Recipe titles are so important. To restaurateurs it’s a question of selling their dishes, to editors a means of making their books and magazines fly off the shelves, to bloggers it’s SEO; getting posts listed high in Google’s rankings and being able to reach new readers. Although it could be seen as a shameless exercise in sales and seduction, a recipe title also comes from the heart, and is often no greater than the sum of its parts. There’s something wonderfully alluring about a short, simple title that speaks a thousand words more than its lengthier counterpart.
Allow me to introduce the chocolate custard muffin. Sometimes you see a recipe and just know you have to make it. This is one such recipe. The word ‘chocolate’ caught my attention, before the comforting ‘custard’ enveloped me in a blanket of nostalgia. To me a chocolate custard muffin suggests warmth and sweetness, flavour without pretension, richness without intensity and a big fat hug in food form. I had to make them.
The result is a beautifully moist, luxuriously chocolaty muffin with a rich, rounded taste. The shiny cracked crust gives way to a crumbly middle run through with chocolate and vanilla flavours making it very moreish, with a relative lightness compared to its brownie or cookie counterparts. For my taste they could maybe benefit from a handful of chocolate chunks – I like the contrast of moist crumb and creamy chocolate – but perhaps that would go against the notion of a smooth custard muffin. Next time I’m going to experiment with flavours too – substituting a little rum, whisky or orange juice for some of the water would add a lovely sophisticated twist to this comfort blanket of a bake.
There’s much debate as to where the boundaries lie between a muffin and a cupcake, with most people accepting three main differences; the method – a cupcake’s ingredients are creamed where a muffin is mixed all in together; the function – the lighter cupcake is more of a frivolous affair where the denser muffin can be enjoyed on all occasions (including breakfast!); the presentation – cupcakes tend to be frosted whereas muffins wear their bumpy cracked crusts with pride, only occasionally spread with a slick of water icing.
I’ve defied convention and topped my muffins with a swirl of squidgy marshmallow cream. I simply couldn’t resist, and anyone who has ever tasted a Tunnocks teacake, stuck a spoon of Phish Food in their mouth or scoffed down a S’more will understand why; chocolate and marshmallow is a match made in confection heaven. The appearance doesn’t quite have the ‘cloud of fluffy white cream atop a dark chocolate base’ look I’d been aiming for, with this workman laying blame squarely at the feet of her tools. Having forgotten to buy marshmallows on my weekly shop, I was at the mercy of our local corner shop which (of course) only stocked a pumpkin shaped (and coloured), Shrek branded variety. The resulting orange cream is a little sickly to look at, but I guess it fits with an autumnal/Halloween theme, and the contrast of chewy cream and crumbly cake still worked well, so I’m happy.
The recipe below was first published in Dan Lepard’s Guardian column a few years back, and has recently been revived in his brilliant new baking book, Short and Sweet. I’ve halved the quantities as I only wanted to make a small quantity of muffins, but you can find the original recipe here.
What’s the best recipe title you’ve ever read? Do you prefer muffins or cupcakes? And if you could add one flavour to these chocolate muffins, what would it be?
Chocolate Custard Muffins with Marshmallow Cream
For the muffins
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa
50g dark soft brown sugar
110ml cold water
30g unsalted butter, cubed
65g dark chocolate, broken small
32 ml sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
65g caster sugar
65g plain flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
First make the custard: put the cornflour, cocoa, brown sugar and water into a saucepan and whisk together over a medium heat until boiling, very thick and smooth. Remove from the heat, beat in the butter and chocolate until melted and absorbed, then add the oil, vanilla and one of the eggs, and beat again until combined. Add the remaining egg and the caster sugar, and beat again until smooth and thick.
Measure the flour and baking powder into a bowl, stir together, then sift directly on to the custard and beat through until combined. Spoon into paper muffin cases sitting in the pockets of a muffin tray and bake for 25 minutes.
For the marshmallow cream
100g white marshmallows (you could use coloured ones if making these for kids)
125g unsalted butter very soft
Heat the marshmallows and milk in a saucepan over a low heat. When half melted, take off the heat and hand whisk until smooth. Leave to cool slightly.
Beat the butter until creamy then gradually beat in the marshmallow mixture until whipped and smooth.
Transfer the cream to an icing bag with a star-shaped nozzle and pipe over your muffins. Decorate with mini chocolate stars, a drizzle of dulce de leche or melted chocolate and enjoy.
These muffins would also be delicious with a spoon of natural yoghurt, warm with a scoop of cold ice cream or, for the ultimate indulgence, a puddle of warm (chocolate) custard.