June 17, 2012
My quest for the perfect muffin began in 2006 when I was a college student. I lived above a Panini shop in New York City that sold fat-free and sugar-free muffins, which I frequently devoured for breakfast. The best two flavors were strawberry and pineapple, oddly enough. These muffins were soft and moist but not too heavy, and not overly sweet. They were made with applesauce, which replaced the fat and sugar, or so I was told. Sometimes I wondered if they were just regular muffins—those 600 calorie muffins that might as well be a giant piece of cake—passed off as healthful. They were that good.
After I moved, I decided I would do some experimenting to figure out their recipe. I’d done this before with at least some success. This one, however, was impossible to replicate. Everything I made came out dry, dense, or bland—sometimes all three. Finally, I gave up.
Then I read about an interesting technique for baking with whole grains: soaking the flour. It’s really quite simple. You just mix the flour with some kind of liquid and let it stand on the counter overnight. For a muffin recipe, this is perfect since you get to do some of the work the night before. I decided to use coconut milk and white whole wheat flour. The results were unexpectedly good—a moist, tender crumb throughout that wasn’t too dense or too airy, and a golden, slightly crispy exterior. I’m now convinced that soaked whole wheat flour produces a better muffin texture than white flour.
The other trick I discovered during the course of my muffin quest is that the texture of vegan baked goods is significantly improved with the right ratio of two simple ingredients: vinegar and baking soda. I’m no chemist, so I don’t know what scientific reactions take place between these two substances, but whatever happens makes for a notably more tender product. You’d never know these muffins were made without eggs.
I’ve done some tweaking to the recipe that I started with, and I truly think, without bias of course, that I’ve finally achieved the perfect muffin recipe. These muffins are not sugar- or fat-free, but they’re made with natural sweeteners and most of the fat comes from the coconut milk. It may even be possible to make them with lite coconut milk or applesauce and almond milk, which would significantly reduce the fat content. I’ll continue experimenting and report back.
The recipe is meant to be a base for whatever you feel like putting in it. I’ve been making mine with blueberries, or blueberries and cherries as you see here, but you can use really any kind of fruit suitable for baked goods. I like to use chopped frozen fruit because it saves me the hassle of prepping it, and it’s generally cheaper than buying it fresh. You could also add toasted nuts, coconut flakes, cinnamon, or citrus zest.
These muffins freeze fairly well if you wrap them individually. You can reheat them in an oven or microwave; I don’t bother to defrost them first. I like to make a batch of them on the weekend, freeze them, and eat them all week for breakfast.
100% Whole Wheat Vegan Muffins
In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, coconut milk, and white vinegar. Cover and leave overnight at room temperature.
In the morning, preheat the oven to 350°F. Add the remaining ingredients to the soaked flour and mix until well combined, either with a spoon or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (this is not a very finicky batter so don’t worry too much about over mixing). Stir in the fruit.
Distribute the batter into greased muffin tin cups, 9 – 12 depending on how big you want the muffins to be. Bake for about 25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a plate.
*Note: The fat content and thickness of coconut milk varies widely by brand. If your coconut milk seems too thick, replace ½ a cup of it with water. I do this when I use Chaokoh brand coconut milk.