Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Coffee Muffins

 I was intrigued by this recipe of Nigella Lawson's for chocolate chocolate chip muffins. Unlike most recipes for just about every baked good on the web, one of the complaints in the 'comments' sections was that it wasn't sweet enough. 

I'm a bad judge of bitterness.  I fail every standard for 'supertasting.'  I like bitter vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.  I began drinking coffee without milk when I was thirteen years old.  I like dark chocolate, walnuts and almonds.  Ironically, despite a fondness for liverwurst and provolone cheese as a child, I was probably more of an elite supertaster back then.  Even white potatoes seemed bitter to my tastebuds, I loathed all vegetables, and if you had served me a bowl of frosting, I would have eaten it with a spoon. I blanched at the taste of wine, and while I don't drink as an adult, I do like the taste of balsamic vinegar.
Proof that I once did have a carefree side, free of bitterness.  And I did know how to smile!

I suppose my palate has matured, but sometimes I wonder if my tongue has grown coarse and bitter with my character. Even when I'm in yoga class, my instructor tells me to smile.  I find myself arguing with him: surely in yoga class I'm allowed to be in touch with my authentic, unsmiling self rather than grin like I'm auditioning for Annie?

 I find people judge others on their perceived happiness scale all of the time.  Like, I'll mention the name of an author or an actress I think is quite talented but perhaps a teeny bit tormented and the inevitable response will be: but I don't think they are really happy! Like that 'disqualifies' their accomplishment. Or I'll be angst-ing about what I lack in my own life and character and the response will be: but will that make you really happy?

 I've never thought of happiness as a permanent state, much less a responsibility (smile!  be happy)!  I personally think that because human life by definition is in a state of constant change, I doubt I'll ever live in a permanent  state of happiness and doesn't make me feel as if I'm bad or unappreciative. And I just don't understand the mentality of someone who listens to Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony who thinks: sure, this music is okay, but was he really happy?  I THINK NOT!

My goal has always simply been to lead an exciting life. That is definitely a work in progress. Still, I think that a little discontent, a little restlessness, a little hunger, even a little bitterness ( provided it is tempered with a good sense of humor is good) for the soul.  Or at least for something.

I made Nigella's muffins and ignoring the commentators, I deferred to her preference for minimal sugar and even replaced the milk with coffee.  The resulting muffin tastes very intense and is for dark chocolate aficionados only.  It's the type of muffin an existentialist philosopher or poet might read, pouring over a dense text or watching The Seventh Seal at night.  Would the muffin make Sartre, Kierkegaard, or the star of an Ingmar Bergman film happy?  I can't say, but I think it might.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Coffee Muffins

 --yields 8-12 muffins--

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup powdered sugar (Nigella used superfine sugar, and see Anna's notes in the comments below for why this yielded such a spectacular 'muffin top').

1 cup coffee
1/3 cup plus two teaspoons vegetable oil
1 beaten large egg
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling on top


1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line the muffin tin.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, and sugar together. 
3. Mix the coffee, oil, and egg in a separate bowl, gradually incorporate the dry mixture. Fold in 1/2 a cup of chocolate chips.
4. Pour into the liners, sprinkle the remaining chips on top of the muffins.
5. Bake for approximately 20 minutes.


  1. I feel like this might be the kind of muffin you can only eat in the rain. Fortunately, it always rains here.

    At some point, happiness became big business. Books, seminars, and near-constant magazine articles on how to be happy or, for people who are already happy, how to be happier. Usually happiness can be achieved in ten steps or after learning the ten secrets. Ten seems like a lot. I would be happier if there were only eight. Personally, I've always felt that happiness was an outlying state and constant happiness is abnormal. Constant sadness isn't good either, but at least I know that the person is paying attention. Constant happiness just makes a person look like an imbecile.

  2. @Flurrious--it is indeed a good rainy day muffin.

    I couldn't agree more--all emotions should be embraced, because they are part of the human condition and reflect changes in response to the environment. People who are determined to be depressed all the time are just as annoying as people who are always happy because I feel in both there is a sense of 'shutting others out.' Sometimes it's warranted to be deliriously happy, other times anger is warranted. Emotions are temporary states. They are not 'goals.'

  3. Pardon me for using this term but DUDE! :). That muffin looks soooo good :). I've never been a person for super sweet, although I do prefer milk chocolate over darker chocolates when it comes to a chocolate bar, but for baked goods I'd rather have light sweetness with rich flavours.

    I agree that all emotions should be embraced. It's definitely true that emotions are moment to moment, but there is also an overall emotional state that we all need to be aware of. Because of this I think the "are you happy?"/ "am I happy?" question is a valid one but is far more personal than most make it out to be. It's a question to ask yourself when you're alone with your thoughts. Being happy with your life or place in it isn't necessarily the same as being happy in the moment.

  4. @Adam--thank you so much! I often struggle with getting a great 'crown' on my muffin, and this was one of the few times I succeeded! That actually did make me really happy!

    I think your analysis regarding the divide between feeling happy in the moment versus being in a permanent state of happiness is so wise--I think people often confuse 'not being happy in the moment' with a general state of unhappiness--or the opposite, they feel happy for a moment while they are still ignoring some other issues in their life they should address.

    I'm happy with many developments in my life and consider myself a very fortunate person, but I'm 'okay' with myself if I still grouse about a flat muffin or the price of some spices.

  5. You probably were more of a supertaster as a child (and cute, too!). I've come to the conclusion I'd rather have an awesome olfactory system than be a supertaster.

    About the muffins, I made them a while back and used superfine sugar. Did you use superfine or did you use powdered as mentioned in your ingredient list? There's a big difference between the two. Powdered weighs a little less that 4 oz per cup, while super fine weighs almost 8. So if you use powdered, you cut Nigella's amount of sugar in half. The reason I'm wondering if you use powdered is that your crowns are beautiful! I always get high crowns with lower sugar muffins. The trick is lower the sugar enough so that the crowns stay high and the muffins have the right level of sweetness. Anyway, let me know if you used powdered because I may try them that way.

  6. Oh, no! I DID use powdered sugar! I thought they were the same thing (Bad food blogger)! Here is a good example of ho the Internet is very different from professionally edited recipes (slams head into computer)...I am SO ashamed. However, I bet some of the other Food Network commentators made a similar mistake, given how many complained about the recipe's lack of sweetness.

    For those who like a sweeter muffin but still want the high crown, I suppose mixing some powdered and superfine sugar together might be an option or using milk rather than semisweet chocolate chips. I will need to experiment some more with this, given what spectacular visual results come from lowering the sugar. Thank you so much, Anna!

  7. Ok, so you used powdered sugar and that's how your muffins are so puffy and perfect? I want these, NOW! I might just have to make them tonight (assuming I'm not konked out by 8 pm).

    Also, isn't a bit of bitterness and frustration what can sometimes lead to us acting and making change and living justly? I think so, so bring on the bitterness, let's change the world, one muffin at a time.

    That was sooooo lame of me, I know. Sigh. I'ma nerd. I can't help it.

  8. @Julia--yes, apparently the secret to high-crowned muffins is to have no idea what you're doing and to not know the difference between 'powdered' and 'superfine' sugar--hahaha!

    That is so true about being motivated by frustration--I know it's not 'right' but if I wasn't frustrated every now and then I probably would just stay within my comfort zone and not even make it to my kitchen to make a muffin!