A Decidedly Grown-Up Chocolate Muffin

Sunday afternoon. Nick was visiting his parents in Devon with Fin, and I had spent a weekend cooking with the lovely Joy, for the Bridport Arts Centre AGM. Working with Joy is fun, we chat and potter and laugh and at the end, a meal arrives. Some folks are just that easy to be with I guess, and she is one of them, like a really good rocking chair - only prettier.

Joy drove us home as day was leaving and night politely knocking at the door. I unloaded my pots and pans and walked into the empty house, knowing my boys would be back in a couple of hours. I had a novel that I was itching to sink into, but I also wanted a little something chocolaty and there was nothing of that description in the house. Besides, I have kind of sworn off refined sugar as a nod to the time old urge to cleanse, purge and renew, following the stodgy ways of the preceding season.

But hang on a minute. I had some muffin cases. I had some Green & Blacks cocoa. I had some ground almonds and eggs and half a cupboard full of various gluten free flours and some fruit based sweetening agents to boot. In less time than it would have taken for me to jump on my bike and attempt to find something gluten and dairy free in the garage shop, I was sitting with my novel in a warm kitchen, filled with the scent of chocolate muffins.

Night fell quietly. Clock hands shifting unwatched, as a heavy downpour of fat raindrops landed softly on the black windows. I sat contentedly reading my novel, whilst the dark muffins rose in their white paper cases. When they were done, I took them out and ate one straight away, still hot; blowing on it piece by piece, crumbs falling into the spine of my book. It was dark, moist, chocolaty and yet with a slight hint of fruitcake or even gingercake stickiness, from the date syrup. Me, I think dates and chocolate were made for each other, and these muffins were exactly right for a tired girl craving a little something cakey but not drenched in sugar.

When the boys tumbled in bringing the Dartmoor air with them, I met them with a smiling face and open arms. Oh, yes - and I hid those muffins.

To give these muffins a little extra, Je ne sais quoi you could stir in some roughly chopped dark chocolate and a few chopped dates just before you spoon them into the cases.

Grown Up Chocolate Muffins (makes 12)
6oz organic butter
1/2 cup date syrup
2oz fruit sugar
4 medium free range eggs
2tsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
2oz fairtrade cocoa
2oz sorghum flour
4oz ground almonds
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum

Looks like a long list of ingredients, but the only things you may struggle to find are date syrup and sorghum flour. You could substitute another fruit sugar based, liquid sweetener like agave syrup - although the taste will be less complex. For the flour, substitute, quinoa, brown rice, maize, teff - I don't know how it will turn out if you do, but that's half the fun ain't it?

Preheat the oven to 160C fan assisted, or 175C if not. Put 12 muffin cases in a bun tray.

Melt the butter gently and off the heat stir in the date syrup, molasses and finally, fruit sugar. Allow to cool just until lukewarm and then beat in the eggs and vanilla.

Sift the dry ingredients together, tip the last bits of almond in too, they won't go through the sieve. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones until combined and pour into the cases. If you prefer to spoon the mixture and like things to be just so, refrigerate the mixture for 10 minutes and it will firm up enough to be happily spooned tidily into the muffin cases.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until they feel firm to touch - you could test them with a skewer if you like. Don't overcook; they will be better even if a tiny bit in the centre is not cooked right through.

Cool on a rack for as long as you can resist them and then plunge right in, with a grown up drink of some sort on hand and an absorbing novel to sink into.