Friday, October 10, 2014

Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins

I finally did it! I finally took the plunge and made something that's traditionally made with wheat flour and made a gluten-free version.  The idea of gluten-free baking always intimidated me, mostly because all the recipes I had ever seen involved a million different flours and xantham gum and other stabilizers and I don't know what else. Arrowroot powder sounded like such a foreign thing and it just weirded me out.  I'd been meaning to make gluten free desserts for a long time, in an attempt to cater to more people, but honestly, I was just too nervous about it to give it a real chance.  It seems silly now, because it's still baking and following a set of instructions, just with a different group of ingredients.  It wasn't until the need for gluten free treats hit close to home that I realized I needed to gather my courage, do my research, and do what I do best: bake.

My mom has been on a gluten free diet for just about a month now, and I still can't believe it at times.  I mean, she's the one who taught me how to bake!  It's ironic, to say the least.  In any case though, it's amazing what this new diet has done for her.  She was feeling better within days, and she'll never look back.  Since starting her new diet, my mom has been experimenting with different gluten free baked goods from the store, and while we have found some that are pretty good, we've definitely been disappointed with a lot of them.  Some of the things we've tried were way too sweet or tough, and don't even get me started on the loaves of sliced those are frightening.  Recently, she bought a couple of gluten free blueberry muffins and was not happy with them at all.  I promised my mom that blueberry muffins would be the first gluten free treat I would make. 

Since my mom went gluten free, I've been doing a lot of reading up on flour, and I mean a lot.  A couple of week's worth of reading didn't exactly leave me feeling comfortable enough to go wild with gluten free baking on my own, so I decided to stick to a recipe that I knew had to work and had to be good.  Whenever I'm in that kind of predicament, I always turn to America's Test Kitchen, because those guys know their stuff.  Their book on gluten free baking was unbelievably informative, and I feel like I really did learn something, in the sense that I understood why their recipes work.  Learning the science behind gluten free baking played a huge role in getting me excited about baking in this new way, because all the substitutions and the xantham gum finally made sense.   

In the book, the Test Kitchen experts created their own unique flour blend using Bob's Red Mill white rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and milk powder.  They found this flour blend to work the best in their recipes, so I followed their lead and made the blend for myself.  It has a very different texture than regular all purpose flour- while all purpose flour is soft and powdery, this flour blend had an almost chalky texture.  I was a little skeptical once I felt the flour blend, but I was putting all my faith in the Test Kitchen.  If you don't want to make the flour blend, you can use a standard gluten free all purpose flour, like King Arthur's or Bob's Red Mill's, but the results might be a little different.  The rest of the muffin-making process was easy, and there was no difference in making this muffin recipe compared to a traditional recipe, save for the addition of a little xantham gum with the dry ingredients.  I did notice that the batter was very thick, but I wasn't too alarmed.  I folded in some blueberries that I had frozen over the summer, and my muffin batter was rest.  The Test Kitchen found that letting muffin batter rest for thirty minutes before baking played a critical role in giving muffins the proper texture, so while the batter rested, I cleaned my kitchen.  This was the very first time I've ever put anything into the oven with the kitchen already perfectly clean! 

I took many peeks through the oven door to watch the muffins as they baked.  I was so excited to see that they were rising beautifully, and while they didn't brown quite as much as I would have liked (apparently, this is common in gluten free goods? I'll have to do some more experimenting to confirm this), the muffins were fantastic. Really!  They were light and fluffy, and nothing like the dense blueberry muffins my mom had bought.  They had a beautiful crumble, and were just as good as any traditional blueberry muffin.  Needless to say, my mom loved them, and I'll definitely be experimenting with more gluten free treats soon.  I get to learn some new things and my mom gets to eat her favorite treats without having to feel bad afterwords.  It's a win-win situation!

Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins
recipe from The How Can it Be Gluten-Free Cookbook


For the All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend

24 oz white rice flour (Bob's Red Mill)
7 1/2 oz brown rice flour (Bob's Red Mill)
7 oz potato starch
3 oz tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour)
3/4 oz nonfat milk powder

For the Blueberry Muffins

11 oz Gluten-Free Flour Blend 
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
5 1/4 oz sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 1/2 oz blueberries (I used frozen)
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (for sprinkling)


To make the flour blend, whisk all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Transfer to a large airtight container, and store in the refrigerator.

To make the muffins, begin by whisking the flour blend, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and xantham gum in a large bowl to combine.  In a smaller bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the sugar, melted butter, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla extract.  Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until combined and no lumps remain, about 1 minute.  Gently fold in the blueberries until evenly distributed.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow the batter to rest for 30 minutes.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Using an ice cream scoop, evenly divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups.  Sprinkle a little turbinado sugar over each muffin cup.  Bake the muffins until they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes.  

Let the muffins cool in the tin for about ten minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. The muffins are best the day they are made, but can be stored in an airtight Ziploc bag for up to three days.  The muffins can be frozen as well; individually wrap the muffins in plastic wrap and store in a Ziploc bag for up to three weeks.  Enjoy!

Makes 12 muffins


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