Years ago when I worked at a major university, I spent a lot of time with researchers and data geeks. They made me feel really dumb a lot of the time. Not on purpose. They were just SO SMART… in math, science, sociology. I was just a writer.
Then one of the women I worked with named Beth found out her dad was seriously ill. He would have to change his entire lifestyle—including his eating habits—to regain his health. Salt, fat and (according to Beth) flavor were no-goes. Fiber was king. Suddenly, this capable researcher was scrambling to help her father, to whom she was incredibly close. True to her calling, she consulted a nutritionist—another research expert–because Beth couldn’t cook a lick. Together they devised a muffin that met all the necessary criteria for her dad’s new diet but offered at least some good taste. Some. Beth was so proud to make these for her father and see him smile. I knew these muffins were not county fair winners, but I also knew they were special.
I asked for the recipe. I just had to have it because it was so full of love. Other niceties like butter were, perhaps, missing, but love and care were baked into every bite. And over the years, I’ve kept this basic recipe, which started out as a sort of zucchini-canned apple pie filling muffin, and turned it every which way but unhealthy. It remains a “clean” muffin, very high in fiber and low in sugar, but, as the views of wholesome ingredients such as farm-fresh eggs and hand-harvested sea salt have changed, the muffin has regained a lot of flavor.
So here is Beth’s Love Muffin recipe, altered to be less austere and supplemented with variations I’ve come up with over the years, but still big on love. Make them for those close to you and watch your loved ones smile.
- Three cups organic whole grain flour (Any kind will work, with gluten or without. I find mixing whole grains gives a nice texture, i.e. one cup whole wheat pastry flour/one cup spelt flour/one cup oat flour.)
- One and a half cups organic oat bran
- Half-cup freshly ground organic flax seed
- One teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder (If you are wondering why I always choose aluminum-free, it’s because I want great taste and fewer health risks in my baking. Clabber Girl and Rumford are great choices.)
- One tablespoon aluminum-free baking soda (Yep, aluminum can hide here, too.)
- Two tablespoons spices (depending on other ingredients, these could be just about anything, in any combination; see below for my favorite combos.)
- One teaspoon sea salt
- One cup organic buttermilk (Buttermilk will add richness without a lot of extra fat, but finding organic can be a huge challenge. I recommend Kalona. It’s showing up in my area now at a lot of stores. Wonderful rich flavor.)
- Two tablespoons flax seed oil
- One and one-half cups pureed, shredded or diced fresh fruit or vegetables (See the notes for my combo favorites.)
- One cup plain Greek yogurt (Sometimes I use half the yogurt and add orange juice, for instance, in the carrot muffin variation. As always, my yogurt choice is local Windcrest Dairy Farm.)
- One large egg, slightly beaten
- Two teaspoons pure vanilla (Or try almond extract with the banana variation, maybe.)
- One-half cup sweetener, depending on your ingredients above this can be raw or natural honey, agave, molasses, raw sugar, coconut palm sugar, etc. Or you can combine sweeteners—pure maple syrup and molasses work well, for instance. The less sweetness in your fruit or vegetable, the more sweetness you want your sweetener. Just no white refined sugar—ever.)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the following until well combined: flours, oat bran, flax seed, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. If you are using dry sweetener such as raw sugar for all or part of your sweetener, add it here and combine.
- In a separate bowl, using a large whisk, mix together the liquid ingredients: buttermilk, flax seed oil, pureed/shredded fruit or vegetable, yogurt, egg, vanilla and liquid sweeteners.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients; fold wet ingredients into dry using a large wooden spoon. Blend well but do not overwork. This batter will be very stiff; takes some muscle. Little tufts of flour can remain.
- Add one cup dried fruit and nuts, if desired. (We usually add something—walnuts, pecans, raisins, etc.)
- Coat muffin pans with cooking spray and fill three-quarters full. You’ll get anywhere from 15 to 20 muffins, depending on the size of your pans. These are big muffins and will usually puff over the top slightly. For a little bling, sprinkle with raw sugar just before they go in the oven so they sparkle.
- Bake 20 minutes.
- Cool in pans for five minutes, then remove and finish cooling on baking racks. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the muffin cups if the muffins are stubborn about leaving the tin.
Here are some ideas for your love muffin flavor and spice combinations: pureed pumpkin with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice; pureed sweet potato with clove, ginger (fresh-grated or ground) and cinnamon; shredded zucchini with cinnamon, cocoa powder and cardamom; shredded carrot with orange zest, clove and cinnamon; minced apple with cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest; mashed ripe bananas with nutmeg, cinnamon and cocoa powder. Whatever you think will create flavor and moisture in your recipe is fair game.
These muffins are great for breakfast, wonderful with tea in the afternoon and can even wear the title “dessert” with pride. They store covered on your counter for several days and freeze well when tightly wrapped.
There is nothing “sweeter” than baking for those you love, especially when what you bake is as healthy as it is tasty. Quality ingredients make all the difference, here.
So, what’s in your muffin… besides love, of course?