Dispatch: Holiday Muffin Wars

This week, Holly Bennett writes about creating a healthy — and tasty — snack for Christmas.

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Like many people in the past several years — and perhaps a higher than average percentage of triathletes — I adopted a mostly gluten-free diet last February. I say “mostly” because it’s a tough thing to stick to when traveling, which I do quite often. The holidays are an additionally trying time to adhere to any sort of diet, so when I planned a trip to my brother’s house over Christmas, I knew I was in for a belly-bloated — albeit fun and tasty — time.

For many years when I was a child I baked pumpkin bread or muffins every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had a special recipe, the origins of which I can’t recall, but memories of which still linger on my taste buds. You see I’m fairly obsessed with the sweet yet savory combination of pumpkin and carbs.

But sadly, my tried and true (and grossly gluten-filled) recipe has been missing for nearly two decades. It was high time I found a replacement, one that would please my picky stomach. Plus, the more I took control of the kitchen at my brother’s house the better I’d be able to govern my holiday food intake. And what better way to kick start one of my 2014 New Year’s resolutions than to experiment with a wider variety of culinary masterpieces, rather than fall back on a few tried and true, quick and easy meals? This is a boring but efficient way to fill the hours otherwise devoted to training. I was on a mission to spice things up, and to find a satisfying treat that would suit my present day dietary restrictions.

It was time to bake up a gluten-free storm.

Armed with multiple motivations, I turned to Google and landed on two gluten-free pumpkin muffin recipes that sounded appealing. I chose to bake both — binge behavior no doubt, but I am a triathlete, after all, and we’re well known for such conduct. I would wage a mini muffin war, with myself and my family members (none of whom are gluten intolerant) serving as judges.

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First came this recipe from King Arthur Flour (I figured in all fairness I should see what the gluten-free flour manufacturer suggests doing with their wares). These muffins were surprisingly light and fluffy, more so than any gluten-free bread product that’s ever passed my lips, certainly a result of the quality flour — not to mention the full stick of butter, whipped just so with sugar and eggs. The only change I made to the recipe was topping the muffins with toasted almonds to satisfy my craving for crunch. They were indeed yummy and they won my mother’s vote, as her farm-raised taste buds tend to favor traditionally butter-rich baked goods. But for me the butter, as well as the simple spice palette, left me longing for something slightly healthier and more complex.

Next up was this recipe from mother/daughter blog A Sweet Simple Life. The recipe is titled the “best pumpkin muffins ever,” and this blogging duo does not lie. Six out of seven judges agreed; even my sixth-grade niece loved these morsels, which says a lot, and the 24-muffin batch disappeared faster than the 12-muffin recipe above. Of course, the three muffins that I ate in rapid succession as soon as they exited the oven put a dent in the overall yield (and proved that even gluten-free eating can lead to belly-bloat when done in excess). My point being, these muffins are downright delicious, with a perfectly balanced texture (vegetable oil replaces butter, while applesauce adds to a wonderfully dense yet moist mix) and a dash of ginger to enhance the already delightful pumpkin pie spice. The recipe calls for a topping of toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds; I opted instead for pecans, but either would work well atop these scrumptious treats.

Now that I’ve found a new favorite snack to satisfy my sentimental sweet tooth, I’ll test more gluten-free recipes throughout the year to heed my 2014 resolution and enhance my kitchen skills. Soups, starters, salads and main meals — along with additional sweet treats — are all on my radar. Got any recommendations?

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