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Go-To Banana Muffins

Want to use up those overripe bananas? In less than an hour, you can turn that dark‑speckled bunch into impressively tall, fluffy, fruit-packed muffins.
By Published Mar. 30, 2021

It’s a familiar scenario: You bought bananas a week ago, planning to enjoy them when they attained perfect ripeness, but life got in the way, so there they sit on your counter, fragrant and guilt-inducing, their once-sparse speckles now merging into uniformity. Banana bread is an option, but you’ve walked that road so many times. May I suggest muffins?

A dozen muffins come together as swiftly as a loaf of quick bread, but because muffins are smaller, they take less than 20 minutes to bake, making them the speediest possible route from countertop eyesore to satisfying snack. But to make muffins that look and taste great—stately, with potent banana flavor—you need a reliable recipe.

Quick Start

Quick breads and muffins use the same mixing method: Combine the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another, and then stir them together. Scoop the batter into a loaf pan or the wells of a muffin tin and bake. Easy.

I figured I had a head start because I developed a really good banana bread recipe years ago. It’s a little quirky, as I took some unusual measures to pack in as many bananas as possible: I microwaved five peeled bananas until they released lots of liquid and then reduced that liquid, both to concentrate its flavor and to prevent it from weighing down my bread. Then I mixed and baked. The resulting loaf was hefty and fine-crumbed—and delicious out of all proportion to the small amount of extra effort required.

I thought I could make the same batter and scoop it into a muffin tin instead of a loaf pan and my muffin recipe would be done. I was mistaken. Most quick bread batters can be transformed into muffin batter with just an equipment switcheroo, but not this particular one, since all the fruit made it particularly heavy. These muffins were dense, rose very little, and had no peaks to speak of.

Sweet Spots

For moist, deeply flavorful muffins, it’s essential to use very ripe fruit. In lab tests, we found that heavily speckled bananas had nearly three times the amount of fructose as less‑spotty ones. What’s more, sugar behaves like a liquid in baked goods, so muffins made with ripe bananas will not only have better banana flavor but also be more moist.

No Compromises

For my next batch, I decreased the number of bananas to three and skipped the microwaving, draining, and reducing steps. With fewer bananas to be lifted, the crumb opened up a bit. But the muffins still didn’t have the kind of loft I was hoping for, nor did they have peaks—a sign that maximum rise has been achieved—and the banana flavor was weak.

Maybe using four bananas would boost the flavor without weighing down the crumb? No dice. I liked the deeper flavor, but these muffins were squat, and they each had a slim layer of raw-looking batter near the bottom. They appeared to have too much moisture. Or not enough structure. Or both.

Cake flour and bread flour were both worth trying. Cake flour has absorptive properties, but swapping it in only eliminated the raw layer; these muffins still had poor volume. Bread flour seemed more promising: Its high protein level also makes it more absorbent than all-purpose flour, but the extra protein would lead to better structure as well. Sure enough, bread-flour muffins baked up with a loftier, more uniform crumb (no squidgy layer).

Finally, I broke out the baking powder. My banana bread recipe called for only a small amount of baking soda to react with the acidic ingredients in the mix, but stirring in baking powder, which is activated by heat and moisture, produced an even coarser, more open crumb.

Why Bread Flour Works Best

When muffins mixed with all‑purpose flour baked up short, with a gummy crumb, I switched to bleached cake flour. Bleaching changes the structure of flour’s starch granules, enabling them to accommodate extra moisture; thus, the wetness vanished. But cake flour has fewer of the proteins that combine to form the gluten network that gives baked goods structure, so it couldn’t support robust expansion. Bread flour was the answer. It too has absorptive properties, but it also has more protein, so it develops a sturdier gluten network. The upshot: a fluffy crumb with the strength to support the weight of four bananas.

Pinnacle of Success

My recipe was close. The muffins had plenty of banana flavor; good volume; and a fluffy, slightly coarse crumb. Adding some walnuts to the batter and sprinkling some sugar on the tops right before baking made them even more special, but the shape wasn’t quite right: They had gently rounded domes rather than the tall peaks I wanted. So I did some research on what makes some muffins rounded and others pointy.

It’s all about heat: Because a metal muffin tin is an efficient conductor of heat energy, the batter that sits next to the tin (the sides and bottom of each muffin) heats up faster and sets rapidly. The center takes longer to heat and set, so it continues to rise, resulting in a peak. The hotter the oven, the more pronounced the temperature differential and the more dramatic the peak. Indeed, when I increased the oven temperature from 375 to 425 degrees, the edges set long before the centers, resulting in dramatic pointy tops.

Now that I had the banana muffin of my dreams, I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of variations to rotate through. A coconut and macadamia version emphasizes the tropical origins of the fruit, while a peanut butter one harkens back to childhood banana sandwiches. And a sesame variation, bolstered by earthy tahini and flecked with chunks of bittersweet chocolate, makes a more sophisticated snack.

Our recipe packs more than a pound of bananas into a dozen muffins.

Please share your comments or questions about this article below. If you'd like to comment or ask a question about the recipe, please jump over to the recipe page


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16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.