Zucchini-applesauce muffins

A 'healthy muffin' skeptic becomes a convert.

Three Many Cooks
A hefty 'good morning!' muffin made with zucchini, applesauce, spices, nuts, and raisins.

I have never been one of those people who wanted to figure out how to make baked goods “healthier.” The whole idea of replacing butter or oil with applesauce, or subbing out white flour with whole wheat, buckwheat, or rye makes me cringe. I can just imagine my beautiful, rich, tender, lighter-than-air muffins turning into dense, wet, gummy wannabes.

As for the idea of getting kids to eat vegetables in sweets (like zucchini bread), this seems like something of a Pyrrhic victory. If you succeed in getting the kid to eat zucchini, but you’ve had to feed her sugar, carbs, and fat to do it, what have you really gained?

And I’ve always thought that people who think that “healthy” baked goods taste “just as good as the real thing” are fooling themselves. I still do.

But, this weekend, we had one last BIG zucchini in the fridge and some sad little yellow squash. We had gotten so tired of eating them in soups, sauces, curries, omelets, and pasta dishes that we simply had to think of something else. So, I thought I’d give the whole “zucchini bread” thing a try.

Now Anthony, who is loathe to eat superfluous fat or sugar, loves spiced quick breads of all kinds – pumpkin, banana, carrot, sweet potato, zucchini. Since I knew he was going to eat the zucchini bread no matter what I put in it, I tried to help him out by making it something he could feel good about.

And so, for the first time, I tried baking with applesauce in place of oil, and I put vegetables in my muffins! I did some reading before diving into such a dubious venture, and came to the conclusion that you can’t replace all the oil with applesauce (unless you want to end up in my dense, gummy nightmare), so I limited myself to a half-and-half ratio. I added a lot of zucchini for heft and moisture. And finally, I used a good amount of spices, nuts, and raisins to fill the taste vacuum I assumed would be left by the reduction of fat.

All in all, I was really happy with how they turned out. They are extremely flavorful, pleasantly firm without being dense, and moist without being wet or gummy. There is, I will admit, something “missing” from them, and that is the unmistakable richness and flavor of butter.

But, what they are missing in fat they make up for in feeling. I had one for breakfast this morning with my coffee, and I didn’t feel like a complete nutritional failure by 8:00 am. Now that is a trade I am willing to make. (Plus, who says I can’t spread some butter on one after I toast it?)

Zucchini-applesauce muffins

Makes 12 muffins.

These are, by far, the healthiest muffins I’ve ever made – and they’re pretty tasty! Be sure to drain and squeeze as much liquid out of the squash as possible. This recipe was adapted from Simply Recipes.

3/4 cup sugar
1 extra-large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heavy pinch salt
2 cups zucchini and/or summer squash, grated and squeezed of excess liquid
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1/2 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. and adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl combine the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the squash, oil, and applesauce. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients to the zucchini mixture and stir until just incorporated. Add nuts and raisins and stir to combine.

Using a spoon, distribute the batter equally among the cups. Bake until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Allow the muffins to cool for about 5 minutes, then remove them from the tin and allow to cool completely.

Sharon Anderson blogs at Three Many Cooks.

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