There’s a little girl with egg, nut and dairy allergies on my daughter’s soccer team, which turned out to be a blessing for this healthy pumpkin muffin recipe, which has always been one of the most popular on the site and is now presented “allergy-free.” (See the original healthy pumpkin muffins.)
I was initially a bit distraught, because the list of “okayed” foods for the allergic 5-year-old was 80% sugary candy and 20% sugary other junk, mostly with gluten (which we try to avoid in our family). Food allergies tend to scare people quite a bit who aren’t familiar with them, so naturally when presented with an “okay” list, the coach recommended parents just “shop from this list.”
Faced with six weeks of packaged sugary junk, I was determined to figure out something nutritious that was egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and refined-sugar-free. My usual go-to snack for sporting events is buttery popcorn and a cheese stick, clearly not an option here. I know any fruit would have been a great choice, and had we already picked apples this year I would have offered lunchbox-sized apples for sure.
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Instead, I called the parents and asked their permission to make an allergy-free pumpkin muffin. I was trying to nail the gluten-free version of our old favorite anyway and was excited by the prospect of being able to share a totally allergy-free recipe with all of you. The mother was not only supportive but I think a bit touched that someone else would bake allergy-free for her daughter. She told me how hard it is to work with food in group settings and that she hates that the packaged options are always unhealthy. “I end up doing a lot of baking so my daughter can eat the food,” she said. I was just tickled to do some of it for her!
This recipe is one of the few for which I used to throw caution to the wind and just make with whole wheat, even after we found my husband’s gluten sensitivity, because we love them so darn much. I had been hesitant to experiment, not trusting my knowledge of gluten-free baking, but I’ve made some strides while playing with recipes like the gluten-free bacon and green onion savory muffins, and it was time to try.
To sweeten the experience even more, when we shared the muffins with the team I got two great validations that this recipe rocks.
First, when we arrived, my daughter was worried about her teammate’s allergies and wanted me to make sure I told the parents the ingredients (how conscientious is THAT for a 5yo?). I told her that the muffins were egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free, and refined sugar-free. My mother-in-law overheard and quipped seriously, “And they’re invisible!”
She has very low expectations for both allergy-free and healthy food. But when we shared a mini muffin with her after the game, she took two and admitted begrudgingly that not only were they not invisible, they were really good. (Score!)
A minute later a parent of another girl on the team sidled over and said, “I’m really going to need this recipe from you. My daughter doesn’t eat, well, hardly ANY fruits or vegetables, and she ate both of her muffins!” Score again for the perfect muffin recipe – I was only too happy to give her my card.
Would you like the recipe too?
It’s not only allergy-free and healthy with a soaked grain option, but it features one-bowl dump-it-all-in simplicity and seems to be foolproof with a plethora of options for substitutions. You could make it with kids helping, the phone ringing, and dinner cooking in the background and would be hard pressed to mess it up.
- ⅔ c. brown rice flour
- ½ c. freshly ground buckwheat flour
- ½ c. arrowroot starch (or tapioca starch, corn starch as a last resort) (see below for MANY more gluten-free options, including a starch-free version)
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. cloves
- ¼ tsp. baking powder*
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ¾ tsp. salt
- ¾ c. honey OR 1 c. sucanat
- 2 eggs OR 2 Tbs. freshly ground flax + 6 Tbs. hot water (see below for more options and instructions for egg-free)
- ½ c. melted butter or coconut oil
- ¼ c. cold water
- 1¼ c. pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
- Mix the dry ingredients together, then add all the rest of the ingredients right on top. (You can just "dump and mix" but I wanted to make sure the little spices and leavenings were mixed thoroughly first.) Stir or beat well.
- Line muffin tin and pour about ¾ full into 12 muffin cups. Bake in a preheated 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes (20-25 for 24 mini muffins).
- You might have a little left over, and a mini loaf pan is usually just right for the excess.
* You can also use a greased 8x8" or 9x13" glass baking dish to make a sort of "cake" instead. I haven't tried it, but readers have done it with the original and again, I can't imagine messing this recipe up. Cut into squares and serve just like muffins for breakfast, or I hear a cream cheese frosting is delicious to make it into a "real cake." Try yogurt cheese for an inexpensive, probiotic substitution for cream cheese.
* Use any orange vegetable for the pumpkin.
* Refrigerate the "flax eggs" at least 15 minutes before incorporating into the batter; more below.
* If coconut is included on someone's list of allergens (it has just been classified in the "tree nut" category!) and you also still need dairy-free, you could use any melted fat, such as palm shortening, lard, or a healthy oil.
* Readers have also subbed unsweetened applesauce for the fat, although I'd try more pumpkin for a healthier result.
* Try reducing the sweetener, especially if you're using home-pureed pumpkin or a nice sweet squash like buttercup or sunshine. To make up for the missing mass, add a bit more pumpkin puree.
* Many gluten-free flours are appropriate for this recipe; see below for more info.
* Additions: raisins, chopped walnuts or pecans, chocolate chips, sub ¼ c. cocoa powder for ¼ c. starch. One reader on the original recipe added a bit of cocoa powder to just part of the batter and swirled it on top of each muffin, finishing off with crumbled pecans and a dusting of cinnamon.
* UPDATE: They freeze great!
Helpful Hints & Substitutions Galore
homemade pumpkin puree
If you’ve never made your own pumpkin puree, there’s nothing like it. I wasn’t a believer and always use canned until my friend changed my mind with my own pumpkin cookies. You can see a tutorial at this recipe. Also, for this muffin recipe and pretty much any time you need pumpkin in a bread, you can use any orange vegetable: butternut or buttercup squash, sweet potato, and even big jack-o-lantern style pumpkins, although they’ll be less sweet.
If you want an even more pumpkin-y flavor, try subbing 1/4 cup more pumpkin in for 1/4 cup of the melted fat.
gluten-free flour blends
I’m indebted to Kimi of The Nourishing Gourmet (who learned from Gluten-Free Girl) for teaching me about how to use a 70/30 ratio of gluten-free whole grain flours to starch to best mimic the action of whole wheat flour. It turns out that gluten-free baking isn’t as scary as I thought, at least for muffins!
For the gluten-free flours, you have lots of options. I initially tried:
- 1/3 c. teff flour
- 1/3 c. sweet white sorghum
- 1/2 c. buckwheat flour
- 1/2 c. arrowroot starch
- soaked version
I was so pleasantly surprised that it all worked out perfectly!
Next, I was making the egg-free version, and I used:
I made batches both with and without eggs. Perfect again.
I also went with
I wanted to see if I could simplify things, because gluten-free recipes with many different flours always intimidated me, especially when I was first starting out on the gluten-free journey. I also wondered if the starch was necessary, because even though arrowroot starch has health benefits, I wanted to have a 100% whole grain option.
When we tried using just brown rice flour, the muffins still worked out fine. I did a side-by-side taste test with 100% brown rice flour and 1 1/6 brown rice flour + 1/2 cup tapioca starch. The texture was quite different, and my husband liked the plain brown rice flour better while I did prefer the fluffiness of the additional starch. I wouldn’t have complained for a second about the straight brown rice flour though. You can see the difference in this photo:
The brown rice + starch is on the left, plain brown rice flour on the right. And the butter is totally just for the picture – you don’t even need butter to enjoy these wholeheartedly (although all the more delicious served warm with more healthy fats like butter, of course!)
I think it’s safe to say that one could use any combination of whole grain gluten-free flours, probably including almond flour, for the 1 2/3 cups needed for this recipe. For perfectly fluffy texture, use 1/3-1/2 cup arrowroot, tapioca, or corn starch (but only if you must; most corn is genetically modified and not nearly as healthy as arrowroot) as part of the mixture, but it’s not necessary for success. (Coconut flour acts very differently, so that’s not an appropriate 1:1 substitution though.)
One thing I really didn’t like when I started baking gluten-free was that I felt I had stepped backward from our sourdough/soaked grain lifestyle. It was hard to find soaked grain recipes for gluten-free baked goods, and I wasn’t confident enough yet to experiment. For this recipe, you can soak it without problem.
Just combine the whole grain flour with 1 Tbs. yogurt + water to make 3/4 cup total.
If you’re using starch, you do not have to soak that because there’s no bran or germ, thus no phytates. Simply add all the other ingredients after a 12-hour (or so) soak on the counter. (More about soaking grains if that’s unfamiliar to you.)
If you’re using 100% whole grains, you might need a little more liquid to get things incorporated for the soak. If you do, you can add the melted fat to the mix. You can also allow the soaked mixture to be very thick, almost like dough, and use an immersion blender to incorporate the other ingredients the following day. Somehow, it all works out.
making proper egg-free eggs
There are a couple ways to substitute for eggs in quick-bread recipes like this one, gluten-free or not:
- 1-2 tsp. ground chia seeds (measured whole) and 3 Tbs. hot water; allow to sit at least 5 minutes
- 1 Tbs. ground flax (measured ground) and 3 Tbs. water; refrigerate at least 15 minutes before incorporating into the batter
- 1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce and 1/2 tsp. additional baking soda
These are all per egg, so double for this recipe. I used the flax version in our test and am indebted to this site for the instructions on refrigerating the flax egg for best results.
reducing the sweetener
My next foray into new pumpkin muffin versions will be to reduce the sweetener. I’ve had incredible luck with the healthy pumpkin cookies, getting the sweetener down to just 1/4 cup honey for 5 dozen cookies, so I’m pretty confident that the natural sweetness of the pumpkin and cinnamon will help here, too. I’ll first try cutting to 1/4 or 1/2 cup honey and adding a bit of extra pumpkin (or maybe natural applesauce?) to help fill in the bulk I’m taking out. Considering that between myself and readers, these muffins have been made with approximately 5,283 substitutions and additions and always work out, I’m guessing this will too!
Others have used mashed banana in place of sweetener in a different muffin recipe, so that is another way to fill in the “sweet” if the muffins don’t taste so great after reducing the sweetener, and I’m curious what would happen if I took the honey 100% away, added 1/2-3/4 cup pumpkin and a little bit of stevia for sweetness. If you experiment, let us know in the comments!
Other Pumpkin Resources:
- real food pumpkin recipes on Pinterest
- 6 tips for leftover pumpkin
- soaked pumpkin muffins
- healthy pumpkin cookies
- how to make crispy pumpkin seeds (you must take advantage of the free seeds if you bake a pumpkin (or squash) yourself!)
- pumpkin pie baked oatmeal
- low-carb pumpkin pancakes (or any orange vegetable)
- cabbage pumpkin soup
Other Fall Recipes: