Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Healthier apple muffins

At the beginning of my freshman year of college, I did what any kid new to living on her own would do -- went absolutely crazy with the freedom to do whatever I want... staying up late, getting ice cream for dinner, you get the idea.  All relatively tame things :)

But the biggest change in my lifestyle that year was discovering that my eating habits were totally and completely my own.  No longer was I required to adapt to an entire family's dining routine or eat what was being served.  If I wanted to eat an early dinner before night class or wait until noon for breakfast on a weekend, nobody was going to stop me.  And, if I wanted to indulge in the dining hall options including Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway, and my weight in chicken tenders, watch out world.

But, as you could probably guess, I was one minor injury away from packing the infamous 15 pounds onto my petite freshman frame.  Luckily, I kept up my exercise habits throughout this period of culinary liberation, but even that might not have saved me from death by muffins... and a potential muffin-top.

Muffins?  Harmless fluffy muffins?

Yes, muffins.  You see, the dining hall below my dorm had these insanely delicious giant muffins.  I'm talking huge, people!  The size of a softball.  I think they were made by Otis Spunkmeyer.  They were convenient and not totally terrible tasting.  Sure, they were a bit dry and super sweet without much flavor, but they were the closest thing I could find to my mom's incredible banana muffins.

And then, one day about two weeks after discovering these gems, I flipped the package over and checked out the nutrition label -- 470 calories!  26 grams of fat, which accounted for 41% of my daily intake... in ONE MUFFIN!  "Step away from the muffin!"  And that was the last Otis Spunkmeyer muffin I ever had.
Thankfully, two years later I moved into an apartment on campus that had a full kitchen -- hooray!  And thus began my home baking/cooking career and a new chapter in my life.  Still yearning for my mom's muffins but not quite bold enough to make them without her (and she still provided them in mass quantities on a monthly basis), I looked for a muffin recipe I could make with limited culinary experience.  Something with basic ingredients and familiar flavors.  Warm and seasonal flavors.

And then, I found it -- my go-to recipe for a yummy fall anytime treat.  Apple muffins!

While these muffins lack much of the bad stuff (no butter -- sorry, Paula!), they are busting down the door with the good stuff!

Applesauce and chopped apples pack a double dose of fall flavor.

And because I would never settle for anything less than rich-tasting baked goods, a generous helping of buttermilk gave the batter a thickness crucial to muffin-making.

Topping it off with a mixture of nuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon was what sent these delicious apple gems into another dimension.  Crunchy, tasty, g-o-o-d!

Individually wrapped (and still so, so much less harmful than their Otis relatives) and ready to go.  Perfect for an early morning tailgate before a college football game. 

Unwrap and bite into that chewy, moist, slightly sweet but not too much for a breakfast item, apple-y creation.  And, get this, one of these babies clocks in at 200 calories.  That's it!!!

Want to make this already perfect breakfast truly ideal?  Pair with a mimosa.  I dare you!

Apple Muffins
(adapted, slightly, from Ellie Krieger's recipe)
-makes 18-20 muffins

A few notes: You can substitute some wheat flour for the all-purpose by adjusting to the
following quantities - 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour.  Per suggestions by others who made these muffins, I doubled the cinnamon and mixed half into the batter while reserving the other half for the topping.  I also doubled the apples and stretched the recipe even further. 

Cooking spray or muffin/cupcake liners
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup natural applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 apples of your choice (I used Golden Delicious), peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 12-capacity muffin pan with cooking spray or liners.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the pecans and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in the applesauce and vanilla.

Whisk in the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Whisk just until combined. Gently stir in the apple chunks.  Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan filling cups 2/3 full and sprinkle with the pecan mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of 1 of the muffins comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Cool completely on the rack.  Keep, wrapped or in sealed container, for up to 3 days.  If freezing, wrap individually, and freeze for up to 2 months.


  1. The little college cafe sold giant chocolate chip cookies that were always baked at 3:00. My apartment was NEXT DOOR and I could always smell them baking and many times found myself at their doorstep, buying one. I don't even want to know how much fat was in that cookie. Your apple muffins sound much healthier and very delicious.

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