March 23, 2013

Banana chocolate chip muffin cake (GF)

I'm still playing with my Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free Flour mix, which from all I've read, can be subbed one-for-one in most wheat-flour-based cake and cookie recipes, to turn baked goods into gluten-free treats. So far so good. However, I'm discovering that I actually like mixing up different flour combos, and using the pre-packaged mix is not nearly as much fun. Being someone who likes things to be easy, this isn't what I expected, but also being someone who likes to be in control, it makes sense. I like to decide for myself what kinds of flours to use and how much starch to include. That said, I still think this is a very handy product that seems to work really well.

For many people, the goal of vegan baking is to make something that can't be distinguished from a non-vegan product — equally decadent, equally delicious, able to fool omnis. There's a place for that, and I respect it, and occasionally I even bake with that goal in mind. I don't think we need to deprive ourselves in exchange for caring about animals and the planet. When baking gluten-free, the goal is trickier to achieve but basically the same — fool everyone into thinking they are eating  a fabulous, gluten-filled, non-vegan treat, regardless of  how much fat and sugar needs to be added. I'm always impressed and filled with admiration when I see others' successful results.

But, I've been vegan so long, and my tastes and ideas have changed so much, that I'm less concerned with making something exactly like its "normal" counterpart, than I am about making something that tastes great and has a pleasing texture and appearance. It may be entertaining to create a vegan dessert that perfectly mimics its non-vegan predecessor, but do my desserts always taste exactly like a familiar omni dessert? No. Do I care? No. In cooking as in life, it's OK to be different. I prefer that most of the sweets I make be reasonably healthy, whether it's for dessert or not. Not every dessert has to be "decadent." Actually, I kind of hate that word a little. I don't mean to deny anyone their decadent vegan desserts — I'm just not that into them. Never was. As a child I always wanted the piece of cake with the beautiful sugary flower, but only because it was pretty. I never ate it. In fact, I usually didn't eat more than a bite or two of the cake.

I know that things taste sweeter to me than to most people, and even when I add extra sweetener to a cake or cookies to please others, they still often perceive it as less sweet than they are used to, though not necessarily in a bad way. I often get comments like, "I love this. It isn't too sweet. Deserts are always so sweet." I like desserts that are modestly sweet and not overly rich.

Baking GF has been really interesting. I can now turn out GF baked goods that people really seem to enjoy, but there are certain aspects about GF baking that still have me bothered. I don't like the large quantity of empty-calorie starches that go into so many recipes and flour mixes, and I don't like xanthan gum. As far as I can tell, xanthan gum is perfectly safe to use, so I'm just  weird. But so is xantham gum ... weird.

GF mix on the left, whole wheat flour on the right, both from Bob's Red Mill

Though I don't know the exact flour-to-starch ratio in Bob's Red Mill GF Flour Mix, it doesn't appear to be too bad as far as empty calories go. In comparing it to regular whole wheat flour, it actually has fewer calories and fewer total carbohydrates, though it has more sugar and less protein. A few people who left comments on the Bob's Red Mill Web site hate the taste, and while it does taste fairly nasty raw, once it's baked I think it tastes really good. It's a very easy and convenient way to bake GF, but like I said, mixing flours is fun.

So, back to the banana muffin cake. I call it muffin cake because it has a texture that reminds me of muffins — kind of soft and springy. I just love sinking my teeth into it — maybe too much. In addition to trying out the flour mix, I've been experimenting with two things — using ground flax seed instead of xanthan gum, and using a hand mixer instead of a spoon or whisk. The flax seed I read about here, and the mixer I read about here. Using a hand mixer definitely improved the rise, and the resulting texture from the flax seed (and maybe also from the mixer) is very pleasing to me. If I had a stand mixer I would definitely use it, but my little hand mixer seems to be working well. Even when I think I already know how to do something, it never hurts to look around to see what someone else has to say. Using the mixer, especially, has made a big difference.

I'm still having a problem with sinking chips, which is why I added some to the cake top as soon as the cake came out of the oven. I mixed the chips with some flour before stirring them by hand into the beaten batter, but it didn't do the trick. Next time I'll try arrowroot. I really have to figure this out since I add chocolate chips to a lot of what I bake. I also am not sure why the cinnamon and ginger are so barely there — perhaps they are overwhelmed by the garbanzo flour. In any case, I'm pleased with the cake and happy to share it with you. The first time I wrote a cake recipe I was about 12, and the result tasted exactly and horribly like soap. This is much better.

Banana chocolate chip muffin cake
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed 
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 2 cups GF flour mix (Bob's Red Mill GF Baking Mix)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (evaporated cane juice)
  • 1 teaspoon GF baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon GF baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 medium very ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup oil (organic canola)*
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2/3 cup of non-dairy chocolate chips plus some extra
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Oil a 9-inch square baking dish.
  1. Place ground flax seeds in a small bowl and stir in the water with a fork. Place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes but up to an hour.
  2. Place lemon juice in a one-cup glass measuring cup and add enough almond milk to make one cup. Set aside.
  3. In a small dish, mix the chocolate chips with a tablespoon of the flour and set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
  5. Mash up the bananas, still in their skins, with your fingers. This makes it easier to incorporate them into the cake mix. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, oil and banana. (You may have to mash the banana a bit with a fork before using the mixer.)
  6. Beat in the flax mixture and vanilla. 
  7. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat. Add some of the curdled milk and beat. Continue adding flour, then milk, until it's all in. You may have to scrape down the bowl once or twice.
  8. When all ingredients are added, beat for about one minute.
  9. Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and gently swirl them in with a knife.
  10. Place the dish in the center of the oven.
  11. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is lightly golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry.
  12. Place the dish on a wire rack to cool. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the top, trying to avoid having chips touch the edges of the dish.
Serve from the dish while still slightly warm.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

*I was actually planning to use olive oil in the cake but the organic extra virgin olive oil I have right now is the kind with a peppery after-bite, and I wasn't sure how that would work in a cake. So, I used organic canola oil. Rapeseed, from which canola oil is extracted, is nearly all GMO, so if you want to avoid GMOs, buy organic.


  1. This looks insanely delicious, Andrea -- and GF too? Wow

    1. It was pretty good, if I do say so myself. :)

  2. I was wondering if you'd finally figured out the remedy to the "loose lips sink chips" problem, but putting them on top to balance the ones on the bottom is quite clever. Makes it even prettier, too!

    I'd be in completely over my head trying to figure out the gf flour mixtures, given the variety of gf flours and permutations of combos and measurements thereof, so I admire your willingness and ability to be a food chemist! Because that's what seems to be required. Me, I'd just let Bob do it. :-)

    I totally agree with you about how after a while of being vegan, dishes make the cut or don't based on their own taste and texture merits, not on how closely they do or don't resemble any non-vegan likeness. And I also agree that most desserts are too sweet, and prefer mine be healthier rather than richer. Maybe this doesn't apply to everyone, but I found that after getting away from rich foods, even slightly-rich foods taste rich, and rich foods seem heavy/greasy/cloying. But maybe that's just us and a handful of other people - weird, like xantham gum. (We could call ourselves the Xantham Gum Gang, and joyfully embrace our weirdness). :-)

    1. Bob seems to know what he's doing, but I find it fun to pretend I'm a chemist and mix flours and starches. He may be better at it than me, though.

      Foods with too much fat don't appeal to me, either. I often have trouble with raw desserts for that reason. Even though I like the idea of raw desserts, if they contain too much coconut oil and nuts, I can hardly eat them.

  3. This looks like a great recipe and it sounds like you're definitely having fun mixing things up! I'm glad to hear the hand mixer is coming in handy (pun intended :p ), too.

    I used to have a huge sweet tooth, but over the last year or two I've noticed that I have less tolerance for really sweet stuff. I still don't mind decadent things, but like you, a bite or two will suffice.

    1. I like the mixer a lot, though I wish it had a couple more higher speeds. I chose it because it had a true low speed, which helps at the beginning of the mixing. Sugar is an addictive food and when you use less, you want less. If you use less sugar, pretty soon things will start tasting sweeter and sweeter.

  4. I bet I would have LOVED your soap cake! But, this looks good, too! I agree; I've been vegan so long, I'm not interested in duplicating everything. I like vegan flavors. That's also why I don't title my posts like, "Chickenless sandwiches" or something like that. Call them what they are: tofu or seitan, or whatever. Vegan is good. Peace out, girlfriend.

    1. Trust me, the soap cake was vile. I recommend this one instead. :)

      Agreed. Vegan food is good.

  5. I'm an equal opportunity dessert lover, so I'm perfectly happy to make room on my plate for both the decadent and healthier treats. ;) Your cake looks wonderful, and I'm amazed that it's gluten-free! The texture looks spot-on.

    1. A well-balanced approach is always the best! Your dessert plate sounds perfect.

      The mixer really made the difference in the texture and the rise. I was impressed.

  6. Thanks so much for the tip on canola oil; I really didn't know that (although I do err on the side of organic whenever possible). It's so interesting that your chips are sinking; it sounds like it's directly related to the fact that it's gluten free, but I can't imagine why.

    1. When I mix the chips into the flour mix before adding the liquids by hand, they never sink, but even mixing them with a little flour before adding them at the end didn't do the trick. I guess I'll just have to keep making cakes until I solve the problem.

      Yep, certain foods like rapeseed, corn and soy are nearly 100% GMO. The only way to avoid it is to buy them and any food that contains them in an organic version. This isn't easy to do.

  7. I'm happy with omni-reminiscent or something totally different, as long as it goes with a good cup of tea. I 'm intrigued by the chick pea flour in baking - normally I just use it in Indian cooking. One to definitely give a go.

    This may be a daft question but I'll ask it anyway - I've got a gluten free recipe, but I'm happy to use standard flour (wheat, whatever). Do I just use the same amount of flour and not use any xanthan gum?

    1. I think you can just substitute regular flour and skip the xantham gum, but you may need to adjust the liquids or the baking time depending on what kind of flour is in the recipe. In a cookbook I have, Bob's Red Mill subs one-to-one for wheat flour.

  8. I'm with you on the not overly sweet desserts. Sometimes when I make desserts, I'm shocked at the amount of sugar that goes in. The muffin cake looks awesome! :-)

    1. Sugar and fat are easy to reduce without damaging the flavor in most cases. It IS amazing how much sugar goes into some recipes!

  9. Ummmm...this looks insanely good. I need new GF recipes as I just discovered that I might have celiac. Thank you!

    1. Baking GF is an interesting challenge, especially if you expect your results to be similar to regular baked goods. GF products can be remarkably similar to regular baked goods if you're willing to compromise a bit on healthy ingredients. I tend to fall on the side of health, so my GF attempts may not work for everyone. :) Here's a link to a GF ginger cookie that really is fantastic: It has a bunch of sugar and fat but it has a perfect taste and texture.


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