Tuesday, March 18, 2008


My kitchen experiment this evening was kind of, well, bittersweet. I was experimenting with agave nectar, a natural sweetener (from the agave plant). Agave nectar, which is becoming more and more widely available, is a good substitute for sugar or honey, especially for diabetics and low-glycemic eaters. I'm not an expert on the science behind it, but apparently it does not create a spike in blood sugar like honey and sugar will do. But back to the baking . . .
I picked my favorite banana muffin recipe for this experiment, because I didn't think using agave would compromise the texture of the muffins (and I also had three over-ripe bananas in my way in the freezer). After figuring out how much agave nectar to use - thanks to internet research, a kitchen scale, and a little math problem - I quickly mixed up the muffin batter. As my Kitchen Aid was working, I noticed a faint smell that reminded me of alcohol. I thought maybe it was because I froze and thawed the bananas . . . but then I realized agave is used to make tequila, so perhaps that was the reason (who knows).

So how did the muffins turn out? The texture was great, not noticeably different from the original. The flavor was good, but not sweet enough. Not quite bitter, but also not sweet enough to be a "sweet muffin."Warning: this is where the healthful recipe you've been reading about takes a radical detour . . . called CREAM CHEESE FROSTING. I wanted to share these with my husband and a few others, and thought they might not get into the bittersweet thing, so I whipped up a mini-batch of cream cheese frosting and turned the muffins into cupcakes. . . another foodie trend, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum from low-glycemic index diets!Overall, this recipe made wonderful cupcakes, and I think the muffins would have been good alone if I had increased the agave to the full 3/4 cup (see below). I'm definitely going to experiment more with agave nectar . . . next time I hope it doesn't end with cream cheese frosting!

Banana Muffins sweetened with agave nectar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
3/4 cup agave nectar**
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
2. Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl (or your mixer bowl), beat together banana, Agave Nectar, egg, butter, and cinnamon. Pour banana mixture into flour mixture; stir until just combined. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
3. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

* I use Bob's Red Mill. If you can't find whole wheat pastry flour, or simply don't want to use it, substitute all-purpose flour.
** My initial research on baking with agave nectar . . . excluding wikipedia . . . indicated I should use 3/4 parts agave for every 1 part sugar the recipe calls for. This recipe called for 3/4 cup sugar . . . so I weighed 3/4 cup agave nectar, which was 8 oz., then used 3/4 of that amount (which equals 6 oz., if you're mathematically challenged like me) . . . as indicated above, the muffins weren't very sweet, so next time I'll use a full 3/4 cup agave nectar.

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