After a hard morning swim, Laurel often stops at the Tribeca Whole Foods bakery for coffee and a banana chocolate chip muffin. Packed with sugar and, well, chocolate, her pastry pick blurs the line between muffin and cupcake. So, Laurel asked me to come up with a slightly healthier option, a muffin that’s lower in sugar and higher in nutrition.
To transform this classic muffin from sweet treat to post-swim snack, I slashed the sugar and compensated with a splash of nutty virgin coconut oil and a dusting of cinnamon sugar on top. Laurel still gets a sweet tooth fix upon first bite.
With the nuts to grind, zucchini to shred, and spices to grate, this recipe has a lot of steps, but many can be done ahead. Grind the nuts, grate and wring the zucchini, and mix the dry ingredients (minus the flax, which needs refrigeration) a day or two ahead. Combine the flours, baking soda, salt, and spices up to a week ahead, and then whisk to aerate before making the muffins. You can even prepare the zucchini, freeze it, and defrost it in the refrigerator. Unless you’re in a terrible hurry, grate the spices yourself, because they make the muffins fragrant.
This recipe includes one unusual instruction: add the oils dead last. Doing so makes the muffins noticeably moister, especially with the minis, which tend to be dry. I discovered this technique through a happy baking accident one afternoon, while my three-year-old son assisted me. Only after we’d stirred in the flours and spices did I notice how dry the batter looked, and realize that we’d forgotten the oils. In they went. The batter looked horribly greasy and, as I slid the pan into the oven, I wrote off the batch. How wrong I was! The muffins had the best texture of any batch yet. I tested the theory a few times, and every time it’s produced a luxuriously textured muffin.
Whole wheat pastry flour is available at some grocery stores with well-stocked baking sections (call first) and from King Arthur Flour. You can substitute white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour, but the muffins will have a heavier texture, more health food as opposed to healthier food. You’ll find golden flax seed meal with the flours or oats at the grocery store. I like Bob’s Red Mill brand.
Zucchini Walnut Muffins with Flax
(Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook)
Time: about 1.5 hours, including baking and cooling
Yield: 12 regular-sized muffins or 24 mini muffins
About 1 pound zucchini
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (freshly grated, if possible)
1 teaspoon nutmeg (ditto)
1/3 cup golden flax seed meal
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 cup walnuts, ground to a coarse meal or finely chopped
½ cup canola oil
¼ cup virgin coconut oil, melted
Topping: 1 tablespoon sugar combined with ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grate the zucchini using the shredding blade on a food processor. (You’ll have 3 ¼ to 3 ½ cups.) Set a colander in the sink and, grabbing fistfuls of the shreds, squeeze out as much water as possible. Be thorough but not compulsive. (If you skip this step, the muffins will be larger and take a few more minutes to bake. They’ll also have a more assertive zucchini flavor.)
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan (or 24-cup mini muffin pan) with the melted butter. Grease the spaces around the cups, too, so the muffin tops don’t stick to the pan.
Sift together the flours, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. (If you use a mesh sieve to sift, the brown specs of the whole pastry flour won’t fit through the holes; dump them into the sifted flours.) Add the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flax meal and whisk to combine.
In a second large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and sugar until thick and a little bit frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the zucchini.
Pour half of the dry ingredients into the batter and stir, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, until just combined. It’s essential not to over mix the batter. You should still see flour. Add the rest of the dry ingredients, stir 10 times, then add the nuts, and stir, scraping the sides, until just combined (a few streaks of flour are okay). Add the oils and stir until just barely incorporated. It’s okay to leave some small puddles of oil unincorporated. The batter will look greasy.
Use a tablespoon or ¼ cup measure to fill each muffin cup with batter. Wipe off any drips. Dust each muffin with a generous pinch of cinnamon sugar.
Bake until the tops are golden and a toothpick poked into a muffin in the center of the pan comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes (20 to 25 minutes for mini muffins).
Set pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Slide a pairing knife or small offset spatula down the side of each cup to lever out the muffins. Cool completely before storing.
Shelf Life: The muffins will keep for two days at room temperature in an airtight container, or three months in the freezer. They freeze best when individually wrapped in plastic, but that landfill is on your head.