Gluten-free Apple Spice Muffins with Optional Walnut Topping

“It’s unsettling to meet people who do not eat apples.”–Amiee Bender

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I love apples.  From tart to sweet, from bright green to crimson red, and all shades in between, as long as it is a crisp, juicy orb of an apple, I’m ready to slice it up and eat it up.   Some of my favorite apples are Fuji, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Pink Crisp, and Pink Lady, to name a few, due to their crisp texture and bright taste.  Whether eaten alone, smeared with a bit of peanut or almond butter, or chopped and tossed in a salad, apples are a mainstay of my family’s refrigerator.

Fall, in our neck of the woods, is apple season.  Prices and selections of apples are at their prime. Additionally, new types of apples are marketed with more regularity, so this is the perfect time of year to explore new apple types.  In fact, it was only a few years ago that Honeycrisp was considered “new,” and now it is one of my favorite types of apples.

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I recall one of my friends, Jan, bringing a bag of sliced Honeycrisp apples to a Marshall University soccer game as a snack for our kids, who were both youth soccer players at the time, and the reason for our attendance at the game.  These were well before the days of MU’s Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex; nonetheless, we all enjoyed the game, and the kids loved those yummy apple slices.  Due to that experience, Honeycrisp apples entered into our family’s regular rotation of purchased apples.

Speaking of Jan, she and I were recently discussing Thanksgiving traditions and plans for this year.  Jan described a favorite spice cake with nuts and cream cheese frosting that her aunt made when she was younger.  As family lore often goes, this aunt shared her recipe at the request of numerous relatives, but all who made the recipe agreed that it never tasted as good as when the aunt made it.  Jan mused if the aunt had “accidentally” left off an ingredient.  (Which made me giggle because my sweet grandmother once confessed to doing that with one of her recipes!)

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Upon reflection of this story, and the added remembrance of our family’s introduction of Honeycrisp apples, that, a-hem, a seed of an idea was planted.  Could I create an apple-spice muffin recipe without cream cheese frosting–for which many in my family will be saddened, I’m certain, but with partial nuts? (Some like nuts, some do not.)  The answer is what follows below.

 My recipe is gluten-free, but if you do not have to consume a gluten free diet as I do, then feel free to use regular all-purpose flour.  Additionally, I kept the recipe plant-based and oil-free because it is easier on my sensitive digestive system.  That said, if that is not your preference, replace ½ cup of applesauce, with ⅓ cup oil or melted butter instead.  Additionally, 2 eggs can replace 2 “fleggs.”  Oh, and why vinegar? It makes the batter more acidic which, in the end, makes the muffins (or cake) fluffy, yet still moist.  

This recipe requires a bit more work than other recipes, but it is definitely worth the extra effort.  Your kitchen will be filled with autumnal aromas as the muffins bake.  Brew up a pot of coffee or your favorite tea, invite over a friend and/or family member, and swap stories while savoring these warm muffins.  You never know what your conversation could inspire, or conspire!

Gluten-free Apple Spice Muffins with Optional Walnut Topping

Ingredients:

Optional topping 

2 tablespoons butter (can substitute plant-based “butter”)

½ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons of gluten-flour 

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ teaspoon cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon salt

Muffins

2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I used Honeycrisp, but feel free to choose another type!)

1 ½ cup gluten free all-purpose flour (Can use regular all-purpose flour.)

1 cup gluten free old fashioned, rolled oats

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon allspice

½  teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup sugar

½ cup apple sauce

2 fleggs* or eggs

½ cup milk (or plant based alternative) at room temperature

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line muffin pan with parchment paper

If using topping, mix it together first and set in the fridge while mixing batter.

*If using “flegg” instead of eggs, stir together 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed with 6 tablespoons of water, and set aside in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, sugar, applesauce, fleggs (or eggs), milk, vinegar, and vanilla.

Add in flour-spice mixture and mix the batter 1-2 minutes until the batter begins to thicken. 

Stir in apples.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

Scatter with topping.

Tip: I cut the nut-topping recipe in half, and only topped half of the muffins.  On the half without nut topping, I sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Finally, you can skip the nut-topping altogether, and/or stir in ½ cup chopped walnuts into batter when adding in chopped apples.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool in a pan set on a wire rack.

Serve warm.

Store any uneaten muffins in a storage container/bag in the fridge or freezer for up to two months.

**Updated option: When baking for those who may not like nuts, or simply can’t have them either, eliminate the nuts from the optional topping, or divide all of the topping recipe in half add simply add 1/4 cup walnuts to one half, and leave the other half of the topping, nut-free.

Mix the dry ingredients.
Combine rest of ingredients.
Mix one-two minutes until batter thickens.
Stir in apples.
Gently mix together apples and batter. Then divide among muffin cups.
If desired, sprinkle optional walnut topping over tops of muffin batter before baking.

Steph’s Super Immunity Smoothie

“Ms. Hill, is that a green smoothie?”

Due to COVID restrictions, the school for which I work offers early drop off for students in order to stagger their arrival times; therefore, students begin entering my classroom at 7:30 am.  Until 8:05, students in my middle school homeroom class gradually fill the room while I am typically setting up Google Classroom and other platforms that we use throughout the school day.  Meanwhile, the students use this time to finish homework, study, read, or quietly chat with friends.  

While going about my morning tasks as students arrive, I typically drink a homemade smoothie.  I had not realized any of the students had noticed my habit until a few weeks ago when one of the earliest arrivals asked the question above.  When I confirmed her question, she followed it up with another.

“Why do you drink that?  Is it like a protein drink?”

I briefly explained the whole food ingredients, including leafy greens and fruit, and how otherwise I don’t make time for breakfast; she nodded in understanding.  Then the same student explained that one of her friends also drinks green smoothies, but that she, the student talking to me, never gets up early enough to make one.  At this point, another classmate came in, and the inquisitive girl’s attention was drawn away.

I used to feel the same way driven by authors who touted that smoothies must be blended and consumed within an hour of being made or vital nutrients would be lost.  Then again, I used to feel guilty for even consuming smoothies due to other authorities who insisted that all food must be chewed.  Eventually, I tossed both views aside and found my own nutritional middle ground that works best for me. 

Smoothies, made with whole food ingredients that I control, are my nutritional bombshells.  They may not work for others, but they work for me.  These breakfast cocktails are loaded with a serving of dark leafy greens (or riced cauliflower), a serving of fruit, and whatever nuts, seeds, and/or protein I choose to add–depending upon what nutritional need I want to address.  I think of them as a blended breakfast salad.

Last month I began to wonder if I couldn’t freeze smoothies in order to make them in advance, and still keep them fresh.  With a quick bit of research, I found several valid websites that shared the ins and outs of this technique!  Therefore, this past month I began freezing my smoothies.  On Sunday afternoons, I gathered all of my ingredients and blended enough smoothies for the upcoming week.  I put one in the refrigerator for Monday morning and the rest were stowed away in the freezer. Then, each morning, as I packed for work, I grabbed in one thawed smoothie from the fridge, and took another one down from the freezer to thaw for the next work day. As one who loves to food prep for the week ahead, this was a dream come true!

According to several manufacturing websites, when freezing smoothies, wide mouthed glass jars, like canning jars, work well.  Be sure to leave a gap at the top of the jar to allow for expansion.  Smoothies can safely remain frozen for up to three months and still retain their nutritional value.  When ready to use, simply take one out of the freezer the day/evening before, and allow it to thaw overnight.  

“All berries and their juices—including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, acai berries, goji berries, elderberries, and strawberries—are superfoods.”–Joel Fuhrman

Reading through my list of ingredients, keep in mind that I am a petite, older woman whose calories and nutritional needs are on the lower end.  Additionally, I do not have one of the top of the line blenders, like a Vitamix or Blendtec.  Therefore, if you are larger and/or younger, and have a top-notch blender, feel free to double any of the ingredients according to your nutritional needs or taste preferences. (Personally, if my blender could handle it, I’d add a full cup of both fruits instead of ½ cup of each!)

“Indian gooseberry (amla powder) may promote heart health, provide anti-aging effects, improve immune function, and reduce heartburn severity and cancer risk.”–SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

I call this recipe my super immunity smoothie because every ingredient serves multiple nutritional purposes. Dark leafy greens, amla powder, and spices are important for heart/vascular health and anti-inflammatory properties.  Aloe gel is excellent for digestive/gut health, skin, and maintains blood sugar levels. Walnuts and flaxseeds are healthy sources of omega-3 fatty acids which are good for heart health and cholesterol regulation. Berries and other fruits are full of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins.  Additionally, many of the ingredients are loaded with Vitamin C,  improve brain function, lower one’s risk for cancer, and boost the immune system.  Plus, the recipe is versatile when it comes to swapping out choices of fresh or frozen fruits and greens, nuts/seeds, and spices.  Change up the amounts, swap out the ingredients, and even add your protein powder if desired!

These bright green smoothies were made with riced cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, pineapple and so forth which given them their bright green color as I stow them away in the freezer!

“Dark leafy greens have been shown to help the endothelial lining of your blood vessels, cutting inflammation, and helping blood cells to glide through your arteries.”–Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it, if you don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast, then make your own whole-food smoothie.  You can control the contents, you can make them ahead of the time needed, there are no unpronounceable additives/chemicals, and no added ingredients that you don’t want or aren’t good for your body.  Best of all, you can make them in batches, freeze them, and have portable punch of nutrition at the ready.  Homemade green smoothies check all the boxes for nutritional well-being.  Even on the most hectic, crazy days, you can start your day with a smoothie and know that if everything else goes wrong, at least one step towards your well-being was accomplished!

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, vibrant, and nutrition filled mornings!

Notice these smoothies, stowed away in the freezer, are darker due to the fact that they were made with kale, spinach, mixed berries, cherries, and so forth. They still taste fabulous when they are thawed!

Steph’s Super Immunity Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 ¼  cups of favorite liquid ( I typically use water, but if you can afford the calories, pomegranate, blueberry, or cherry juice makes this recipe super sweet and full of antioxidants.)

2 cups of favorite leafy greens (I typically combine kale and spinach, but any dark leafy green works!)

¼ cup aloe gel (preferably from inner fillet)

1-2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1-2 tablespoons flax seeds (Can use chia, hemp or combination thereof.)

1-2 tablespoon alma, if you have it (powdered Indian gooseberries)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon matcha, contents of a cut-open green tea bag, or other favorite greens powder

1 ½ inch fresh or ½ teaspoon powdered turmeric, ginger, or both

¼ teaspoon black pepper (Activates turmeric, but feel free to leave out if you don’t like its taste.)

1 medjool date (Optional addition for sweetness, fiber, and other nutritional benefits.)

½-1 cup strawberries or other favorite berry/berry combination mix

½-1 cup pineapple or fruit of choice!

½-1 banana (I keep these cut up and frozen. You could also replace it with ½ an avocado.) 

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (I keep sliced lemons on hand and toss in a couple of slices since the pith is full of fiber and vitamin C.)

Dash of salt. (I use ground pink himalyan.)

Add liquid, aloe gel, and greens first; then, blend well. (Blending greens and liquid first works well for less pricey blenders, but may not be necessary if you own a top of the line model.)

Add the rest of the ingredients in the blender in the order listed, and blend until smooth.

Divide between glasses.

Can be drunk immediately or stored in the refrigerator for up to two days, or freeze for up to 3 months in a jar with a wide mouth–be sure to leave some empty space at top to allow for expansion.   

Makes 1 extra large serving or nearly fills 2, 16-ounce bell jar size servings.