As a child, when the clock would strike 5:30 pm on a weekday (then in India, Saturdays used to be a working day), my brother and I would temporarily cease doing whatever we were. We would park ourselves in the family living area on some pretext or the other and park us near the main entrance to wait for Papa (our Dad) to arrive home from work. His office would generally call it a day at 5 o’clock and it used to take him about half hour to drive his Bajaj Chetak (a popular Indian made motored scooter) home. We knew from the horn and the rumbling and grinding sounds it make when Papa drove into our parking. We could tell. We’d eagerly wait not as much because we missed seeing him through the day, but because on his way back in the evening, he’d almost always get little packets of fun snacks for us. There would be yummy cream triangle slices, sweet pastries, savory puffs, samosas, kachoris, cream rolls, jalebis, or our favorite paan cakes.
It sure had more to do than just having a “sweet tooth” — we had many! Our undying obsession and clear preference for sweet treats was almost legendary. There were frequent occasions when we (especially Bhai) would refuse to eat out in restaurants, and Papa would have to take us to a neighborhood sweet shop or a bakery, so we could have our lunch and dinner. A meal out of sweets, cakes and pastries? YES!!!! Call it genetic, hereditary, familial, our individual sweet-o-mania, or blame it on anything else. The pair of siblings that we were, we were. And when it came to eating habits, our drug of choice was something sweet. It made us happy, and it never mattered what our bodies or others felt or thought about it! 😉 But not that Ma and Papa didn’t care — they restricted our sugary intake and generally allowed only one treat per day. And usually, it had to be either the one Papa got home for us in the evenings, or what Ma would make for us at home occasionally.
My earliest memory of muffins or anything like it was the “Paan Cake” that Papa bought us frequently from one of the shops in the “Shopping Center”, our local little strip mall that served our small-town residential colony, where I grew up. In India kids grow up valuing and respecting elders much, and are always expected to address them as a relative or family (at least verbally, even if they’re complete strangers), and aren’t supposed to call someone older, merely by their first or last names. Thus, for example, it is a routine for children to call the shopkeepers “Uncle” or “Uncle-ji“, and it came naturally.
So those days, the “Paan cake” was only sold at Ramesh Uncle‘s little general store. He would store them in a giant clear glass container with a glass lid, and placed on the front counter. He named the cakes after the glossy heart-shaped Betel leaves (called “Paan” in hindi). So was the shape of his cakes. A perfect heart! But these cakes were more like petite tea-cakes. Nice and brown and soft and not too sweet…they smelled of vanilla and butter. They had tiny cubes of red, yellow and green candied cherries in them. They were made at a local bakery and supplied to the shop. The cakes would come packed in small recycled newspaper bags and ride home with Papa on his scooter. Each piece of cake had a small rectangular strip of parchment paper, sticking on the rear. I never knew why the baker always forgot to take them out? Or did he think they looked pretty sticking like that? What purpose did they have? I mean after all, the paper strips weren’t even large enough to line the cakes! Not that I cared much…I’d carefully take off the strip, lick it free of every bit of cake crumb and throw it straight into our trash can. Then find a place to sit peacefully and gobble down my “paan cake” and day dream tad bit about all things wise and wonderful!
Currently, we all eat fruits here, at least we make enough honest attempts at it. Children eat the most…S and I admit being reluctant and picky fruit eaters. Mangoes are the only ones capable of making S jump for joy. Almost everything else under that category draws a cold reaction from him. I have to chase his peace to have him eat fruits. It’s been a few days since Ma Baba took J and A along at their’s for a vacation. With the kids gone in India, we didn’t have as many takers of the remaining bananas, apples and blueberries. S had a half eaten banana leftover in the fridge — the greatest effort either of us two made eating it — the poor other half found it’s way into the trash the following day! So I had to think of an alternative to finish the fruits that remained.
I turned my basic pound cake recipe into an eggless formula (since I had to use 4 whole bananas, and they’re good binders for a cake!) and added apples and blueberries. I replaced all purpose flour with whole wheat flour and swapped butter for light olive oil. I also used reduced fat milk as a tiny effort in making it more healthy. I baked and got some soft and sweet and melt-in-mouth muffins…with hearty thin pieces of apples and blueberries. And did I not tell you they are both a “TRICK” and a “TREAT”? Yes, this one tricks into eating good and treats the sweet tooth right!!
I sat on my porch alone and ate a muffin. I carefully unwrapped the liner and licked it. Took a bite and kept thinking. The moments I spent in muffin eating……quietly reminded me of my “Paan cakes”, and I smiled. Sometimes the littlest things make the happiest memories, and the reminiscence isn’t little anymore!
Makes 12 large muffins
- 1 cup of your favorite fresh Berries (mixed or a single type) — if you like your muffins studded with more berries, use 1.5 cups of them!
- 3 ripe Bananas
- 1 Apple
- 2 US cups (about 454 gm or 16 oz) whole wheat flour
- 1 US cup (about 225 gm or 7 oz) raw sugar — (I don’t like mine too sweet. Add an extra 1/4th cup sugar for sweeter muffins.)
- 1/2 US cup or 100 ml reduced fat milk (I generally use 2% milk)
- 1/2 US cup or 100 ml light olive oil
- 3 heaped tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp pure Orange extract or Vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (use 1/2 tsp if you aren’t using ground cloves)
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- Light olive oil cooking spray (or butter) for greasing
- For Garnish: Use some rolled oats or almond slivers to garnish the muffin tops. You could also use some extra blueberries to finish!
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Grease the cupcake tin and keep ready. If you are using cupcake liners, place 12 of them on the cupcake baking tray and grease them.
- Peel and add the bananas to a large mixing bowl. Using a fork, mash them up well, so there aren’t any chunky banana portions left.
- Peel and core the apple. Grate it straight on the banana pulp.
- Add the sugar and whisk lightly, to dissolve them in the fruit pulp.
- Now add the milk and mix in.
- Add baking powder and the spices. Mix.
- Add 1 cup of wheat flour and stir with a dry spatula/spoon till well incorporated.
- Add the olive oil and flavor extract (orange or vanilla). Fold them in the mixture.
- To this, add the remaining 1 cup of wheat flour and whisk. Fold them all into the fruit muffin batter to evenly incorporate. After all flour is mixed, there shouldn’t be any flour lumps. The batter should be smooth.
- Add the berries into the muffin batter. Fold to mix.
- Spoon to fill the muffin batter into each cupcake liner. Distribute evenly.
- Top the muffins with a topping of your choice: rolled oats, almond slivers or extra berries/fruits.
- Bake the muffins at 350°F for about 40 minutes or till done and a tester food prick comes out clean.
- When done, take out from oven and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes, before gorging on them!
- You may take about 1 cup of flour in a mixing bowl and add fresh (and dry) berries. Mix to coat them with flour. Spoon out the blueberries and add to the cake mixture. Doing this helps the fruit to remain suspended in the muffins and not sink towards the muffin bottom.
- For travelling and storage convenience, use rolled oats or almond slivers to garnish. If you’re baking for immediate consumption, you may top with berries/fruits. The fruits look lovelier, however, may get squashed and mushy if stored one over the other!
Substitutes: You could always substitute light olive oil with another vegetable oil (preferably a neutral white oil with similar viscosity) or melted butter. Substitute raw sugar with refined sugar if you like. You can use whole milk in place of reduced fat milk. To make it vegan, use almond milk. Whole wheat flour may also be replaced with all purpose flour!
Storage: These muffins store well in air tight containers for about 2-3 days and best consumed within a day. For more, store them in zip-lock bags and refrigerate. They keep very well for 3-5 days that way. These muffins can also be placed inside freezer bags and freezed for a couple weeks. When you’re ready to eat, pop the frozen muffins in the oven and they’ll be warm and done in a few minutes!