I’ve been putting off buying non-wheat flour since arriving in the UK because I couldn’t find a brand that was a) cheap; b) nutritious; and c) easily accessible. You’d think online would have good deals, but I didn’t find anything better than just buying the plain white GF flour mix at Sainsbury’s. It’s not nearly as nutritious (in terms of fiber, protein content, minerals, etc.) as whole spelt flour, but that either costs a lot of money or is only available in the next town.
Even when I decided that I’d buy this GF flour eventually, I waited, because I couldn’t think what I wanted to make. Then last week, there was a post on Smitten Kitchen about carrot cake made with (soft) cider and olive oil and it all became clear: I was going to make carrot cake muffins.
I became a huge fan of carrots this summer, when I found they were a perfect substrate for almost any spread–hummus, salsa, Afghan cilantro pesto and jalapeno jam, tzatziki–and a good way to quiet the rumblings of one’s stomach at about 4:45 pm, when it’s too late for a substantial snack but too early for dinner. The purchase of my first 1 kg bag of fresh, whole carrots in the UK came not too long after I got a shelf in the fridge. Using them in a recipe eventually was just a no-brainer.
This recipe went through countless variations in my head before ending up as what I made. It seems like every food blog has its own version of carrot cake or carrot muffins. I decided I wanted mine to be reasonably healthy and not too sweet, more on the “muffin” than “cupcake” side of things. But then I mentioned my plans to make these with several of my housemates, and one was firmly of the opinion that you can’t have carrot cake without cream cheese frosting. At first, I stuck to my general opinion that the dividing line between cupcakes and muffins is the frosting (or lack thereof), and I was making muffins, ergo, no frosting. Then I remembered that the frosting was the best part of pretty much every carrot cake I’ve had, and decided to compromise by making an accompanying honey-vanilla-cottage cheese spread that you could, in theory, put on top as frosting. Is it as beautifully rich as a full-fat cream cheese-and-butter frosting? No, but in the same way that ricotta cheesecake isn’t the same as regular cheesecake. They’re just different. As long as you don’t go into the experience expecting one and receiving the other, you won’t be disappointed.
Final verdict on the muffins: they’re rather dense, dry and mild in flavor, three things that I don’t like in a muffin. I think the density and dryness are entirely my fault; I was so worried as I mixed the dough that the consistency was too liquid and they wouldn’t set up properly, or just take forever to bake, that I added significantly more flour and oats than I had originally planned. Of course, the fact that I was working half off normal recipes, half off gluten-free recipes didn’t help (nor the fact that I don’t have a kitchen scale, and thus can’t do the weight-for-weight substitution of GF flour for regular flour that is supposedly key to making GF baked goods). The mildness is, of course, my fault in the end, but the recipes I was looking at didn’t seem to have all that much spice in them, and I was concerned that I’d add too much and make them disgusting.
I put the remaining 7 muffins (I made them on Saturday) in a bag this morning labeled “CARROT CAKE MUFFINS: EAT ME,” and they were gone before I got home, so maybe I’m being too hard on myself. 🙂
Carrot Cake Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins.
1.5 c plain GF flour mix with xanthan gum (I used Dove’s Farm; would suggest using 1.25 c)
1/2 c oats + more for sprinkling
1.5 tsp baking powder (would use 2 tsp next time)
1.5 tsp cinnamon (would use 2 tsp next time, or add 1/2 tsp each nutmeg and allspice)
2/3 c sugar (I used demerara; dark brown would be better)
3 medium eggs (or 2 large)
2 Tbsp olive oil (could go up to 1/4 c)
1/4 c plain yogurt
1/2 apple, peeled then finely grated
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 c grated carrots
1 tsp grated ginger (would use 2+ tsp next time)
1/2 c raisins (optional)
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Either grease muffin tin or add paper muffin cups and sprinkle with oats.
In a small bowl, combine flour, oats, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon; mix well. In a larger bowl, beat eggs, then mix in sugar, olive oil, yogurt, grated apple, and vanilla extract. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in carrots, ginger, and optionally raisins and/or walnuts.
Fill each muffin cup 3/4 of the way with batter and sprinkle oats (and demerara sugar, if a little extra crunch is desired) on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are slightly browned. Let cool at least 10 minutes before eating (otherwise they’ll stick to the muffin papers).
Serving suggestion: toasted, with creme fraiche, butter, or honey vanilla cheese spread (below).
Honey Vanilla Cheese Spread
1/2 c soft cheese*
2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (lemon or orange could also be good!)
*I used cottage cheese, not realizing that the curds were quite so resilient! It tasted fine, but was not very presentable. I’d suggest using ricotta or mascarpone instead.
In a small bowl, whisk together cheese, honey, and vanilla until a smooth texture forms. Chill at least 30 minutes. Spread on muffins.