Here I am, here I am. The usual excuses for my absence. Let’s talk about some bullshit muffins.
Banana Walnut Muffins sounded simple and tasty. A classic combination! It’s also one of the few recipes in My Father’s Daughter that doesn’t come with an overwrought introduction that explains how the recipe came from Blythe Danner’s best friend’s uncle who owned a banana farm in Majorca or whatever. We just jump right into preheating the oven. A small mercy when it comes to this book. But before we can preheat the oven, we must get the ingredients. Which is where it all falls apart.
The muffins require expected ingredients like baking soda, salt, and of course bananas and walnuts. But the rest is pure nonsense. She requires “real Vermont maple syrup,” a staple of any and all Gwyneth Paltrow baking experiments. She also calls for “brown rice syrup,” a thing I had never heard of, which we’ll get to in a second. But most egregiously, the recipe begins with not one, not two, but THREE types of flour: barley, whole spelt, and white spelt. That’s right, two kinds of spelt flour. For fucking muffins.
First of all, I had to do some googling. Brown rice syrup, it turns out, is exactly what it sounds like: syrup made from brown rice, among other things. It’s a sweetener, typically used in place of sugar in foods with the increasingly insignificant “organic” label. I mean, it does sound healthier than sugar, which we all know is evil and should burn in hell forever. Not to get all sciency on you, but it seems the reason food snobs prefer brown rice syrup is because it’s a glucose-based sweetener rather than a fructose-based one.
That said, there are all sorts of studies that call into question the extremely high glycemic index of brown rice syrup, with some studies claiming brown rice syrup has a higher glycemic index than table sugar. As the Globe and Mail succinctly put it: “One tablespoon of rice syrup has 55 to 75 calories, depending on the brand; sugar has 48 calories per tablespoon. Brown-rice syrup also has a high glycemic index (98), meaning it causes your blood sugar to spike quickly. (White sugar, or sucrose, has a glycemic index of 65.)”
As for the flours? Barley flour, again, sounds better for you, but considering it’s still a glutenous flour, it seems like a pointless substitute in this recipe. Basically, she’s making you use barley flour because it sounds like something a Gwyneth recipe would do, not for any real reasons. And then we come to the two types of spelt flour. Whole spelt flour is relatively easy to find (just look for the section of your grocery store’s baking ingredients featuring that ever-growing wall of Bob’s Red Mill products). But white spelt flour? I’m going to cut to the chase: I still haven’t found that shit.
Additionally, it remains completely unclear to me why we’d use these three flours for one muffin recipe. Spelt and barley are stupid bullshit flours (this is a hill I will die on), largely used by assholes who are dying to tell you that yes these muffins were made with spelt flour, but I guess you could argue they’re useful if you find yourself eating too many wheat products, or just wanting some slight (oh-so-slight) variety in your muffin textures. But using all three flours in one simple recipe is insane. It’s deranged. It is, as far as I can decipher, simply an exercise in making you feel like buying this cookbook was a worthwhile purchase. Any asshole can throw a simple recipe for banana walnut muffins into their cookbook, but only this asshole can make you bake muffins with $25 worth of flour.
This is all to say: it took me an entire two weeks to gather all the ingredients for this recipe. I schlepped from specialty store to specialty store, all in pursuit of white spelt flour and brown rice syrup. My old standby for specialty asshole ingredients, Brooklyn Fare, was helpless. I went to an even smaller specialty store in Soho, figuring it may be the exact place where Gwyneth would shop while she’s in New York. It was the kind of place where the shelves are full of giant glass jars of various powders and seeds, labeled by someone’s handwritten pencil notes, with no discernible bags or containers for customers to put the ingredients into. I guess you either have to bring your own little plastic baggies or, I don’t know, just walk out of the store with two fistfuls of specialty flours? I never found out the answer, because I left empty-handed. Even they didn’t have white spelt flour, and the dreadlocked woman behind the counter looked at me like I was insane when I kept insisting, “I know about whole spelt flour, but white spelt flour is also a thing and I need it.”
I eventually decided to look online. I live in arguably the most-connected, most-global city in the world, but I guessed I’d have to rely on the goodness of Jeff Bezos to provide me with the insane ingredients for these fucking muffins. Google pointed me to the King Arthur Flour website, which does list white spelt flour, but has it labeled “out of stock.” (It appears to have been out of stock for at least 6 months at this point.) Amazon does have it in stock, but barely: the organic white spelt is unavailable, and the only price available for regular white spelt flour is a 5-pound bag at $22. No one needs a 5-pound bag of white spelt flour, and certainly not at that price. Whole Foods, meanwhile, lists white spelt flour, even going so far as to tell you it’s available at your local store in bulk. Let me save you some time: if you believe them, you’ll wind up like me, wandering the bulk aisle of your local Whole Foods, accosting employees who have never heard of white spelt flour. But can I help you find the whole spelt flour, sir? We have that! (The comment section on the Whole Foods website suggests they’ve simply stopped carrying white spelt flour. I can’t blame them.)
Bob’s Red Mill, my old standby for specialty flours of all kinds, also used to make white spelt flour, but have ceased production. They make garbanzo bean flour, but have decided that white spelt flour is too niche, even for their audience. Finally, my internet sleuthing led me to a company called Berlin Natural Bakery, seemingly the only company in the US still in the white spelt flour game. Seeing their $15 price for a 5-pound bag — $7 less than the monsters at Amazon are asking — warmed my Marxist heart. Their website pointed me to a store called Back To The Land (of course), in (naturally) Park Slope. After work, I headed down there.
The store is what you picture: small wooden shelves, not a single brand you’ve ever heard of. The flour selection was surprisingly small and, of course, didn’t have white spelt flour. The employee, in a tone I was getting used to, informed me had never heard of it. I sighed, and resigned myself to making this recipe without the full ingredient list. I hate doing that, since the spirit of this project is to cook the recipes as instructed by my lord and savior Gwyneth Paltrow, but sometimes, after two full weeks searching for one specific type of super-expensive flour, you just have to make some muffins with what you have.
By this point, I had also given up on finding brown rice syrup, figuring I’d substitute agave nectar or even honey like some sort of monster. On a whim, I headed to the sweetener shelf at Back To The Land, a small collection of jars and bottles at shin-height. I crouched down and marveled at all the ways rich people avoid eating sugar: raw honey, “really raw” honey, Brazilian rainforest honey, honey made from “bees fed on tupelo blossoms only.” And then I saw it: a huge, heavy jar of brown rice syrup. I GASPED in the empty store and hurried to the counter with the jar. “Just this?” the man asked at the counter. Yes, please. I’m the guy buying a single jar of brown rice syrup for $9 at 8pm on a Thursday.
Finally, I could make the muffins. I’m sure you know how this goes: you mix some flours and some liquids and fold in some heavy stuff like bananas, walnuts, and raisins, before baking in a muffin tin. Anyone can make muffins. It’s baking for idiots. And they came out fine! They’re muffins, you know? What can I say: they tasted like bananas, walnuts, and raisins inside a muffin.
The real shock came when I decided, out of curiosity, to total up the cost of the muffins. The ingredients cost me $129, which, when divided by a dozen muffins, gives you $10.75 per muffin. Let’s call it $11. Eleven-fucking-dollar muffins. Do they taste like $11 muffins? No, they do not. They taste like any old muffin. What’s more, they’re tiny for muffins, so it’ll cost you about $3 per bite. If I wanted to turn a profit on these muffins and tried to sell them for $15, I’d be rightfully hit in the face. This is insanity. This is white privilege in a muffin tin.
I ate two before getting sick of them. You can only have so many muffins, you know? So then I faced the unfortunate task of pawning them off on people. Justin was good for eating a few, because who doesn’t love gobbling up $33 worth of muffins? This is Trump’s America and we take our pleasures where we can find them. Later that weekend, we met Steve and Nora for a little day-drinking, so I brought along a tupperware of muffins like a crazy person. They each had one, agreed they were fine but not worth $11 or two weeks of work, and I pawned my last one off on Steve to bring home to his girlfriend. He went to put it into his backpack for safe-keeping, and I snapped. You do NOT shove an $11 muffin into your overstuffed backpack! He protested that he wasn’t willing to be the guy carrying a single muffin on the subway, but I informed him that he absolutely would be that guy. An hour later, Jessica sent me this photo, of the most precious muffin ever delivered:
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