Gluten-free, Casein-free Corn-Apricot Muffins


The parents at Robin’s school have organized to contribute morning snacks to the classroom, and my first day to contribute was today. Now, here’s the restrictions I’m working within:

  • UMCS is a nut-free school
  • One child in Robin’s class is allergic to cantaloupe
  • Another child has a gluten intolerance and a dairy intolerance

Robert Frost once remarked that writing poetry in free verse is like playing tennis without a net. And honestly, I’ve come to feel similarly about cooking and dietary restrictions. I like them. They give me a structure to work within. So when I hear “nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free,” I think: Oh, this’ll be fun.

On further investigation the dairy intolerance turned out to be a casein allergy. This is significant because it means that clarified butter (ghee) is okay. I decided to exploit that loophole and cooked up a batch of corn-apricot mini muffins for the Hummingbird classroom. They came out very well, so I thought I’d share the recipe! It’s adapted from Cook’s Illustrated—the original recipe called for all-purpose flour along with a stick of butter, 1/2 cup milk and 3/4 cup sour cream instead of the ghee and coconut oil. So you can backwards-engineer to the original if you like.

Corn and Apricot Muffins with Orange Essence

Take a cup and a half of dried apricots and either chop them or run them through a food processor until you get chunks the size of raisins. Put them in a saucepan with 2/3 of a cup of orange juice and turn on the heat until the juice comes to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover the saucepan, and put it aside while you proceed with the recipe. The apricots will absorb the juice and plump up nicely.

Adjust your oven rack to a middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease your muffin tins with coconut oil or nonstick cooking spray.

Combine two cups of gluten-free flour (I like King Arthur brand), one cup of fine-ground, whole-grain yellow cornmeal, one and a half teaspoons of baking powder, a teaspoon of baking soda, and half a teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Whisk it all together. Do note: cornmeal is naturally gluten-free but if you are baking for someone with a gluten intolerance you still want to look for a brand that is labeled gluten-free, because otherwise cornmeal is often ground in facilities that handle wheat and there’s risk of cross-contamination. You’ll also have to look closely at the label to determine whether your cornmeal is whole-grain or degerminated; whole-grain is better for you and will give the muffins a richer corn flavor. Arrowhead Mills makes a good fine-ground, gluten-free cornmeal that’s also organic. In general I like Bob’s Red Mill a lot too but the store only had their cornmeal in a medium grind. (First world problems: the baker’s edition!)

In a second bowl, lightly beat two eggs and then whisk in half a cup of granulated sugar (I’ve started using raw sugar for most purposes on the grounds that less-processed substances are almost always better for you) and a quarter cup of packed dark brown sugar. Slowly (a little bit at a time, stirring after each addition) stir in a half cup of ghee and 3/4 cup of coconut oil. (If you store your ghee in the fridge you will need to melt it first.) Lastly stir in about a teaspoon of grated orange zest, and the apricots, along with any juice that didn’t get absorbed, from the saucepan.

Now fold the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring gently until the batter is just combined but not over-mixed. Use a large spoon to drop the batter into your muffin tins and bake until they are light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffin comes out clean. If you’re doing mini muffins start checking after ten minutes; regular-sized will take a bit longer.

This recipe made a platter of 24 mini muffins with enough batter left over for the eight full-sized muffins pictured above. Those are shown with a sugar topping (granulated sugar mixed with grated orange zest), which is delicious, but I left it off the mini muffins in order to make them more healthful for the kids.

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