After a rollicking time last evening (it was my Human Honey’s birthday, so we splurged ridiculously at one of our very favorite restaurants), I woke up, late, this morning and decided that it was time to return to the pleasures of baking. After all, I haven’t baked anything in seven whole days! Can it be only seven days since we left the old place??
The first challenge to address was “what to bake?” Then it hit me that I’m scheduled to teach a cooking class on Tuesday, and desperately needed to re-test one of the recipes I’d dashed off so cavalierly before the move. With the class looming, I figured it best to try out the recipe before sending it in print to the cooking class coordinator. Besides, I had all the ingredients on hand, I was sure I could locate all the necessary equipment, and–most important of all–I was really hungry for something real, something freshly baked, something–well, something not chocolate.
The perfect recipe? My old standard, Orange-Oatmeal Muffins.
This recipe is one of the very first I ever created with alternative-to-wheat flours, and it remains one of our favorites here in the house. (“Yes, we love it, too, Mum!”) I’ve given it out to scores of friends, acquaintances, and cooking class participants, and everyone has been amazed at how simple the recipe is to prepare, how moist and dense the texture, and how generally yummy the result.
When I was first told not to eat wheat, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I’ve since learned that spelt (especially light spelt) flour is more or less a one-for-one replacement for wheat, and we have come to prefer its subtle, slightly nutty, slightly sweeter taste. (Once, when I was baking “regular” vegan muffins–ie, choc full o’ sugar, white flour, and margarine–for a vegetarian restaurant, my H.H. and I felt the need to taste-test them to ensure they’d come out right before I dropped them off at the restaurant. But by then, we’d been eating spelt- and kamut-based baked goods for three or four years already. We took one bite of the pallid, unremarkable little quick bread and immediatley spat it out. “It has no flavor!” we cried, and “this tastes like styrofoam!” we exclaimed. (Though how we’d recognize the taste of styrofoam, I have no idea.) We’d become so accustomed to eating food that has real depth, real substance, real nutritional value, that the old, conventional baked goods tasted sickly and bland to us.) Nowadays, I think of spelt as a fraternal twin, rather than a distant cousin, of wheat.
When experimenting with muffin recipes back then, I wanted to create something with only natural sweeteners, preferably fruit-based, both for the vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant properties, as well as for the fiber and stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels compared to refined sweeteners. I opted for a bit of maple syrup (for its intense sweetness) paired with blackstrap molasses (for the incredible nutritional punch, the calcium, iron, and other trace minerals). Back then, flush with my newfound natural-nutritionist zeal, I was determined to include as many whole grains as possible in each recipe, so threw in three.
While considering which fruits to include, I was struck by a childhood memory of a strange habit my mother had had. On afternoons when she wasn’t working, after setting up whatever dishes she’d be preparing for dinner, she’d retire to her bedroom (where the only TV in our house was located), tote along a fresh orange, and sit watching her soap opera while she munched on it. What made her practice unusual (besides sitting on the edge of a bed to watch TV at 2:00 PM) was the way she consumed the fruit: she’d wash the orange, then bite into it the way one usually tackles a fresh apple–chomping straight through it, skin and all. The juice would squirt, the flesh would fly a little, and she’d chew with a slightly squishy, slightly crunchy sound as she slurped, munched, and spat out the seeds onto a paper towel (we never seemed to have paper napkins in our house).
I thought about my mother’s odd approach to oranges as I set about creating this recipe. Why couldn’t I include the whole orange here, too, skin and all? After all, much of the best nutritional value in the orange actually resides in the skin and pith, the slightly bitter white lining just under the orange peel. Antioxidants, bioflavonoids, cholesterol-lowering properties–I could include all of these. I decided to give it a try, guessing that the combination of sweeteners and slight bitterness from the full orange would complement each other beautifully. I was right!
Similarly, the combination of spelt and kamut allows a mix of hard and soft flours for a solid, but not too heavy, texture, and the oats provide a bit of chewiness and dimension.
These are definitely not conventional muffins. They’re low in fat, full in flavor, dense, and very moist. You’ll find little flecks of orange peel and date scattered throughout. I love these muffins for breakfast, warm with a little almond butter. You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.
Wheat-Free Orange Oatmeal Muffins
1 whole medium organic orange, washed, dried, and cut in eighths (remove any pits)
1/2 cup chopped dried pitted dates (they should be soft)
1 Tbsp. finely ground flax seeds
1/4 cup organic extra virgin olive oil or organic sunflower oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup plain organic soy milk or almond milk
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup whole kamut flour
2-1/2 tsp. non-aluminum baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup old-fashioned whole oats (not instant)
Preheat oven to 375F. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners for small muffins or 9 liners for large muffins, or spray with nonstick coating.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the orange segments until almost smooth. Add the dates and process almost to a smooth puree (you can leave a few small flecks of date and/or orange). Add the flax, oil, maple syrup, molasses, and soy milk and process again just to blend. Set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients, or at least 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Add the oats and stir to mix.
Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture in the bowl and stir just to mix. (It will seem too wet for a regular muffin batter; this is as it should be.)
Using a scoop or large spoon, fill the muffin tins 2/3 full for smaller muffins or 3/4 full for larger muffins. Bake in prepared oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once about halfway through. Cool about 10 minutes before removing to a rack. These taste even better the next day, as flavors meld. These muffins freeze beautifully.
Please do let me know how you like these if you try them.
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the “Cookbook” button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]