How to make a healthier muffin

by sophie on May 26, 2008 · 19 comments

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These are a few really easy ways to make any muffin recipe a little healthier.  Many of these are tweaks that won’t be detectable in the finished product. 

Add some wholegrain goodness
I love a proper muesli-fied bran muffin with carrots or apples in it and maybe a few sultanas or pumpkin seeds, but not every time – sometimes you just need an old-fashioned cake-style muffin.  Happily even the most refined muffin recipe can enjoy a bit of wholegrain goodness; all you do is swop out half of the quantity of white flour stated in the recipe for the same weight of wholewheat flour.  It’s unlikely that anybody will notice, but you can blame me if they do.

Fruit boost
Dried fruit is an easy addition to any muffin mix and can add valuable iron, fibre and calcium depending on your choice of fruit.  Fresh fruit adds fewer calories and natural sugars than the same weight of dried fruit, but a little less of those nutrients just mentioned.  Grating is the best method of incorporating larger, firmer fruits such as apples and pears, while small chunks work well for softer fruits.  Frozen berries work wonderfully as well as being economical; adding them while frozen keeps the fruit evenly distributed rather than sinking to the bottom of the muffin.

Healthy fats
The oil you buy in the UK labelled as vegetable oil is usually rapeseed oil (the same as Canola oil).  Like olive oil, rapeseed oil contains a little of each type of fat (monounsaturated, saturated and polyunsaturated fat), but is predominantly monounsaturated. This is much better for your heart than using butter, which I save for those areas of baking that just need real butter (and for on freshly baked bread, obviously!). 

It’s a no-brainer for clever folk like you to make sure that any milk or yogurt called for in the recipe is low-fat.

Frosting and icing
Most of the time my muffins remain topless, but just occasionally a bit of decoration is called for.  A quick, if slightly rustic looking topping is a very thin glaze of icing sugar flavoured with lemon, lime or orange juice.  This isn’t going to add many extra calories at all, though your dentist may not approve.   A far plusher topping is a frosting based on flavoured, low-fat cream cheese.  I frost or ice half of my muffins to share and leave half unadorned to eat later in the week or stash away in the freezer.  Any unfrosted homemade fruity muffins make a great “grab and go” portable breakfast, just take one out of the freezer the night before and it will be ready to eat first thing.

These tweaks should be suitable for experimenting on any muffin recipe of your choice.  I have also put all of the ideas together in one recipe for mango, lime and ginger muffins with a lime cream cheese frosting.

Garden at Chelsea flower show
(I couldn’t resist just one picture from my trip to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show on Friday.  There are many more on my Flickr photostream if any of you are horticulturally minded!).

Elsewhere on Mostly Eating
More inspiration for healthy baking, this time with vegetables – Butternut squash, oat and ginger cake bites
Five clever ideas for healthy recipe substitutions includes two baking tips

Muffins galore!
Muffin recipes elsewhere that use similar ideas
Wendy’s Moist Bran Muffins
Wholewheat Apple Muffins from Smitten Kitchen
Jamie Oliver’s Butternut Squash Muffins with a frosty top
Lemon Ginger Muffins from Elise
Kathryn’s Pear, Maple and Walnut Muffins

Recipe for Mango, lime and ginger muffins

I've left the quantities for the frosting deliberately vague so that you can adjust both flavour and quantity. I tend to just make enough to frost half of the muffins.
Makes 12 muffins

1 large mango, cut into small cubes
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup wholewheat flour
1 cup low fat yogurt
0.5 cup skimmed or semi-skimmed milk
0.5 cup unrefined demerara sugar
Juice from one lime
2 balls of stem ginger, chopped into very small pieces
1 medium egg
4 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp baking powder

Optional frosting
Mix to taste
Low fat cream cheese
Lime juice

Mix together both types of flour, the sugar and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.

In a second bowl mix the wet ingredients – the yogurt, milk, egg and vegetable oil.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. A few lumps are fine

Fold the mango and ginger pieces gently into the muffin mixture.

Spoon the muffin mixture out into paper cases in your muffin tray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 190C. An easy way to check if they are done is to stick a toothpick or skewer into the middle of one of the muffins and see if it comes away clean.

To make the frosting, whisk the three ingredients in a small bowl using a fork, adjusting to taste as you go.

Allow to cool on a wire tray, covering with the frosting if using

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