An Experimental Kitchen

After two years of this blog, the most important thing I’ve learnt is that cooking is all about confidence.  This year, I’m determined to be less of a recipe slave – instead of looking at recipes for inspiration on what to eat, I want to look into my fridge and decide what to cook by seeing what ingredients are available to me.

I bought the most wonderful book last year The Flavour  Thesaurus by Niki Segnit but I’ve only recently felt the levels of confidence and cooking abandon necessary for taking on cooking without a recipe.

Ok.  Let’s not go mad.  The idea behind this book is to allow cooks like me chained to recipe books a guiding hand into the world of flavours.  Once we’ve learned the basic skills of sauces and cakes and things, one could use this book to experiment with the flavours of those basic dishes.

My friend Jocelyn is my baking buddy.  She is a natural baker and cook, and has a supremely calming effect on me while baking.  If I was on my own, I’d freak out, but if something goes awry when Jocelyn is around, I always know it’ll work out.  And, more importantly, if it doesn’t work out, it’s not really that big of a deal.

We decided last Friday to make experimental muffins using a basic Jamie O recipe for a muffin batter and The Flavour Thesaurus to come up with flavour combos.

What we ended up with were

  • Chilli and Chocolate Muffins
  • Carrot Cumin and Raisin Muffins
  • The rather wonderful Banana Cardamon Cinnamon and Ground Almond Muffins.

Maybe the baking experts out there can help me with the texture of our muffins.   They were very spongey and not at all crumbly like muffins should be.  I’m guessing this was due to the addition of too much baking powder?  You ca nsee the muffin mix almost exploded out of the muffin tops in the oven, leading to a cook looking muffin peak but a not entirely satisfactory texture.  Any tips?

By all means, please use your own muffin batter recipe as the below recipe wasn’t foolproof enough for me.  Maybe you could also recommend a good muffin batter?

Jamie Oliver’s Basic Muffin Recipe (makes about 12 muffins)

350g light soft brown sugar

4 large free-range eggs

300g plain flour, unsifted

2 heaped teaspoons of baking powder

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C/gas mark 4.

Make a batter by mixing the eggs with the sugar until well blended.  Now fold in the flour and baking powder until you have a wet sticky mixture.  Jamie says try not to over do it with the mixing bit, which is perhaps where we went wrong, leading to our spongy texture.

Now you can add whatever ingredients you like.  I have made the original Butternut Squash Muffins following Jamie’s recipe to a T and they turned out scrumptiously.  Below are how we got our experimental muffins together.

*We in fact made double the amount of batter above and divided it into three and made around 10 of each muffin style.  So below are rough guides.

Chilli and Chocolate Muffins

Add a good handful of chocolate chips to your batter.  If you don’t have chocolate chips, get a good quality chocolate bar and bash it up into small chunks.

Get a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes and bash them in a pestle and mortar to thin out the flakes a bit.

Add to batter.

Divide between muffin tin lined with muffin papers and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until risen and golden.

Carrot Cumin and Raisin Muffins

Finely grate a large carrot into the batter.  Add a handful of raisins and half a teaspoon of cumin.  We overdid it here with the cumin, adding a whole teaspoon. Too much, my friends, too much.

Divide between muffin tin lined with muffin papers and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until risen and golden.

Banana Cardamon Cinnamon and Ground Almond Muffins

Mash up two bananas with a fork and add to batter (we only put one banana in, definitely needed two).  Add a teaspoon of ground cardamon, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and about 50g of ground almonds to the batter.

Divide between muffin tin lined with muffin papers and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until risen and golden.

Jocelyn’s Banana Muffins

Our chilli and chocolate muffins , which curiously didn’t rise as well as the other muffins even though they were made from the same batter.  Baking is SO WEIRD.

So…I think I’m done with muffins for a while!


Cheesy, I know.  So sue me!

Paint By Number Heart by Martha & The Muffins on The Hype Machine

My friend Jocelyn

Categories: Baking


  1. Good woman, i’m going to just steal all your baking recipers here!

    @bngr cooks a mean chocolate and chilli bun as well, i wasn’t convinvced by them until i had hers.

  2. That sounds like a really great book, I’ll have to get me one…was just saying to my friend yesterday that I’d like to veer away from straight up recipes and learn more about making my own way in the kitchen too!
    How was the cumin with the carrots and raisins as a flavour?

    • The book is great! The cumin wasn’t a huge success sadly. The flavour was totally right but we were a bit heavy-handed with it. We threw in a teaspoon when half would have probably been better.

  3. SO impressed, Aoife. I remember looking at that book when I was visiting your place and I’m glad you are putting it to use. Really fun and flavorful combos, love it!! I’m a bit afraid of baking myself so this is inspiring me to be more adventurous.

  4. Muffin mania here – looks good! I’ve been humming and hawing about buying the Flavour Thesaurus but now you have decided it for me!

    • Definitely get the book, it’s beautifully presented too if that convinces you more :)

      I think I’ve had enough muffins for quite some time now…!

  5. couldn’t agree more with the sentiment; the less prescriptive cooking is the more interesting the results – sometimes good, bad or great!
    Baking though is a little more scientific I am told

    • That’s what they say about baking all right – I’m trying to get the hang of it. Feeling a lot better about it now than this time last year! Looking forward to being more creative in the kitchen this year :)

  6. oooh I like the idea of the cardamon and banana ones alright – nice pictures too – love your duck cases

    • Thanks m’lady! The banana ones were great. My friend Jocelyn supplied the cupcake holders, I think her mum got them in Kilkenny for her. So cute!

  7. Hey Aoife, loving those flavour combos. I think I’ll be investing in a flavour thesaurus as well to kick my cooking skills up a notch. My aunty used to own a muffin shop so I’ll get on to her and get you a full proof muffin recipe and pass it on if you like?

    • Yes please Phil! That’d be great. And I highly recommend the Flavour Thesaurus, such an interesting book!

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  9. thats definitely my favourite cookbook at the moment, so interesting and also just kind of interesting to randomly flick through because the comments on matches are so lovely!

  10. So clever! I must get my hands on that thesaurus….I’ve skimmed through it in Hodges & Figgis and it’s fantastic. Recently I’ve been adding nutmeg (a spice I always thought I didn’t like) into savoury curries and other dishes after Gluten Free Girl mentioned doing that on her blog. It definitely adds a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s nice to try something different that you wouldn’t usually do.

  11. Whoops just realised my web address is wrong in the link above x

    • Definitely pick it up Aoife because although there are a lot of dairy and meat/fish combos, there are loads of vegan-friendly combos too. Plus it teaches you a lot about food.

  12. So many muffins! the banana one seems fascinating. must try it this weekend! I actually just came across your blog as I wrote a review of the Flavour Thesaurus. I LOVE this book. A wealth of information. Here is my review

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