My idea of zen is cold weather, the kind that puffs out curls of steam everytime you breathe, when the tip of your nose is cold and resembles Rudolph's. My zen then comes from being indoors, warm and snug, hair fanning beneath a beanie, toes curled up inside sock bunnies, hands hugging a mug of frothy coffee, a delicious cookbook propped up on knees covered with a blanket and the smell of chocolate filling up every corner as something bakes in the oven.
When all this is not possible, my zen involves wandering the aisles of a specialist grocer or organic mart and discovering new ingredients to experiment with. On one such recent jaunt, I picked up a bag of carob. Substitute for cocoa, it said. It looked like cocoa and I was eager to get back home, google it and cook with it.
What I found about carob was mighty interesting. It belongs to the pea family. The carob tree is an evergreen shrub and is also know as St John's bread. It hails from the Mediterranean region and the seed pod which resembles a pea pod is crushed into powder and used as a substitute for cocoa, thereby eliminating caffeine. Because it doesn't contain an alkaloid that is found in chocolate and which is toxic to some pets, carob is used to make pet food and doggie treats. Go figure! Hot chocolate for the kids at night might be a treat but also full of caffeine. Carob might just be the answer to that problem. It is supposed to have much more calcium and much less sugar compared to chocolate.
I wanted to bake a big juicy banana muffin to facilitate the warm and snuggle induced zen I was talking about earlier, so I did and I did it with carob. The resulting muffin was chocolate-y, soft and a champion for butter. A muffin, a cup of coffee, The Real Food Companion on my lap and I might have come close to achieving Nirvana. Very close!
Soft, sweet and moist banana muffins are baked with carob, a healthier substitue for cocoa powder and chocolate. Utterly delicious!
Preparation Time - 10 minutes
Baking Time - 20 minutes
Makes - 24 medium sized or 12 jumbo sized
2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups mashed ripe bananas
2 lightly beaten eggs
3 tablespoons carob powder
1 tablespoon yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
150g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Pre-heat oven to 200C[400F]. Grease or line a 12-hole jumbo/24-hole medium muffin pan with muffin cases.
Mix flour, sugar, salt, carob powder, soda, mixed spice and cinnamon in a large bowl. Toss it around gently with a wooden spoon.
Make a well in the center and add the eggs, milk, butter, yogurt, vanilla, milk and bananas.
With a light hand and working in only one direction, gently mix the batter till it is combined thoroughly. The batter should look wet and lumpy like thick porridge.
Spoon batter in each of the holes till about 2/3rds of the way full. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until risen and cooked through.
Eat warm or cool and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving. These also taste quite good with jam and cream.
My Notes & Ideas
For extra sweetness and crunch, I sometimes sprinkle raw sugar on the uncooked batter before baking. At times, I also add sea salt flakes for a contrasting flavour.
While mixing the batter, if it is too stodgy and dry, add an extra 1/4 cup milk to loosen it.
Carob powder can be easily substituted for the same amount of cocoa powder. The muffins can also be topped with chocolate chips before baking.
To freeze, cool muffins completely, slice them in half horizontally, butter them, put the halves back together and store in a freezer safe air-tight container or individual freezer bags for a quick-to-go breakfast treat.