There’s going to be an elephant-in-the-room issue in the this post, so I may as well address it first: It’s May. I know that we’re a good five months away from pumpkin madness season. But you know what? I adore pumpkin, and I refuse to wait until October to enjoy it.
It’s not like no-one can get there hands on pumpkin before October anyway. I mean, it comes from a can. Well, you can buy canned pumpkin puree – obviously the vegetable itself doesn’t grow out of a can.
Considering that pumpkin is healthy, delicious and accessible, I’m going to insist upon eating it all year round. Savory or sweet, I’m there.
Baking (healthy) muffins has become a Friday tradition for me, even though it wasn’t supposed to be. As I’ve mentioned before, I work as a high school debating coach on Friday afternoons. In an attempt to placate the eighth graders who probably wanted to spend their Friday afternoons doing anything else other than debating, I decided to bring my healthy Carrot Cake Muffins two weeks ago. Everyone appeared to enjoy them, but I made the mistake of telling them that the muffins were healthy. Before even trying a muffin, one girl was all, “Can’t you bring unhealthy food? I like unhealthy food!”
So last Friday I brought these pumpkin muffins and didn’t tell them anything about them. Yes, these muffins contain no butter or oil. Yes, there’s no refined sugar, and a relatively small amount of maple syrup. And yes, they’re loaded with fibre and enough vitamin A to give you super-human vision. But the eighth graders didn’t need to know that.
Did the students like these muffins? It’s fair to say that they did. Not only did they start arguing about who could have the last muffin, but one girl came up to me afterwards and sweetly asked, “Can you please bring muffins again next week?” She will never know how happy that made me.
Not surprisingly, I love baking muffins! Sure, it means I need to wake up earlier on Friday mornings, but it’s definitely worth it. Nothing makes an apartment feel more warm and comforting than the smell of freshly baked muffins. Plus, I get to eat a warm muffin for breakfast!
So I assured the student that I’d be more than happy to bring muffins again. The only question now is: What type of muffins should I bring? Unfortunately I have so many ideas that it’s hard to decide what type of muffins to bake first!
Now I’ll let you know what the eighth graders didn’t need to know: the secrets of these muffins. The biggest secret is dried dates. The dates are rehydrated (i.e. hot water is poured over them) and blended. This makes the muffins moist and sweet, even though the muffins definitely don’t taste like dates. Combine the dates with plenty of pumpkin puree and some yogurt, and voilà – no need for butter or oil!
I used a thick, low-fat vanilla yogurt (but it was a really, really subtle vanilla flavor). If you use plain/unsweetened yogurt, make sure you taste the batter because you may need more maple syrup.
The topping on these muffins was mostly for some extra excitement. As most steusel-like topping are made with butter, I spent a few minutes thinking about what to use instead. Then I realized the answer was literally staring me in the face: pumpkin puree! Did I mention that I adore pumpkins?
- For the topping:
- ½ cup rolled oats
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons chopped pecans
- 2 tablespoons slivered (or chopped) almonds
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree (canned)
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
For the muffins:
- ⅓ cup chopped dried dates (approx. 8 - 9)
- ⅓ cup hot water
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup pumpkin puree (canned)
- ½ cup yogurt (regular or low-fat)
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- 1 cup spelt flour
- Make the topping: In a bowl, mix together the rolled oats, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans and slivered almonds.
- Add the pumpkin puree, and mix very well. Add the maple syrup, and mix until completely combined. Set aside until needed.
- Make the muffins: In a dish, combine the chopped dates and hot water. Let sit for 10 - 15 minutes, or until soft. Use a blender to blitz the mixture until smooth. (Note: This can be made the day before and stored in the fridge).
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 12-hole muffin pan with cooking oil spray.
- Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl. Add the date mixture, pumpkin puree, yogurt, maple syrup and vanilla extract, and mix well. Mix in the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt.
- Add the baking powder, baking soda and oats, and mix until completely combined. Add the spelt flour, and mix until just combined.
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared muffin pan, filling each hole approximately ¾ of the way up. Sprinkle over the prepared topping.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops spring back when touched and a skewer comes out clean (or with a few dry crumbs). Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack. Enjoy!