Muffins are like pies—quite simple to make but easily made wrong. So let’s get to the basic principles of gluten-free muffins.
The Fat Is Where It’s At
The choice of fat, which determines the treat’s tenderness, is up to you and hinges on your personal muffin preferences, which brings us to the essential question: Do you want your muffins to be chewy or more soft and tender? Once you have decided, it’s time to understand the mechanics behind the source of fat and the mixing technique needed to achieve your ideal texture. At room temperature, oils are in liquid form, while most fats are solid.
Using an oil in a muffin recipe is easier to mix in, since the oil’s density does not allow it to trap air. On the other hand, a fat that is solid at room temperature can hold in air if mixed first with sugar (in baking, beating those two together is referred to as “creaming”). Creaming distributes the sugar crystals into the fat, so together they work to trap air cells.
Now, granted, you can also melt the butter so that it works like oil would, resulting in a tender muffin with a unique flavor but much less of a cake-like texture.
If you are concerned about calories, then eat half a muffin at one sitting. Muffins contain a lot of carbohydrates and calories from fats/oils. An oil-based muffin will be lower in saturated fat, but it’s still fat.
The most common ingredient containing gluten in a muffin recipe is, of course, the flour. Generally, most gluten-free all-purpose flour blends will work, with the following considerations: It’s best to replace the gluten-based flour with the gluten-free one based on an equal weight replacement—even if the original recipe’s ingredients list gives the amount of flour needed in cups. To do this, measure out the gluten-based flour by volume, then place on a scale to determine its weight. Next, measure out that same weighted amount of your gluten-free flour. Many bakers will add extra gluten-free flour to the recipe, which initially sounds like a nice solution to tighten up the batter. But while it will do so at first, it can dry out the baked muffin in the end.
Achieving Peak Form
If you find that your muffins drop in the center during or after baking, don’t assume that you are under-baking them. Rather, it’s a natural result of using gluten-free flour, which makes it challenging to achieve a nice high peak for your muffin top.
So, you need to increase the amount of stabilizers in the recipe without drying out the end product from the addition of extra flour. Most muffin recipes contain whole eggs, which provide the moisture needed to hydrate the batter as well as additional stability during baking. But there’s a better solution for getting your gluten-free muffins to stay in “peak” form. Whole eggs contain fat from the yolk, which can liquefy to some degree. Try replacing half of the total number of liquid whole eggs with two liquid egg whites each. For example, if your recipe calls for two whole liquid eggs, use instead one whole egg and two egg whites. This two-for-one exchange will yield just about the exact same amount (for large eggs), so you are still hydrating the batter at the same level but it will have more stability thanks to the fat-free, high-protein egg whites. If your muffin tops still don’t reach your desired height, replace all of the liquid whole eggs with liquid egg whites. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of liquefying ingredients in the recipe to keep the muffins tender.
Finally, sprinkling a scant amount of coarse-type sugar such as turbinado or evaporated cane juice on the muffins before you pop them in the oven will help keep the tops moist during baking and produce a crispy, sugary crust for your muffin tops.
Richard Coppedge Jr. is an award-winning chef and professor of baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America. He is the author of Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes from the World’s Premier Culinary College and Baking for Special Diets.