Have you ever had a good fat-free muffin? I'm not talking about one that was simply passable when toasted and slathered with jam. I mean a really excellent fat-free muffin: tender and moist with a crunchy, golden top, and brimming with juicy berries.
I certainly haven't.
To paraphrase the writer Phoebe Damrosch, author of Service Included, muffins are nothing more than an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. And just as I've never encountered a delicious slice of fat-free German chocolate, red velvet, or lemon layer, I've never come across a diet muffin that didn't taste cloyingly sweet and a bit too much like sand.
But that's not for lack of trying. Whether shrink-wrapped next to the cash register at the corner deli, or nestled in a basket at the coffee shop, I can't resist the swan song of fat-free muffins. Every time I see one I feel compelled to try it. Maybe this time I will finally find what I have been searching for: a giant, unfrosted cupcake with zero guilt attached.
Since it is January, the official month of Better Eating Habits, I decided to try something new: baking fat-free muffins at home. Krusteaz Fat Free Wild Blueberry Supreme Muffin Mix ($3.19) seemed like my best bet. According to the box, each muffin weighed in at only 130 calories and contained absolutely no fat.
In addition to a bag of standard-looking cake mix, the Krusteaz box contained a small tin (not unlike a tuna fish can) filled with "Wild Blueberries." All I had to do was stir one cup of water into the cake mix, rinse and drain the berries, and then fold them into the batter.
I've never seen canned blueberries before, and these struck me as small, hard, and beadlike. But after adding them to the batter, I discovered that they were far more fragile than their appearance suggested: unless I stirred very gently (as if folding whipped egg whites into chocolate) they burst and dyed the surrounding batter an unpleasant shade of purple.
Once the batter was prepared, I divided it among the cups of a muffin tin, taking care to note that the yield—oddly—was 11 muffins as opposed to a uniform dozen. I slid the pan into a 400°F oven and crossed my fingers, hoping for the best.
Eighteen minutes later, my muffins emerged puffed and perfectly golden. Unfortunately, they lacked any significant blueberry flavor. In my opinion, the best part about blueberry muffins is the way each warm berry pops in your mouth when you bite into one straight from the oven. The canned berries had a taste and mouthfeel that was virtually undetectable.
However, despite the inferiority of the blueberries, the cake surrounding them was light, tender, and sweet. There was no artificial aftertaste, and the tops of the muffins had a pleasing, firm crust that broke apart from the bottoms evenly. The two halves would be perfect for smearing with softened butter, if only that didn't defeat the purpose of a fat-free muffin.
While these weren't the guilt-free breakfast treats of my dreams, they were certainly among the best I've tried. Paired with a cup of yogurt and a piece of fruit, they would make a very satisfying meal.
That said, if I make them again, I might try baking the batter in jumbo muffin cups to yield even bigger muffins...after all they're good for me, right?
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