Frank, the friend who designed the photos page for my new website (which, yes, still needs more photos), made an interesting remark the other night while he was sitting, toiling away at his code, where I am now, writing recipes.
He said, it’s amazing that those of us whose livelihoods depend on skills not everyone has – which are, presumably, skills we use regularly – continue to be impressed when our skills serve us well. Like when a program transfers successfully from one web software to another, in his case, or in my case, when I take a crack at a relatively unknown recipe and it works.
My most recent challenge involved chocolate and a sourdough starter. Johnny from Woods Hole emailed me on Tuesday night with an emergency request. He’d been assigned the role of muffin bringer for Amy’s birthday, see, and as much as he knows Amy loves her healthy food, he was really convinced that chocolate cupcakes would be more appropriate for their 8 a.m. post-dog walk birthday party than hippie-dippie crunchy oat bran muffins. So, clever guy that he is, he asked for a recipe for chocolate “muffins.”
Johnny, “chocolate muffins” is a very transparent euphemism for “cupcakes.”
So I decided to make chocolate cupcakes. To please Johnny, I’d deprive them of frosting, so they’d actually look a little like muffins, and to please Amy, whose happiness was really the one most at stake here, it being her birthday and all, I’d make them with the sourdough starter she sent me last winter, using a recipe for chocolate cake I remembered seeing on the back of one of the recipe pages she sent along with it. This second detail would also be fun for Johnny, who loves a challenge. He’d need to somehow smuggle a cup of sourdough starter out of Amy’s fridge without her knowledge. (How did you do it?)
Only, after I turned on the oven and decided chocolate muffins it would be, I noticed that the recipe was for two cakes, and used shortening, not enough chocolate, water instead of something more flavorful, and entirely too much sugar for my taste. Plus, most of the instructions were lopped off of the bottom of the page entirely, which meant that I’d be creating a recipe based on basically just a measurement for flour, eggs, sourdough starter, and additional leaveners. But I’m a trained professional, right? So what if I’ve never baked a cake with a sourdough starter?
And guess what? It worked (which, as you might remember, isn’t always the case). They’re delicious.
Today, my pride swells. I got skills. (For Amy’s sake, I can only hope Johnny’s turned out as well.)
What a good note to leave on.
Recipe for Sourdough Chocolate-Walnut Muffins
Recipe 214 of 365
When our friend Amy sent me a sourdough starter, she also sent an old-fashioned recipe booklet with ideas that extended well beyond the cursory sourdough biscuits and breads. A mutual friend asked for a chocolate muffin recipe for Amy’s birthday, and it seemed appropriate to come up with an adaptation of the sourdough chocolate cake recipe I’d noticed in the booklet. But when I opened it up to start cooking, it turned out that the instructions (as well as part of the ingredients list) had been lopped off the page . . .but alas, a little creativity goes a long way.
Enjoy these plain (they’re best hot), or let cool and top with your favorite frosting.
You will need a cup of sourdough starter for this recipe – it makes the muffins taste a tiny bit tangy, as though they’ve been made with sour cream.
TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 22 muffins
Butter or spray vegetable oil for greasing muffin tins, or muffin liners
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sourdough starter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line 2 trays of muffins tins, and set aside.
Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, soda, and salt together in a medium bowl, and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to blend between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Add the starter and the vanilla and mix to blend. (The batter may look a little lumpy; that’s okay.)
With the mixer on low, add half the dry ingredients, then the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl again, if necessary. Increase speed to medium and pour the melted chocolate into the batter as it mixes, whipping until completely incorporated.
Fill the muffin cups with 1/4 cup batter each (you should get not quite two full pans of muffins), sprinkle the tops with a heavy layer of the walnuts, and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the muffins top to bottom and back to front a little more than halfway through baking. Muffins are done when puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to racks to cool completely. (Always cool before frosting.) Muffins may be cooled and stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.