To gluten or to gluten-free? Is that the question you are asking yourself lately? Or you may be asking, what’s all the fuss? Well, GF is soooo now, soooo current, so hashtaggy, so Paleo and so prevalent as to have influenced the kitchens of pizza joints and white-linen establishments alike to offer GF versions of everything from the bread basket to dessert—pasta included.
I offer you carrot muffins because as a person who cooks and eats 99.9% gluten-free due to— a) digestive intolerance and b) vanity (oh! the carbs! oh my waistline!)—what I truly miss, on occasion, is a really delicious bakery treat to eat with a nice hot cup of tea. Go to Starbucks—no gorgeous GF muffin there. Go to a diner or a local cafe around here, and you can get a bear claw pastry the size of a manhole cover, but no sweet, moist GF confection that will make you feel a part of the post-agricultural-era human race again. There are a lot of GF cookies and snacks on the grocery store shelves these days, and I’m grateful for a cracker that is GF and actually tastes good (Glutino), but I tend to avoid most of these because of reason “b” above. These are all very high in carbs, and sugars, loaded with gums and starches to help with the binding that the missing gluten normally provides, and the grainy texture of most of these products (thanks in large part to rice flour), has a mouthfeel reminiscent of finely ground cat litter. Not worth the calories.
This carrot muffin recipe is from Bouchon Bakery cookbook, one I’ve been browsing in a lot lately while wistfully thinking about visiting my son, who lives in Napa near the original Bouchon Bakery. I whip up a batch of these whenever I teach a morning cooking class, and put them out with coffee and tea fixings for my students. It’s not a GF recipe per se, (get it? Per Se, another Thomas Keller plug!) but substituting the all-purpose wheat flour for a GF flour mixture like Keller’s excellent Cup4Cup, turns this well-crafted recipe into a GF delight. It’s everything you want from a muffin. It’s moist and has a springy, cake-y texture with a substantial crumb. The streusel makes it special and puts it in the same dreamy league as any coffee cake you’ve ever had, and that can be made GF too. It still has carbs and sugar and fat, but one bite through that crunchy streusel, into the perfectly soft carrot-y cake without a hint of grainy, and you will think what I think: Now this is worth the calories. Put the kettle on!
Now just a word about gluten and whether you should try living without it. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what’s toxic. Not nuclear-waste-dump toxic, but more personal. I’ve been having to look closely at what has been toxic in my life in recent years: certain relationships, patterns of behavior, how I treat myself, how I may allow others to treat me, how I thought things like depression, ulcers, hopelessness, pessimism and self-doubt were part of who I was instead of the effects of a poison that had infiltrated my being. There is nothing like a fresh start (aka divorce) to make you sit up and pay attention to how good it feels when you stop hitting your head against a wall, when you stop doing what isn’t good for you, what pains you, and start listening to your gut.
It’s the same with gluten. What’s your gut telling you? When you eat products made with grains that contain gluten (wheat flour, white flour, oats, barley, spelt) do you notice bloating, gas, bowel mayhem, reflux, acid indigestion, or heartburn? Are you on medications, Rx or over-the-counter, to regulate these symptoms so you can continue eating these things? Just look how many stomach ailment products are on the shelf the next time you go to pick yours up. Americans have come to accept that it is perfectly normal to have bad digestion. You may not be experiencing these symptoms, (or you’ve gotten so used to them you don’t even notice them anymore) but you may instead have chronic inflammation, arthritis, achy joints, headaches, weight gain you can’t lose, rashes or late-in-life onset of allergies, ( if you are murmuring, “yes, yes, yes” start throwing out all the gluten in your pantry). If you are suffering from any or all of the above, it may be time to think about giving up what’s poisoning you, including all the antacids. It may not be gluten, it could be gluten and dairy, or gluten and too much sugar, but here is how you can find out if it is, without involving expensive doctors visits and lab tests. Just stop eating it for two weeks. Just stop banging your head against the wall for two weeks. No pasta, no bread, no flour, no crackers, no bagels, pizza, etc. Stick to fruits and vegetables and salads and proteins and the dozens and dozens of other things you can eat besides processed foods made with flour. If you feel better, there is a good chance that given another week off gluten, or a few months off gluten, you’d feel even better. Stomach issues tend to clear up pretty quickly (and a relapse bowl of pasta will show you just how fast your stomach can blow up again), but the symptoms like joint pain and inflammation take longer without the gluten to clear up.
You know what they say—”one woman’s meat is another woman’s poison.” It’s up to us all to find out which is which in our lives and in our diets; to find out what feeds us and empowers us and feast on that, while taking a pass on what doesn’t. Whether you decide that gluten is your poison or not, these muffins are worth making and savoring. Like I said, put the kettle on!
- yield: 10-12 muffins
1 ¾ cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mix
½ teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Rounded ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Rounded ¾ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups shredded raw carrots, peeled
For Streusal Topping:
1 all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mix*
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cut toasted wheat germ
½ cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut in ¼ inch pieces
Make the streusel: Combine all of the ingredients except the vanilla and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (this can be done by hand if you don’t have a mixer) and mix on a low speed to combine. Add the vanilla and mix until evenly distributed. Toss in the butter and mix for about 1 minute (or use fingertips to break butter into dry mixture) or until the butter is incorporated, with no large chunks remaining.
Transfer to a covered container or resealable plastic gag. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month. Use the streusel while it is cold.
For the batter: Place the flour in a medium bowl. Sift in the baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add the salt and whisk together.
Combine the sugar and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on low speed for about 1 minute. Add the vanilla to the sugar mixture, and mix for 30 seconds to distribute evenly. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, until just incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing on low speed for 15 seconds after each, or until just combined.
Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that may have settled there. Stir in the carrots. Transfer the batter to a covered container and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes to let carrots soften. (Keller recommends refrigerating the batter for 36 hours or at least overnight. I have never had the time or foresight to do this, and I’m not sure it is a good idea to do this when using GF flour. I get great results without this long hold time, but I always do these GF.)
To bake the muffins: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line the muffin pan with muffin liners and spray the liners with nonstick spray. Spoon the batter evenly into the papers, stopping ¼ inch from the top. Sprinkle 3 rounded tablespoons of the streusel on top of each muffin and press gently into the batter. Place the pan in the oven, lower the oven temperature to 325 F and bake for 40 to 43 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.
The muffins are best the day they are baked, but they can be wrapped individually in a few layers of plastic wrap or stored in a single layer in a covered container at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 week.