BAKE TALK: Top tips for making gluten-free muffins

It can be a daunting prospect when you’re diagnosed with coeliac disease / gluten intolerance and suddenly have to start baking without gluten. 

It’s perhaps only when it’s gone that you fully appreciate the magical properties gluten has for turning out delicious cakes, breads, biscuits and pastries and so on. 

And so you mourn its loss – even if it did make you ill.

But here’s the thing, gluten-free-ers.  It’s not all bad! There are actually some cases when you don’t want too much gluten development in your baking…like when you’re striving to bake the perfect muffin. 

The development of gluten can make for a tough muffin.  And nobody likes a tough muffin. So having to work with gluten-free flours can actually be a good thing when it comes to the pursuit of muffin perfection *smug face.*

With that in mind, here are some top tips for baking delicious, gluten-free muffins…

Flour

One of the advantages of gluten-free baking (yes, there are some!) is the wide range of high protein gluten-free flours available to bake with (gram, soya and teff flour are good examples).

However, when it comes to muffins, you don’t really want a high protein content flour, so things like potato starch, tapioca flour and cornflour (despite their names, both are actually starches) are great because of their very low protein content.  They will add a lightness to your baking that you would not get with high protein flours. If you’re not one for blending your own gluten-free flour, then pre-blended gluten-free flour mixes are available in the UK (including our magical gluten-free plain and gluten-free flours) that work well in cake and muffin recipes.

Fat

The secret to a good muffin is having your fat as liquid, not as a solid.  So things like rapeseed oil, vegetable oil and sunflower oil work well in muffins (or you can melt your butter in the microwave to turn it into its liquid state if you prefer the taste of butter in your muffins.)

Method

When it comes to a good muffin, you can forget all your home economics teacher told you about creaming the butter and sugar together when making a cake because this isn’t a cake – it’s a muffin!

First off, leave your stand mixer on the side or in the cupboard or wherever it is you store it.  There’s simply no place for a mixer in the creation of the perfect muffin.

For muffins, you should combine all your dry ingredients in one bowl and all your wet ones in another bowl and then add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.  Simples!

Just be careful not to over mix the batter – it’s OK if it’s lumpy.  Basically, if your muffin batter looks a bit messy, you’re pretty much spot on :D (Although over-mixing is more of an issue when using wheat flour because the more you mix the more you encourage gluten-formation, I still find a loose, lumpy batter works much better for gluten-free muffins).

Mix it up

When it comes to mixing your dry ingredients, it really is worth taking the time to give things a good old shake up to ensure they’re properly combined.  This is particularly important if you are using your own mix of gluten-free flours rather than a ready-blended mix.

Two effective ways of mixing everything up are (1) to use a balloon whisk to get those different ingredients all mixed up and nicely combined or (2) sieving the ingredients at least four times and then finishing off with a quick stir for good measure.

Temperature

Make sure that all your ingredients are at room temperature before you start working with them.  By ensuring your ingredients are at room temperature before you begin, you’ll get a much better rise from your muffins.  Speaking of which…

Muffin top

Yes, I know, I know…when seen waddling down the high street in an overly tight pair of jeans and a too-short top, it’s not a good look.  But I’m not talking about *that* sort of muffin top ;)  I’m talking about the glorious sight of a muffin bursting with sweet, tasty loveliness standing plump and proud over the top of the muffin case.

So where you may have carefully measured cupcake batter into your cases with an ice-cream scoop and worked hard with your mixing to achieve flat tops, you need to do the exact opposite for a muffin.  Don’t be shy, dish that muffin batter liberally into the cases until they are almost full.

And then the secret to those big, bulging muffin tops is to bake your muffins at a higher temperature for the first five minutes and then drop the temperature down to continue the bake. The high heat encourages a rapid rise of your muffin batter (think oven spring with bread) in those first few minutes and then by dropping the temperature down, you allow the muffins to finish baking without burning.

And there we have it – top tips for deliciously plump gluten-free muffins 😀