Flash in the Pan is food writer Ari LeVaux’s weekly recipe column. It runs in about 100 newspapers nationwide, nourishing food sections large and small with complete protein for the belly brain.
In the middle of the night, partway through a cross-country drive, I unfolded myself from the driver’s seat at another random gas station. Someone special was waiting at the east end of Interstate 90, but the rig and I both needed fuel.
As sure as diesel hum at a truck stop, there is a chocolate muffin in the store. It’s wrapped in clear cellophane and called “Double Chocolate Muffin,” or “Chocolate-Chocolate-Chunk Muffin,” or something along those lines, depending on which semi-local bakery made it.
Anywhere else, the gas station chocolate muffin might be as forgettable as one highway mile after the last. But our expectations are low at the gas station, and our needs are specific. Enjoyed with a steaming cup of gas station coffee, that dark, chemically moist and shiny chocolate muffin keeps us trucking all the way to the next pit stop.
Not as powerful a stimulant as caffeine, it lasts longer, and eases the jittery feelings that caffeine alone can give. There is evidence theobromine improves cognitive function, while reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases.
Cacao famously contains high levels of phenylalanine, which releases dopamine and norepinephrine, the endorphins responsible for the ecstasy of falling in love, and the energy that allows new lovers to talk for hours.
Chocolate also contains endocannabinoids, which human brain cells have special receptors to receive. And what discussion of euphoria would be complete without good old sugar, which triggers the release of yet more endorphins, plus giving you a sugar high, while dulling the bitter flavors of both chocolate and coffee. Luckily, theobromine also protects against tooth decay.
I got off I90 in Newton, Massachusetts, and drove through the outskirts of Boston to my mom’s apartment. A few days later we headed for Montana, cup holders full of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and Dunkin chocolate muffins in the console, which I incorrectly presumed would be our last best road muffins.
In LaCrosse, Wisconsin, I discovered the gas station chocolate muffin of my dreams, at a regional chain called Kwik Trip. The Kwik Trip muffins are baked in the LaCrosse-based “Kwikery” and distributed throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. Instead of being hard to find, their muffins are displayed in well-lit cases. I was in love, but alas, I was also in a hurry. I hit as many Kwik Trips as possible before I crossed the South Dakota line, and left those lovely Kwik Trip muffins in the rear view mirror.
In Murdo, South Dakota, sometime after midnight, the mask-free convenience store attendant insisted there wasn’t a chocolate muffin. I checked by the coffee, and then the refrigerated case where the sandwiches are, and then over by the doughnuts, in front of the corn dogs, and kept going until I finally found that elusive, theobromine-laced asset on the Hostess rack. Not the creme-filled cupcake. The chocolate muffin. When you’re in limbo, you don’t worry about lowering the bar a little.
She managed to ring me up and take my money without acknowledging me or my chocolate muffin, most likely annoyed that I’d raided her stash. No matter. I had what I needed to plow through another tank of gas, all the way through that covid-laced wasteland and into the world’s greatest state, while my Valentine slept safely in the passenger seat.
Double Chocolate Chip Muffins
When I got back to Montana, I reached out to Kwik Trip. I explained that their chocolate chocolate chip muffins are the best, and asked for the recipe. The recipe below is faithfully reprinted as I received it. In private, I double the vanilla, and slip in tablespoon of mayo, for a tad extra moistness.
Servings: 24 muffins
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375°F and line muffin cups with liners (or lightly grease and flour).
In a large bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, and milk. Stir in eggs and vanilla until well-combined.
Gently fold in sour cream until just-combined.
In a separate, medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
Fold flour mixture gently into wet mixture, folding until just barely combined. Stir in 1 ½ cups chocolate chips.
Scoop chocolate muffin batter into prepared muffin tin, filling 2/3-3/4 of the way full.
Sprinkle tops of muffins with remaining chocolate chips.
Bake at 375°F for 18 minutes (toothpick inserted in center should come out with few slightly fudgy crumbs).