Who doesn't like a muffin? That's the first good news. You don't have to twist anyone's arm to bite into a muffin. A muffin is an almost universal signal that good things are about to pass by your taste buds. But from there, a lot can go right or wrong with a muffin, depending on what's inside.
Most muffins constructed for the general public are made with lots of fat and sugars. Some years ago muffins became hugely popular. Then consumers started to learn how many calories--and especially fatty calories--were packed into those barn-sized muffins they were picking up at the coffee shop and wolfing down on the way to work. Those muffins weren't healthy at all. In fact, they were a disaster.
You can recognize almost immediately a muffin you want to stay away from. Just scan the ingredients. Typically, there will be cups of refined white flour, butter and refined sugar. To which I say, No, No and no. As I became more conscious of the ingredients I was using in my personal chef business, I learned about the glycemic index and the throttling of the pancreas, the insulin jolts that occur around refined flours and sugars. These are first-class tickets to weight gain, high blood pressure and diabetes. Avoid them.
The first thing I look for in a good muffin is fiber. Everyone should be trying to include more fiber in her diet. Fiber helps remove bad fats from the system and introduces bulk while cleaning out the digestive tract. Whole grains, along with many fruits and vegetables, are primary sources of dietary fiber. My first objective is to work more whole grains into my muffins.
Next, a recipe for healthy muffins will use all kinds of stratagems and different ingredients to replace traditional lipids and sweeteners. In fact, the recipe list for a healthy muffin can look too long, almost daunting. Don't be deterred. Yogurt, canola oil, apple sauce, apple juice, orange juice--one or more of these often will appear in a recipe for a good muffin. Expect to use multiple ingredients to develop an appealing level of texture and sweetness while packing in the nutrients. But note: this style of muffin will not attain the sweetness or fatty mouthfeel of the typical commercial product.
Finally, I try to work as many other healthful ingredients into my muffins as I can. My eyes light up around seeds and nuts, berries and fruits and vegetables high in nutritients such as carrots, sweet potatoes, certain squash, and even beans. I know a great recipe for a savory black bean muffin that makes a dynamite sidekick for a bowl of soup.
Along the way, I've learned to adapt some recipes, replacing, say, half the refined white flour with whole wheat flour. I've recently discovered something called "white whole wheat flour" that is--as the name implies--whiter than the traditional whole wheat. I'm not a baker by training, and I have no idea how they make whole wheat flour white. But it works, resulting in less of a granola-like muffin. I've also recently discovered advantages to replacing some of the whole wheat flour in muffin recipes with whole wheat pastry flour. This gives the muffin a pleasingly pillowy quality compared to the typical crumbly muffin.
This week my daughter helped me make several dozen muffins that we put away in the freezer and will use in client breakfasts and lunches in the coming months--setting a few aside for us as well, naturally.
I use a traditional, 12-muffin tin, greasing it with a canola oil spray. Once the muffins are baked, I let the tin cool for a few minutes. As soon as the muffins can be handled, I use a paring knife to remove them from the tin (I don't use paper or foil muffin cups any more), then set the muffins on a wire rack to cool.
Here are two of my favorites: oat bran with blueberries and a sweet potato muffin with grated carrots and sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Oat Bran Muffins with Blueberries: Oats are among the best foods you can eat, period. Blueberries are packed with anti-oxidants and other nutrients.
To make 12 muffins:
1 1/2 cups oat bran
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons applesauce
2 eggs lightly beaten, or 1/2 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnut pieces
1/4 cup rolled oats
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
In a large bowl, mix oat bran, flour, pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and slat. In a separate bowl, mix applesauce, eggs, orange juice, canola oil and vanilla extract. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir to blend. Fold in blueberries and walnuts.
Spoon muffin batter into a greased muffin tin. Sprinkle rolled oats of tops of muffins and press oats gently into mix. Place in oven and bake about 18 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
Sweet Potato Muffins: Sweet potatoes are a miracle food. They are full of anti-oxidants--carotenoids and Vitamin C--help regulate blood sugar, reduce inflammation and brings tons of Vitamin A, manganese and other essential minerals to the table as well as dietary fiber. As an added bonus, these muffins also contain carrots, also high in carotenoids, vitamins and fiber. And they are topped with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, both high in essential amino acids. In my book, this as a perfect muffin.
For 12 muffins:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, or 1/2 cup egg substitute
2/3 cup non-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot
1 cooked and mashed sweet potato
Cook the sweet potato ahead in a 350 degree oven and set aside to cool
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
In a large bowl, mix together flour, pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt. In a separate bowl, mix together oil, brown sugar, yogurt, vanilla. Stir in carrot and sweet potato. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until just blended.
Spoon the batter into a greased muffin tin. Sprinkle sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds over each muffin, then lightly press the seeds into the batter.
Place in oven and bake about 25 minutes, or until a a tooth pick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.