My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Banana Coconut Muffins

Last November, my blogging buddy Jane kindly obliged my demand request for the recipe for some lovely muffins she'd taunted us with in photos. :-) I couldn't wait to make them, but wanted to eliminate the added fat, reduce the sugar and do some other, minor tweaking. Now food alchemy doesn't come naturally to me (binders, thickeners, and leaveners, oh my!) and my frugality makes me cringe at the thought of a recipe failure, limitations which often inhibit my willingness to do a lot of experimenting with recipes. But this was one of those times I was inspired to tinker more than usual and we've really been enjoying the results. If you just want the recipe version I've come up with, it can be found beneath the first muffin photo. If you want the dirty details of my Area 51 muffin experiments, read on :-) ... 

Although already vegan, the original recipe called for margarine. Since we never use added fats, my quest was to come up with a good substitute. I've always replaced oil with unsweetened applesauce in baked goods with great success, but I wasn't as confident about using it as a margarine sub. After reading several - often wildly differing - margarine substitution tips, I decided to just stick with applesauce and see how it went. The one thing every article agreed on is that every recipe is different, and experimenting with ingredients and amounts is usually required for best results. At least even the "mistakes" are tasty - it's mostly the texture you're manipulating. Anyway, though the advice often differed on the replacement ratio to use, I used what I always have - a 1:1 amount of applesauce to fat. The only thing I did differently was gently stirring the applesauce into the already-mixed liquid ingredients, based on this advice from this article:

One of the best ways to help applesauce integrate into a batter is to keep it separated until the very end. Many cooks will mix their dry ingredients separately, only adding the wet components just before baking. The longer applesauce sits in a batter, the more likely it is to grow soupy or cause separation.

I don't really know if it made a difference. I didn't do it with the first batch, which came out a bit rubbery and too dense, so it's one of the things I changed when I made the second batch. I also changed my egg substitute and baking time though, so it's hard to say what made the difference ~ but the second batch was nearly perfect. Our only issue with it was that the muffins were too sweet for us despite using unsweetened coconut. So in my third batch I reduced the amount of sugar, and since the less sugar the better, that's the amount I'll stick with. However, since the starch in bananas converts to sugars as they ripen, the ripeness of your bananas will definitely affect the sweetness of your muffins, so you may want to adjust the amount of sweetener accordingly. (I used very ripe bananas).

The original recipe called for creaming the softened margarine and sugar, which of course doesn't work with applesauce. So instead I creamed the bananas and sugar, which worked quite nicely! Smelled really good, too. Just don't expect it to get "fluffy." :-) 

As for the egg substitute, I was really leery of using the ratio of water to ground flaxseed as written in the original. Though Jane's muffins turned out fine, I'd never seen that much water (½ cup) called for before. I tried Ener-G egg replacer in my first batch, but for the second and third batches I went with the flaxseed mixture, using the more conventional measurement of 3 TBSP water to 1 TBSP ground flaxseed, with great success. I'm not done experimenting, though, as the next time I make these I want to try chickpea flour as my egg replacer (how poetic, chickpeas subbing for eggs!), having heard increasingly great things about it. By the way, since bananas and applesauce also happen to act as binders and thickeners, they too can function as egg replacers (3 TBSP of applesauce or puréed banana per egg) in baked goods like muffins or quick breads, as long as ½ tsp of baking powder is added as a leavener. So it may be that all this recipe needs as an egg replacer is three additional tablespoons of banana or applesauce and some extra baking powder. More Area 51 experimentation! Bwwwaahaha! :-)

My minor tweaks to the original recipe in all three batches consist of using the unsweetened coconut, whole wheat pastry flour, and sucanat for the sugar. And I use organic ingredients whenever possible (especially the flour, applesauce and bananas).

Some articles about subbing applesauce for fat in baked goods recommend reducing the baking time by 25%. Reducing the baking time for baked goods that replace eggs with the flaxseed mixture is also recommended, due to their faster browning time. Complicating matters, I bake using silicone muffin cups (set on a dark baking tray), and baking in silicone usually requires a few minutes of added baking time! So I set my timer for 20 minutes and checked them every minute or two using the clean toothpick method as well as the "bake until golden" rule. My first batch was over-baked at 25 minutes. My next two batches were just right at the 22 minute mark. Every oven is different, and humidity and altitude will also affect baking times, so baking for 20-25 minutes is just a guide.

Although the texture of most - though not all - oil-free vegan baked goods benefits greatly from being allowed to sit for a few hours or overnight before eating, these were just as good as soon as they'd cooled as they were two days later. They don't tend to last much beyond that at our house, so I'm having to take the recipe author's word for it that "they freeze beautifully." :-)

Banana Coconut Muffins

1¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ -   cup sucanat (adjust for ripeness of bananas and sweetness of your sweet tooth!)
2 very ripe bananas 
1 tsp vanilla
equivalent of one egg (I use 1 TBSP ground flax mixed with 3 TBSP water, whisked until thickened or microwaved on high for 20 sec)
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, divided
  • Preheat oven to 375ºF. Put liners into muffin tin. (I use silicone muffin cups placed on a baking sheet).
  • Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, cream the bananas with the sucanat. Mix in the vanilla, egg replacer, and ¾ cup of the coconut. Gently stir in the applesauce. Add the flour mixture and stir until just moistened.
  • Distribute evenly in the muffin cups (fill about ¾ full) and sprinkle the remaining coconut on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and/or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (I bake mine for about 22 minutes).
  • Makes 12 (I usually get 14).
They freeze beautifully.

(Based on a recipe from Jane at The Maple Syrup Mob)

My favorite source for both no-added fat vegan recipes and advice on fat-free substitutions and cooking techniques is Susan Voisin's FatFree Vegan Kitchen. And I also find The Sweet Life's Complete Guide to Replacing Eggs very helpful! 

If you're especially bananas over banana-y baked goodies or have additional over-ripe bananas to use up, try Susan's delicious Banana-Date-Walnut Muffin recipe, which calls for 3 very ripe bananas.


  1. Boy, oh worked your little socks off didn't you!
    Chris lurves sweet things (why he married me, barra boom) me, not nearly so I never bothered to adapt the recipe,but lucky for me....I have bloggy friends who do bother.Now I'll HAVE to try these. Thaaaaaaank you!
    Jane x

  2. Jane ~ You know, I think I worked harder putting this post together than I did on baking all three batches of muffins! :-)

    I remember your saying your husband has a rockin' sweet tooth, and thought of him when I made the third batch with the reduced sugar. But BW, who also loves sweet things (so it's a blue marvel that he married me!) loved them and gave that version the sweet tooth stamp of approval. So I hope Chris will like them too. (The sugar isn't
    reduced by that much, but every little bit helps!)

    Oh no, thank yoooouuuuu! :-) Lucky for ME, I have bloggy friends who share yummily tweakable recipes, for I could never come up with this sort of thing from scratch. I'm in awe of those who can!

  3. Thanks so much for all the details, and I really want to try this recipe!! I've always been wanting to bake healthier goods for my family, but have been so intimidated by the overwhelming amount of neat tricks and stuff out there. Thank you so much for breaking it down, and for the beautiful photos! I can't wait to try :)

  4. SweetPotatoMayas ~ You are most welcome! (In keeping with your blogging handle, you leave the sweetest comments!) :-)

    I know just what you mean - it's wonderful to have so much information at our fingertips these days, but sorting through and whittling it down to an amount that's helpful can be daunting! I hope you'll visit Susan Voisin's Fat Free Vegan Kitchen blog - we've made a lot of her recipes (yet have barely made a dent in her vast and growing collection) and have added every one to our "keeper" file. She also shares lots of helpful tips and hints, and many of her commenters do as well. I think you'd really like it.

    I hope you and your family enjoy these muffins! If you click on the label "vegan recipe" at the bottom of this post, you'll find several other healthy recipes, including at least a couple with sweet taters in 'em! :-)

  5. I know what you mean about how hard it can be to tinker with recipes and worry that the food will be wasted. That's time, money, and food down the drain! I especially have a hard time with baking experiments for three reasons:

    1. I don't have a lot of intuition there (baking isn't generally my forte).

    2. It's not as easily rectifiable. If you mess up a savory dish, it's generally pretty easy to tweak it to make it better. However, with baking, it turns out or it doesn't.

    3. I don't eat a lot of sweets in general. So I don't want to encourage myself to eat a lot of failed sweets in the hopes of making a recipe that works!

    Anyway, after all of your efforts, it looks like you've put together a very tasty banana coconut muffin! Sounds delicious!

  6. Excuse me, YUM! These look so tasty I can't handle it! It might be a good thing that I don't have muffin tins (or whatever they are called) cause there is a good chance I'd make them all at once. I finally started making my own pizza crust again and have been gorging on vegan pizza way too often :)

  7. Cadry ~ You make some excellent points! There does seem to be more "alchemy" involved in baking than in cooking. And I don't have a shred of intuition when it comes to the baking either, though since becoming vegan I've developed a more adventurous cooking style.

    I do crave something sweet at times, but savory/spicy/salty is my typical craving and a little bit of sweetness can go a long way to satisfying me. (That said, however, once I eat one yummy muffin, it can sometimes be hard to stop!) But my husband loves sweets (though he typically satisfies his sweet tooth with dried and fresh fruits), and I actually prefer baking to cooking (go figure!)

    Jill ~ Ha, now I know what to get you for your birthday. Clearly you're a woman in neeeeeed of some muffins tins. ;-) And since when is there such a thing as "too often" when it comes to gorging on vegan pizza??? :-)

  8. They look delicious!

  9. ladyfi ~ They are (if I do say so myself!) :-) And I like how they look snow-covered, in keeping with our northern hemisphere season.

  10. These look fantastic! I always love seeing recipes like this. We haven't had any oil in the house for a while now and I'm trying to keep it that way. :)

  11. Molly ~ Good for you, Molly! I haven't missed it - or the mess it can make when cooking with it - at all.

  12. Although I'd heard about about some of these tweaks while in the making (was it batch 2 or 3 that you were taking out of the oven when I called?) it was still fun to read the details and definitely more enticing to have the photo to look at. They look absolutely marvelous. I love coconut so that especially tempts me to make them. But not for a while. I have a freezer full of goodies and I'm on a mission to eat it all before I make more!

  13. Jo ~ Hmm, can't remember! But I'm going to guess it was Batch #3 (I feel like I'm on Let's Make a Deal, lol), but I could be wrong.

    Sounds like a fun mission! You'll have to bookmark this recipe for after your mission's complete. Or I can make them for your visit, along with the gingersnap cake and decadent dessert I have planned for our Decadent Day. (We're going to have to do a lot of walking and bike riding while you're here, or we're both going to gain 50 pounds that week!) :-)


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  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"

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