25 March 2010

The Most Amazing Muffins EVAH (In which I ramble on about my recently rekindled passion for baking, now gluten-free)

Gluten-Free Morning Glory Muffins

This space started out as a jewelry blog, then I added mosaics last year, then I added photography this year... and today I'm posting a recipe. But I feel it's "justified" (like I have to justify what I put on MY OWN BLOG?) because, having completely lost my cooking mojo during my marriage thanks to an endlessly critical spouse (now ex-spouse, thankfully for SO many reasons), it is finally coming back, mainly in the form of baking, along with my creativity in general. That's really what this blog is about: my creative life. Everyone should have one. Seriously.

Most of us would agree that cooking and baking are inherently creative activities (at least for those of us constitutionally unable to simply follow directions); adding to the creative challenge, I recently had to adopt a gluten-free diet (no wheat or other gluten-containing grains, hence no bread, crackers, pasta, cake, cookies, muffins... good God, how is that possible???). Having realized about two weeks in that I absolutely cannot live without baked goods, I began experimenting with gluten-free baking. Results have been mixed so far; while packaged baking mixes such as Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Hearty Whole Grain Bread and Pizza Crust mixes have turned out quite well, they are also very expensive and thus unworkable on my very tight budget. Packaged all-purpose flour mixes (such as those from Bob's Red Mill, available in a 25-lb bag from the Web site, BTW; and Namaste Foods, available in bulk from Amazom Marketplace) are a bit less expensive but not much so, and while they're okay for general use I haven't been thrilled with the results so far and need to figure out which ones work best for which baked goods.

Therefore, in a spirit of exploration and experimentation (and desperately seeking comfort food that won't set my innards churning), I have turned to the Internet (I highly recommend Gluten-Free Girl & the Chef) and several recent cookbooks devoted to gluten-free (GF) baking. Gluten-free flour formulas abound, which would be great except that most of them include five, six, seven or more different flours (such as brown rice, amaranth, garbanzo, sorghum, millet, quinoa...) and other components (such as potato starch, tapioca starch, xantham gum...), which would be difficult enough if I lived in an urban area but is essentially unworkable since I live in a rural area and have to drive 30 to 100 miles for such ingredients.

All that aside, today I HAD to have muffins. Not those plain, over-sweet things sold as "muffins" in most places but something with substance: whole grains (but now gluten-free), fruit, nuts, wonderful texture, and FLAVOR. My recent batches of muffins, made by dutifully following various GF recipes, have been disappointingly dense, a common problem in GF baking. Today I was feeling creative and willing to try again, and decided to improvise by pulling from various recipes and my own baking experience -- AND writing down what I did, for a change, so I could repeat it if it worked or adjust it if it didn't. I adapted the recipe below from The Best Gluten-Free Family Cookbook (which has good recipes but complicated flour formulas), Gluten-Free Baking Classics (which has great flour formulas), and my memories of my earlier delectable but gluten-loaded muffin experiments, and I am thrilled to report that it came out perfectly AND might actually be repeatable.

The batter mixed up beautifully, and tasted DIVINE; that's always a great sign but not necessarily conclusive; how the muffins bake up is definitely not a given in GF baking. After I spooned the batter into the greased muffin cups, I let it set for 20 minutes; this an essential step in GF baking because the flours have no, uh, gluten to create structure and thus the baking soda & powder have to be allowed more time to work. Then (after another "taste test"; yes, I know the hazards of eating raw batter but do so anyway) I placed the pan reverently in the oven, set the timer for 20 minutes, and walked away. Within 10 minutes the muffins-in-progress perfumed the whole house; but they were still soft after 20 minutes so I steeled myself for another 8 minutes, watching them carefully, then turned the oven off, opened the door, and left them in for another 10 minutes because I REALLY didn't want gummy muffins this time. (Well, I left 11 of the dozen in; #12 jumped out of the pan onto a plate and nearly burned my mouth in its impatience to get INTO MAH BELLY... and it was fantastic.)

I'm now on my second muffin and am about to make up another batch to freeze... if they make it that long. So here is the recipe; note that I live at 6500 feet, so you might need to add another 1/2 teaspoon or so of baking soda if you live at sea level. And you'll probably want to add more sugar or other sweetener; I use as little as possible because I'm trying hard to avoid the family scourge of adult-onset diabetes (and am succeeding quite well so far).

The Laughing Raven’s Super-Fantastic Gluten-Free Morning Glory Muffins

Makes 1 dozen muffins.

Stir together and then set aside:
2 c gluten-free flour blend (I used brown rice flour blend from Gluten-Free Baking Classics)
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/2 c ground flaxseed
1/2 c brown sugar (or more to taste; I use half as much sugar as most recipes recommend)
1/2 c shredded coconut
1/3 c chopped walnuts
1/3 c dried blueberries (or raisins, dried cherries... whatever you like)
1 T grated lemon or orange zest (if not available, add 1/2 t lemon or orange extract to the step below)

In a large bowl, beat thoroughly (3 minutes or so) until very foamy:
2 eggs
3/4 c applesauce
6 T sour cream

Stir in:
1/2 c crushed pineapple with juice
1 c grated carrots (or zucchini)
1/2 t lemon or orange extract (if not using zest; you could use vanilla, hazelnut, or other extract instead)
Flour mix from 1st step above

Spoon batter into greased or lined muffin cups. Now preheat the oven to 350 F, and allow batter in cups to sit for 20-30 minutes. This step is essential for gluten-free flours (otherwise the muffins will be dense and gummy; if you’re using regular wheat flour you can skip this step).

Bake for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch (I have to bake these for 25 minutes, actually); turn off heat and let cool for 10 minutes in opened oven or on stove-top, then remove immediately from pan and let cool upside-down on stove-top.

I'll try this recipe with the Namaste and Bob's Red Mill general-purpose flour mixes and let you know how it turns out.

And one of these days I'll get back to my regularly scheduled programming...

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