When I was a wee writer still in school, I struggled with metaphors. Similes were so easyyy — just look for the “like” or “as” in a comparison. But metaphors felt fleeting, ethereal. Untethered in a sentence, not anchored by or to anything easily spotted by the skimming eye. Metaphors felt infinite: any one thing could be compared to any other thing in just a few words or a sentence, or an entire stanza, paragraph or page.
In the nearly two decades (oh, lord) since, however, metaphors have become a constant in my life. I find they work best as an almost parable; I learn about myself and my life through metaphor.
A few years ago, I wrote at length about how making pie from scratch was a meditation for me. Baking in any form still is meditative: it requires a calm, steady focus. If you’re not paying attention or you add ingredients out of order, you might miss something or forget to add a key ingredient. For me, oddly enough, I often forget to add the sweetener.
And there, isn’t that just a perfect little metaphor? When I’m not paying close enough attention in the moment, if I’m rushed or harried or otherwise distracted, I miss the sweet little things in life.
These muffins have become the most apropos metaphor for the last year or so of my life, because it has taken me over a year to get this recipe right.
Focusing on my three key ingredients: banana, golden milk and the hazelnut topping, I have tested this recipe every which way. The first batch or two was good, but fell victim to common gluten-free baking pitfalls: they were moist, but also gummy (even though my recipe included no added gums); they had a nice chew and the overall mouthfeel wasn’t bad, they were very dense (see: gummy). I could have chalked that up to the mushy banana, the fact that they were gluten-free. But I knew they could be better.
So, I played. I wrote down numbers. I researched other recipes and ratios. (Seriously, if someone had told me when I struggling with multiplication tables in the fourth grade that I would be doing math on a semi-regular basis IN MY KITCHEN, I would have laughed. Well, I probably would haves scoffed & rolled my eyes, because I was a dramatic snot.)
There was the disastrous batch (number four, I think) in which I changed both the fat (from butter to coconut oil) and the sugar (from brown & granulated cane to coconut) to make a “healthier” muffin. The results, though still palatable, were oily, dense and unappealing. (I think my uncle, my most dedicated & positive taste-tester, ate the whole batch, save the “test” bite I took.)
For several batches, I whipped the egg white by hand. This helped the texture considerably. (Seriously. I know it’s finicky, but DO IT. The texture of these muffins depends on that whipped white.) Though the texture improved tremendously, the muffins still stayed mostly flat. I wanted that adorable dome, that little boop on top. So, I did more research & learned a little more flour and the folding method (instead of quickly whisking everything together) would help. I think it did. (So did a little extra bit of baking powder.)
I chopped the hazelnuts by hand and mixed the room-temperature butter in with my fingers until the topping was shaggy; I melted the butter instead; I whirled everything together in a food processor.
OK, you might be wondering. You worked your butt off to figure out a MUFFIN recipe. But how is this a metaphor for your life?
Because, over the last year and a half, I have worked my butt off to build my life. Like a recipe, I’ve tweaked little things here or there. Rerouted when I fell off course (like that disastrous coconut oil & sugar batch). I’ve gotten rid of the things — the material possessions, the emotions and thoughts, people, relationships, jobs and goals — that no longer serve me, that aren’t helping me to rise.
(The photo above makes me laugh. Every. Time.)
Baking is a science. It is precise. Exact. But it’s not set in stone. It’s rooted in experimentation, learning and experience. Trial and error. Testing each batch of these muffins was an experiment; I set out a hypothesis (like whipping the egg white might improve the texture, make the muffins less dense & help them to rise) & then I tested it. I recorded everything & did research to figure out ways to keep improving.
I’ve done similar things in life. I fell in love & had my heart broken. I applied for jobs & went on interviews. I was rejected or, worse, ghosted, but I didn’t give up. (And the universe finally graced me with a good fit.) All of the rejection, not feeling “good enough” for anyone or anything, propelled me.
I went on a lot of dates & stayed out late. I took a nap in the sun on a nude beach. (And ended up a sunburned booty to show for it.) I started practicing yoga more frequently, cultivated a real practice & found real relief on the mat. I’ve spent two years working with a therapist, reflecting on where I’ve been, where I am & where I am going. I’ve spent those two years figuring out WHO I am & then falling in love with myself (because I am awesome). I starting writing the recipe of Sara — what works best for me, not for anyone else or by anyone else.
Over the last few months, I’ve been focusing more on rebuilding this space: taking courses, learning how to better edit my photos, getting reacquainted with my camera. I set goals like bowling pins. It took a while, and a lot of gutterballs, but I finally nailed a few strikes. (Hey! Look at that. Another metaphor. I think I’m starting to mix the message.)
And, like these muffins, I finally got it right.
- Gluten-free Flour Blend
A quick note about the golden milk: Up until the very final iterations of this recipe, I used my favorite bottled golden milk: Rebbl Turmeric Golden-Milk. But, because I can’t honestly just leave well enough alone, I decided to try making my own golden milk instead of sending you to the store to buy a bottle (and potentially end up with your baking dreams dashed because the store either has no idea what you’re talking about or is out of stock; I have experienced both). I made my own hazelnut milk, since I had them at the ready, but you can absolutely use whatever non-dairy milk you have on hand.
Gluten-Free Golden Milk Banana Muffins with Hazelnut Crumble
For the small-batch homemade hazelnut milk:
¼ cup dry-roasted hazelnuts
2 cups water, divided
1 date or 1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
Pinch of sea salt
For the muffin batter:
4 oz homemade hazelnut milk (or your milk of choice)
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 egg, separated
1 very ripe banana, mashed
4.5 oz gluten-free flour
Pinch kosher salt
1 oz (2 tablespoons) turbinado or raw sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
For the hazelnut crumble topping:
2 oz light brown sugar
1.75 oz gluten-free flour
2 oz dry-roasted hazelnuts
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
Scant ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon vanilla bean powder
Make the nut milk: Combine the hazelnuts and 1 cup fresh water in a bowl. Let soak overnight. Drain and rinse the hazelnuts, then add them to your blender with ¾ cup of fresh water. Add the date or maple syrup, if using, and a pinch of salt. Blend on high until the nuts are completely chopped and the mix appears smooth. If the milk seems too thick, add the remaining ¼ cup of water. Using a nut milk bag (or several layers of cheese cloth draped over a fine mesh strainer), strain the milk into a clean bowl or large measuring cup. Use your hands to carefully squeeze the bag or cheesecloth to press out as much of the milk as possible.
Make the crumble topping: Chop the hazelnuts to your desired size and texture. (I left some bigger chunks because I like the bite, but you can chop as finely or coarsely as you like!) Combine all of the dry ingredients together in a small bowl and whisk. Add the butter and mix with your fingers until evenly combined and the topping is crumbly like wet sand. Refrigerate.
Make the muffins: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with paper baking cups.
Mix together the milk, honey, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper. I found it easiest to put all the ingredients in a small mason jar, tightly screw on the lid and give it all a good shake. In a large bowl, stir together the golden milk, mashed banana and egg yolk. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together & set aside.
Whip the egg white.
Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients and gently fold together until just combined and you no longer seek streaks of flour. (Lumps are OK. They might be banana lumps!) Gently fold in the egg white. Grab the prepared crumble topping from the fridge.
Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup. Break the crumble apart, and add enough topping to each muffin to just cover the batter. Divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, filling them about ¾ full. Top with the remaining crumble. (Don’t press the crumble down into the batter!)
Bake for 25 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and a test skewer/toothpick/chopstick inserted in the muffin comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to the tip. Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then gently remove the muffins to finish cooling on a wire rack.
Though there’s very little sweetener in these muffins, I prefer eating them as a treat or dessert rather than a typical breakfast muffin. Delicious with a good cup of coffee, they’re especially wonderful warm and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
A beautiful little bite of sunshine.