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Low Fat, No-Refined Sugar Pumpkin Apple Muffin Recipe
Muffins sometimes get a bad rap for being unhealthy and loaded with sugar and fat. But they don't need to be. These muffins are tasty, and filled with fruit and veg! This recipe contains information on the best varieties of pumpkin to use in muffins, and the recipe has two variations for how to make the muffins.
Varieties of pumpkin to use
If you think of pumpkins as those lightweight, vegetables you hollow out for Halloween, think again. Pumpkins come in many varieties, and not all are watery, stringy and without substance or flavor!
Leave those featherweight pumpkins to the kids, and for this recipe choose a pumpkin that's dense in texture and heavier for its size than the Jack-o-Lanterns. I used a Blue Lakota pumpkin in these muffins and after making two batches there was enough left for a hearty stew and a pot of soup.
Blue Lakota pumpkin hails from the American Mid-west and is an heirloom variety. That means it has been grown for a long time, probably centuries, but not in large-scale farming. The seeds of heirloom vegetables and fruit are passed on through generations, and varieties have developed, but have not been genetically modified.You can see a Blue Lakota in the photo below. Do not try to carve this pumpkin! The seed cavity is small, and trying to hollow out its dense flesh would take a very long time and give you aching arms!
Although I've used Blue Lakota, any dense pumpkin variety will work for this recipe, and if you can't get pumpkin you could try butternut squash.
Blue Lakota Pumpkin
Should you precook pumpkin when making muffins?
Most pumpkin muffin recipes suggest canned pumpkin. I don't recommend this. The linings of almost all canned food contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), a hormone disrupting chemical, now banned in babies' bottles in several countries. I recommend fresh pumpkin instead.
I have given two variations of this recipe: in the first version the pumpkin and apples are grated or chopped in a food processor and added to the mixture raw. This is similar to how you would make a carrot cake, and the texture when baked is also similar to carrot cake.
If you want a texture closer to that of canned pumpkin, you can stew and puree the pumpkin and apples before adding to the mixture. This is easy to do - while the pumpkin and fruit are cooking you can prepare the rest of the muffin mixture. In this version of the recipe I have used dried dates to sweeten and they are stewed with the pumpkin and apple.
As you can see in the photo below the muffins do look different on the outside, but inside the texture looks the same. For the muffin on the left the pumpkin and apple was not precooked, and for the one on the right it was. Both versions are equally delicious.
Whole cane sugar
Natural alternatives to refined sugar to sweeten
Refined sugar has no nutrients and is linked to obesity and many health issues, including heart diseases. I avoid refined sugars and have tested out many alternatives. The first version of this recipe uses whole cane sugar, also known as rapadura or as jaggery. This is dehydrated cane juice - only the water is removed and the molasses and minerals remain, making it a healthier alternative to refined sugar. Other options are coconut blossom sugar, or 3 tablespoons of molasses, honey or maple syrup. All these are healthier than refined sugar, with active nutrients. For instance, maple syrup has anti-inflammatory properties.
This recipe already gains sweetness from the apples and pumpkins, and as you grow more used to living without refined sugar, you will notice their natural sweetness. It's best to use any sweetener in small quantities, and so my preference for additional sweetness is date puree. To make this, boil dried dates in water and then puree them. The second version of this recipe includes dates, which you can cook with the pumpkin and apple. You can of course, use pureed dates in the first version too.
Fats to use in low fat muffins
Most muffin recipes contain milk, but I discovered they kept better if I used water instead. This also keeps down on the fat, since water contains no fat! I've suggested sunflower oil, which contains no saturated fat but you could also use olive or canola oil, both of which are higher in mono-saturates. If you prefer them, melted coconut oil or butter are also fine to use in this recipe. Whichever you use, it's best to use organic because oils can contain a high pesticide residue.
If you need to lower fat even more, you could substitute no-fat yogurt for the oil.
There is an egg in this recipe, but although eggs do contain cholesterol there are two types of cholesterol, free range eggs contain the type that is actually good for us: high density lipoproteins (HDL.)
If you want to avoid egg, use a tablespoon of cider vinegar instead. This reacts with bicarbonate of soda to act as a raising agent.
Cook Time at Oven: 375°F/190°/170°fan oven or gas mark 5.
Low Fat Pumpkin Apple Muffins: Ingredients
Ingredients for the pumpkin and apple mixture:
- 225 grams /8 oz pumpkin (approx. 2 cups when chopped)
- 2 eating apples
- 3oz whole cane sugar or coconut blossom sugar - or 3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup
- 110 gram/4 oz /½ cup dates (chopped in half) and 100 ml/4oz /½ cup of boiling water
Ingredients for the rest of the muffin mixture:
- 250 gram/9 oz/1½ cups wholemeal flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon each of nutmeg and ginger
- 1 egg
- 90 ml/3 fl oz/⅓ cup sunflower oil (or fat-free yogurt)
- 90 ml/3 fl oz/⅓ cup water
Preparing the pumpkin, apples and datesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Instructions for preparing the pumpkin and apple:
If you are not pre-cooking the pumpkin:
- Peel and finely grate the pumpkin and apple. (Or finely chop in a food processor.)
- Add the whole sugar, honey or maple syrup to mixture and set aside while you prepare the rest of the muffin mix.
If you are precooking the pumpkin:
- Peel and chop the pumpkin and apple.
- Place pumpkin, apple, dates and water in a pan, and simmer (cook gently) until soft. This will take about 15 – 20 minutes depending on the type of pumpkin you use.
- Remove from heat, cool a little and then puree till smooth.
Instructions for the rest of the muffin mixture
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices. Some of the bran from the flour may not go through the sieve. If so, that’s fine: just tip it into the mixing bowl.
- In another bowl beat the egg with a fork.
- Measure out the water.
- Add all the wet ingredients to the dry, except for the water.
Mix everything else together first, and then add a little of the water.
It is best to add the water slowly because pumpkins and apples vary in how much liquid they hold. You may only need a little of the water, or you may need more than I've suggested. Trust your mixture! The aim is to get a mixture that is “dropping consistency.” This means it drops off the spoon slowly. If it is runny you have too much water, and should add a little more flour.
The photograph opposite shows a muffin mixture that can drop off a spoon but is not runny.
Spoon into muffin tins
Spoon into muffin tins, and bake for 20 - 25 minutes. (Cooking time may vary depending on your oven, so it's best to check them after 20 minutes and return to the oven if they aren't ready.)
To test if the muffins are done, with your finger push gently on the top of one of them. If it springs back it is ready, but if your finger leaves a dent, cook for another 5 minutes.