The Quest for the Perfect Banana Muffin

Banana MuffinThe perfect banana muffin was more elusive than we expected.  We wanted a banana muffin that was banana-rich but still light and airy like a cake and with high domes.  But when we loaded up the batter with bananas—enough to make it really taste like bananas—the fruit weighed the muffin down so that it was dense and unattractive.

We baked tons and tons of banana muffins.  But our beautiful, high-domed muffins didn’t have enough bananas and when we used enough bananas, the muffins were dense and flat.  Finally we concluded that if we could find a way to use an equal volume of bananas as flour, we would have enough banana flavor.  But could we do so and still have a light, high-domed muffin?

A banana muffin contains five main ingredients: flour, bananas, sugar, eggs, and a fat.  Each has a role to play.  The flour gives structure.  The bananas and sugar contribute flavor.  The fat from the egg yolks and oil or butter gives richness and “mouth feel”.

There must be a balance in these ingredients.  To get a high dome, the batter must be fairly stiff so that you can fill the muffin cavities and have it rise instead of flow as it bakes.   It’s a balance between the dry ingredients—primarily flour—and the wet ingredients.  (Sugar melts during baking and acts like a liquid.)

For fat, we tried vegetable oil, butter, yogurt, and sour cream.  We settled on sour cream.

Try as we could, we couldn’t use as much mashed banana as flour without creating dense muffins.  Finally, the obvious dawned on us: the egg whites were contributing moisture but no fat or flavor.  We switched to egg yolks only replacing the whole eggs.  We added more bananas, essentially replacing the egg whites with bananas.  We now had that 50/50 balance of bananas and flour.  The result was a banana-rich muffin that was light and airy and had a high dome.  For us, we had found the perfect banana muffin.

After perfecting the recipe, we tried different pans for extra fancy and change-of-pace muffins.  We made elegant little muffin-cakes from a mini-cheesecake pan.  (In fact, we fell in love with the elegant little muffins from this pan.)  We made jumbo muffins.  And we made muffin tops in muffin top pans.

Here is the recipe:

The Perfect Banana Muffin

The keys for success with this recipe are:

  1. Use the ripest bananas that you can find.  Ripe bananas have much more flavor.
  2. Adjust the flour if you have to.  Because bananas differ in their moistness as they ripen, you may have to add a couple tablespoons of flour.  The batter should be half way between cake batter and cookie dough for drop cookies.  It should be stiff enough that it can mound in your scoop.
  3. Fill the muffin tins almost to the top.  It takes a lot of batter to build a dome.  If you fill the tins only 2/3’s full, you’ll have batter left over and smaller muffins.  This recipe is designed for 12 standard muffins.
  4. Start out with a hot oven.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then reduce the temperature as directed.  The initial hot oven creates a burst of steam that helps lift the muffins.
  5. Check the cooking time.  Because you turn the temperature down, times are only an estimate and reflect the time required in our oven.  Other ovens may retain heat as ours does.

The Perfect Banana Muffin Recipe

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cups ripe mashed banana
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream (not low fat)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup pecan or walnut pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  1. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.
  2. In another bowl, mix the mashed banana, sugar, sour cream, vegetable oil, egg yolks, and vanilla together.
  3. Add wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until the ingredients are mixed well.  Fold in the nuts.
  4. Fill the well-greased tins nearly full.  Use all the batter for twelve standard muffins.  Sprinkle on the optional streusel topping.
  5. Bake for 8 minutes at 400 degrees.  Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes or until done.  Let sit for five minutes and remove the muffins from the pan to a rack to cool.

Streusel Topping

1/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make the streusel topping, combine all the ingredients and stir until well combined and crumbly.   Sprinkle over the muffins before baking.