Caramel Stuffed Banana Nut Muffins

What’s better than a banana nut muffin?  A banana nut muffin stuffed with caramel.  Of course.

This recipe is based on the great Alton Brown’s banana bread recipe, which I’ve tweaked to make these decadent muffins.  If you’re looking for a healthy breakfast recipe, this ain’t it.  Check out my whole grain low-fat banana bread recipe for that.  This is for an indulgent breakfast.

Your first step is to acquire or make:

1 cup dulce de leche (milk caramel)

Latin American markets carry this favorite sweet treat, but if you can’t find it, it’s easy to make.  Take a can of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk!) and remove the paper label.  Place the can in your pressure cooker, add water to cover the can completely, seal the pressure cooker and bring it to full, high pressure.  Cook for 30 minutes.  Then turn off the heat and don’t touch the pressure cooker until morning…let it drop in temperature naturally all the way to room temp.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, get one.  It’s one of my favorite kitchen tools!  If you can’t get one, here’s the oven method for making dulce de leche.

In a pie plate, scrape 1 can of sweetened condensed milk and cover the plate tightly with 2 layers of foil.

Place a pan large enough to hold the pie plate on the middle rack of your oven.  Place the milk-filled pie plate into the pan.  Add hot water to the pan until it comes halfway up the side of the pie plate.  Turn the oven on to 425F.  Bake the milk for an hour and 20 minutes, checking every 20 minutes to add enough hot water to keep the level halfway up the pie plate.

After 80 minutes has passed carefully pull the rack out of the oven and pull the foil back, being careful of escaping steam.  The milk should be medium brown and caramely, and smell delicious.  If it’s not caramel colored, seal the foil and return the plate to the water bath in the over for an additional 10-20 minutes until it gets nicely caramelized.  Let the caramel cool for a few minutes, then whisk it briskly until smooth.

Place the caramel in the fridge for an hour or so to let it stiffen up.  Now assemble your wet ingredients:

3 very overripe bananas (they can be completely black all over and almost liquid on the inside…in fact, those make the best muffins)
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

Mash with a fork, then beat with a whisk or immersion blender until smooth and liquidy.  Then add:

2 large eggs
1 stick (8 Tablespoons, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk until smooth.

In your blender, add:

1/2 cup old fashioned oats (NOT quick-cooking oats)

Blend on high until the oats are pulverized into flour.  Add them to a large bowl along with:

1 2/3 cups bread flour (all-purpose is also okay)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix well.  Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients (or vice versa) and stir slowly with a spoon until all the flour is mixed and most of the lumps are gone.  Don’t go crazy when stirring or you’ll start developing the gluten in the flour and the muffins will be too chewy.  Then gently fold in:

1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or hazelnuts are my favorite, macadamias are also great with bananas and caramel)

Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.  Gently spoon about a Tablespoon of batter into each tin.  Then spoon in about a Tablespoon of the chilled caramel.  Then fill the muffin tin to the rim with batter.

Bake on the center rack of a preheated 375F oven for 30 minutes.  The muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean.  (These muffins seem to test done the traditional way even with caramel in the center…I haven’t had streaks of caramel coming out on the toothpick to confuse me as to whether or not the batter is baked all the way through.)

Let these muffins cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.  Carefully remove them to a cooling rack and let them cool fully before enjoying…if you can wait that long!

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