raspberries usually cost the earth, so I don’t even look at them in the grocery store most of the time. This week they were on sale for a dollar a package. I couldn’t pass up that deal. Then I was faced with how to use them, other than just eating them.

I mentioned raspberry lemon muffins as a possibility to Rich and Calvin and they jumped on it. My decision was made. Of course, I didn’t have a recipe for raspberry lemon muffins. I decided to start with my go-to blueberry muffin recipe and tweak it a bit.

I substituted raspberries for blueberries, of course. I upped the amount a bit, to match up with the volume of one six ounce package of raspberries. I added the zest and juice of one lemon to really give the muffins a citrus zing. I then increased the sugar just a bit to offset the tang of the lemon.

They baked up beautifully – tender cake surrounding tart, bright red raspberries, topped with a shattering sugar crust. I like the bursts of tartness from the berries, contrasting with the barely sweet muffin. If you like things sweeter, follow the directions in the head note of the recipe, or add a sprinkling of sugar at the table. As is, they are light, bright and refreshing –the muffin version of a glass of cold lemonade on a hot day.

Download or print recipe here.

Raspberry Lemon Muffins
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 muffins

These are not very sweet. If you like your muffins on the sweeter side, you may want to increase the granulated sugar by 1-2 tablespoons.

One small lemon
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour, if you prefer)
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
⅓ cup granulated sugar (see head note)
1 egg
¾ cup milk
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1½ cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
Granulated or coarse sugar for sprinkling, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan and set aside.

Zest the lemon into a large bowl. I Iike to use a microplane for this, but the finest holes on any grater will work.  Add the white whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir and set aside. Juice the lemon and set aside.

Beat egg, milk and oil together until well combined. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add egg mixture and lemon juice and stir gently. When just a few streaks of flour remain, add raspberries. Gently mix just until there is no more dry flour. Let batter sit for about five minutes to let the whole wheat flour absorb more of the liquid.

Divide batter among the greased muffin cups, filling each about three quarters full. Make sure each muffin has at least a couple of raspberries – redistribute the berries if necessary.

Sprinkle the each muffin with about ½ teaspoon of sugar, if desired.

Bake muffins for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are firm and light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

The muffins are tender – let them cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Muffins keep at room temperature for a couple of days. Freeze for longer storage.

Lemon Zucchini Muffins and Family Reunion Fun

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I really should be posting a recipe for something like plain oatmeal, or even gruel, after the long weekend of eating at my family reunion. Not only did I bake up a storm before I got there, but I fulfilled a few requests after we arrived.

We hadn’t been in the door at my Aunt Linda’s house for more than five minutes when I was mixing up peach cobbler for dessert that night. We didn’t have quite enough peaches (last year’s summer bounty, from my freezer), so we threw in a pint of blueberries we had picked up at an orchard on the trip. I made a slightly sweet, whole wheat pie crust to top the fruit. You will just have to imagine how good it looked and tasted, since I totally forgot to take pictures. And the cobbler was gone almost as soon as it came out of the oven, so there wasn’t even a little dab to take a picture of later.

Linda was on a quest to clean out her freezer before garden produce starts ripening in earnest. The second night we had last fall’s fried apples for dessert. I made a double batch of caramel sauce, at her request, to top them. Let me tell you, it is an interesting experience to cook with at least fifteen relatives milling in and out of the kitchen, hovering over the stove to check the progress of the sauce. I did get everyone to let it cool for a few minutes before they pounced, but only with dire warnings about how hot it really was.

Lest you think all we did was eat all weekend, we did spend a lot of time visiting and taking pictures. Of course, most of us are perfectly capable of catching up and eating at the same time. The kids fit in quite a few card games, washer tournaments and electronic entertainment. And we had a white elephant auction that distracted us from eating for at least a little while. But mostly we ate and talked.

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Family members ambled into town over several days. By Saturday, when we had the biggest shindig, there were thirty-two of us, comprising three generations. Not that you really care to look at my family photos, but I thought I would include one. We managed to corral most everyone, though several people are missing in this one. Note the dog getting in on the action in the front row.

The family is spread out both in age and geography, so there were some in-laws and kids who hadn’t met everyone. I had a son of one of my cousins (a second cousin?) ask me exactly what a generation was. I think I explained it as briefly as possible, but his eyes still glazed over just a bit. And one of the littlest guys was just figuring out that his grandpa wasn’t every kid’s grandpa. Great uncle is a hard concept to explain. But it’s all family, and it’s all good.

The lemon zucchini muffins were one of the successes of the weekend – lemony, flecked with green zucchini bits, not too sweet, just rich enough to serve as dessert but healthy enough to double as breakfast. I baked them on Monday and froze them until we left on Thursday. They were still fairly moist on Sunday. Of course, a little butter and a few seconds in the microwave brought out the lemon and made them even better. A few people had them with leftover caramel sauce and apples, but that was too many flavors going on for me. Butter was perfect.

Download or print the recipe here.

Lemon Zucchini Muffins
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From “Country Baking” by Ken Haedrich
Makes 12 muffins, easy to double

The original recipe was for bread, baked in an 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pan. Baking time was 50 minutes.

1⅔ cups white whole wheat flour
⅔ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
⅓ cup canola or vegetable oil
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice (the juice of one lemon)
2-3 teaspoons lemon zest (the zest of one lemon)
1 cup grated zucchini (don’t peel it and don’t squeeze it dry, you want all the moisture)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 12 muffin cups. Mix the white whole wheat flour, the all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs; then add the oil, lemon juice and zest. Mix well, then add the zucchini and mix again.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix gently until all the flour is mixed in and there are no dry streaks. Do not beat. Batter will be very thick.

Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups, filling them almost full. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the centers are firm when pressed or a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool the muffins in the pan on a rack for 5-10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool to room temperature on a rack. Store in an airtight container for a few days or freeze for longer storage.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Doughnut Bites

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I realized that I only posted savory recipes last week. I was so excited about the stuffed chicken, and the ingredients that went into it, that sweet baking got the short shrift. I can’t let the situation go on any longer, so today we will turn to doughnut bites.

We usually take the time on Saturday mornings to bake something special for breakfast. I wanted to make something new this past Saturday, but I wasn’t sure what. I wanted something simple and quick, but on the decadent side. I scrolled through my archive of recipe PDFs gleaned from blogs and recipe sites and Mini Donut Muffins from Natalie at The Sweets Life caught my eye. They fit all the criteria – quick, easy and decadent.

The original recipe was for a nutmeg doughnut rolled in cinnamon sugar. I decided to change them, as I almost always seem to do with recipes. I like nutmeg, but usually only mixed with other spices in pumpkin pie or spice cake. I decided to change the nutmeg to cinnamon, and to increase the amount. I also switched the white sugar to brown sugar, just because I like it with cinnamon, and I like the caramel notes it adds to baked goods. I added a bit of salt and used white whole wheat flour for half of the flour.

I happened to have whole milk on hand, which I rarely do. The whole milk gave them an extra richness that I think baked goods made with my usual skim milk sometimes lack. I might just have to keep a little whole milk on hand for baking. And it’s pretty good in my hot tea and coffee too.

I rolled the doughnut bites in white sugar instead of cinnamon sugar since they had plenty of cinnamon inside them. I dipped the first ones in melted butter before dipping them in the sugar, as directed in the original recipe, but I skipped the butter after the first few. The sugar stuck just fine, which saves a few calories. As if we were counting calories with these.

I was surprised how well the doughnut bites turned out, given all my changes. They were tender inside and crispy outside, contrasting nicely with the slight crunch of the sugar. We ate an embarrassingly large portion of them on Saturday and Calvin finished up the rest of them at Sunday’s breakfast. Rich and I had oatmeal.

Download or print the recipe here.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Doughnut Bites
Adapted from The Sweets Life by The Cook’s Life
Makes 24

½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup milk (I used whole, but whatever you have will work just fine)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup white whole wheat flour*
½ cup all-purpose flour

Topping:
⅓ cup granulated sugar

*If you prefer, use all-purpose flour instead of white whole wheat flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 24 cup mini muffin pan and set aside.

Combine brown sugar, melted butter and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir to combine, making sure to break up all the lumps in the brown sugar. Add milk and stir well. Add baking powder, salt, white whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour and stir gently to combine.

Divide batter evenly between the muffin cups. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned and firm when pressed.

Toss hot muffins gently in granulated sugar to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store any leftovers at room temperature in an airtight container for a day or two. Freeze for longer storage.

Baked Vanilla Doughnuts (or Muffins)

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I baked doughnuts this week until they were coming out my ears, or at least covering the counter, kitchen table and even the living room coffee table. I have arrived at a recipe that makes beautifully browned, moist doughnuts covered with crackly glaze, all redolent of vanilla. To top it off, they are low fat and made with whole wheat flour, which no one would guess in a million years.

The recipe I had (which was a hybrid of several recipes and the result of past experiments) was supposed to make six doughnuts, but I always ended up with extra batter. So I had to cut the ingredients back and make sure those amounts worked for six doughnuts. It took a few batches, but I figured out that part. Then I had to double it all and see if that worked to make twelve. So far, so good.

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I also wanted to give a muffin option, in case you don’t happen to have a doughnut pan. If you have any interest at all, though, pick up a doughnut pan. When you make muffins, you miss out on the crispy outside edges and the increased surface area to soak up glaze. The pans are pretty cheap and widely available. You can get by with one, and just bake two batches of six, if you are making the full recipe. But if you don’t want to bother, or don’t have the space to store another pan, the batter makes very tasty muffins.

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Again, experiments to see how best to bake only six muffins in a standard twelve muffin pan – use every other cup instead of baking them in one end of the pan. Then I needed to bake a full recipe to see if twelve muffins baked in the same time as six – the times were very close. Now I had doughnut muffins to add to the array.

Bear with me for some baking chemistry to explain why I had to bake a few more batches. The recipe I was working from (the recipe of mysterious origins) called for cream of tartar, baking soda and buttermilk. Baking soda is a base (remember high school chemistry) and needs an acid to react with to make the carbon dioxide bubbles that make the doughnuts rise. Buttermilk is acidic, as is cream of tartar. I figured the recipe didn’t need both, so I tried cutting out the cream of tartar. At the same time, I baked another half batch of six with baking powder to see what would happen. Baking powder already contains an acid and a base, so I technically didn’t need buttermilk, but I didn’t want to change more than one thing at a time. Scientific method does have a real world application!

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Both batches rose just fine, but the baking powder batch was noticeably paler than the baking soda batch.

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The texture of the baking soda batch was just a bit finer and I liked it better – it got spongier, in a good way, after it soaked up the glaze. Baking soda won out, and cream of tartar went back into the baking cabinet. I was so happy with the baking soda results that I decided not to try any other experiments with baking powder. I was already swimming in doughnuts and was a little tired of being in the kitchen.

Rich’s co-workers and my fellow church choir members benefited from the baking frenzy. I have to say that I am thoroughly tired of the aroma, taste and sight of vanilla doughnuts, at least for a day or two. Now another flavor would be a different story…

Download or print the full recipe here.
Download or print the half recipe here. 

Vanilla Doughnuts or Muffins
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 doughnuts or muffins

 If you don’t have a doughnut pan, you can bake these in a standard muffin pan.

½ cup all-purpose flour*
½ cup white whole wheat flour*
6 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 tablespoons buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten

*These work perfectly fine with 1 cup of all-purpose flour if you prefer.

Glaze:
1 teaspoon butter (basically a pat of butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons water

Grease two 6-well doughnut pans or a 12-cup muffin pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, mix together butter, vanilla, buttermilk and eggs. Add egg mixture to dry mixture and stir gently until no dry pockets of flour remain. Do not beat. Fill doughnut pan, using 3 small (size 100) cookie scoops of batter per well, or about 3 tablespoons batter. Evenly space the three blobs of batter around the center post of each well. Or fill muffin cups about half full. Bake 8-10 minutes or until doughnuts (or muffins) are just golden on top, golden brown on the bottoms and bounce back when touched.

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While doughnuts are baking make the glaze. In a small bowl, melt the butter and add powdered sugar and vanilla. Add a tablespoon of water and mix in as much powdered sugar as possible. Add another tablespoon of water and mix until you have a smooth, thick glaze. Add the last tablespoon of water to make a very thin glaze. It will seem like all the water will not mix in, but keep stirring until it does. Adding the water gradually helps to avoid lumps – don’t be tempted to add it all at once.

As soon as doughnuts (or muffins) are done, remove them from the pans one at a time and dip the tops in the glaze. Move to a plate to cool. If any glaze remains when all doughnuts are dipped, use a spoon to drizzle over the doughnuts. As the doughnuts cool, the glaze will dry to a clear finish. If you are doing muffins, you might want to poke a few holes in the tops and drizzle on additional glaze. They don’t have as much surface area as the doughnuts and need a little help to absorb more glaze.

As with all doughnuts, these are best the day they are made, but they are still pretty tasty the next day. You might want to warm them for 10 seconds in the microwave if you are eating them the next day.

Happy Experiment – Double Chocolate Banana Cupcakes

I came up with this recipe back in August, but haven’t had a chance to make it again until now. I wanted to recreate my results before I posted it, since the recipe was a total experiment. Those don’t always turn out the second time (or sometimes even the first time).

I had a lot of brown bananas when I came up with the recipe. I had succumbed to the ridiculously low price for a bag of overripe bananas at the grocery store. Of course, when I got home, I realized that I had more bananas than I knew what to do with. I made a double batch of banana bread and still had a bunch of bananas left over.

My brother and sister-in-law were in town that week, so I decided on banana cake, since we would have extra help eating it. I started with a recipe for banana cake that my mother clipped from the newspaper eons ago. There is no indication what paper, or what year. I ended up changing it so much that the only resemblance to the original is the fact that it has bananas in it. I exaggerate, but not much.

Mom never put an icing on this particular cake – she usually sprinkled chocolate chips and pecans on top right before she put it in the oven. I decided to take that one step further and make the cake chocolate too. I reduced the flour and sugar and replaced them with the same amount of cocoa. I also substituted half of the remaining flour with white whole wheat flour. I added vanilla, doubled the bananas and stirred chocolate chips into the batter, as well as sprinkling some on top.

The cake was a success, except somehow Rich ended up not getting any. He has been asking for me to make it again ever since, so he could try it. When I made it again, I decided to make cupcakes, for easier serving. I like the cupcakes better than the cake and probably will always make cupcakes with this particular recipe. I did include baking directions for the large cake so you can choose which to make. Which do you prefer – a cupcake or a piece of cake?

Double Chocolate Banana Cupcakes
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 18-24 cupcakes OR one 9 X 13 cake

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (4-5 medium bananas)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour (can substitute all-purpose flour)
½ cup natural cocoa powder
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin pans and set aside.

Beat butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again until well combined. Add bananas and mix well.

Mix all-purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to banana mixture and stir gently to combine. Do not beat. Stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips.

Fill muffin cups about half full for shorter cupcakes, or about three quarters full for taller cupcakes. You will get about 24 shorter cupcakes, or 18 taller ones.

Divide the remaining chocolate chips among the cupcakes, using 3 to 4 each.

Bake cupcakes for 10-15 minutes, until tops spring back when touched lightly. Do not overbake or cakes will be dry.

Cool cupcakes about 5 minutes before removing from pans to cool on racks.

Cake Variation:
Spread the batter into a greased 9 by 13 inch pan, leveling the top. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips over the cake. Bake 25-30 minutes, being sure not to overbake the cake – bake only until middle is set and springs back when touched lightly. Let cake cool in the pan on a rack.

 Download the recipe here.