Down the Rabbit Hole: Whole wheat soaked grain Muffins (part one)

A couple weeks before Christmas, I tried my hand at baking some whole wheat soaked grain cranberry orange muffins. Not having planned very far ahead, the grains only soaked for a couple hours instead of overnight. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

One of the goals that I made for myself last year was to become better at baking. Of course, I decided to do so by delving into sourdough, which is largely recommended against. I am, you may have noticed, not one to shay away from things just because someone says it's not the easiest way to start. My tenth grade English teacher once told me that I was making a research paper a lot harder on myself than I needed it to be, and pointed out my tendency to do that in a lot of my endeavors. I believe at this point it is simply a personality trait that will at times be a hindrance. But at others it has been the same trait that has propelled me forward into projects that are just a little outside my reach, to take risks even when there was a safer or easier option. Some of those risks were what many would call mistakes, but they were lessons too. Lessons about myself and the world that have since come in handy. And so, there are times that I allow myself to jump into a project with both feet, even when the water is above my head. The fact that I was a swimmer only helps to make this analogy more entertaining to me when I do so.

That's why I found myself one day walking into the kitchen with my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, knowing full well I was going to look up and then completely adulterate their recipe for muffins.

Let's compare. 

BH&G's ingredients for muffins:
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cooking oil

But I didn't want to use refined flour, I wanted a whole grain. I don't have a sourdough starter right now, but I at least wanted the grains soaked (for better digestion, there's plenty about that elsewhere on the Intertubes if you're interested in the reasoning). I also wanted to substitute a non-refined sugar, like honey or maple syrup, or perhaps an even lower glycemic sweetener substance like agave or stevia. And darn it, I was out of baking powder. But all those substitutions have consequences.

The recipe I created based on their ratios:
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup frozen cranberries

Before I go any further, let's review the changes:

  • AP -> whole wheat
  • Milk -> orange juice, plus an additional 33% liquid because WW flour absorbs more liquid
  • white sugar -> maple syrup, which screws up the wet to dry ratio BUT WW flour absorbs more liquid
  • an additional 50% "baking powder" because whole wheat needs a little extra rising action
  • an additional 1 cup frozen whole cranberries

Then I soaked the flour in the orange juice for a couple hours while we did other kitchen projects. I discovered when I came back to it that my flour mixture had developed a stretchy, stiff texture. Like a sourdough starter. I was afraid already that my muffins weren't going to be crumbly or just too dense, but I soldiered on, mentally prepared for utter failure, and a little excited regardless of the outcome.

I mixed everything together, scooped them into muffin cups, was afraid they were too liquidy, and put them in my 400 degree oven for... well, as long as they were going to take. My recipe said 18-20 minutes, so I started testing them at 18 minutes and probably cooked them an extra ten, but I forgot to keep track. Awesome.

Forgive the blurriness, but this is what greeted me at 20 minutes. Glossy, flat-topped muffins that had overflowed a bit. They didn't rise any further, either. But you know what? They were absolutely DELICIOUS. Just... a little dense (less so than expected), very moist, and they didn't rise. I can't explain why, but it seemed like the bubbles rose up and out instead of having enough substance to rise the flour.

So what did I do wrong?
I have a theory. Basically this theory is that I overcompensated for the substitution of whole wheat flour. The thing is, I forgot that soaking the grains makes the flour react more like white flour, so when I substituted a liquid sugar AND added the extra 1/4 cup of liquid AND the extra 50% of leavening agent, it was too much. When I put the batter in the muffin cups I was afraid it was too loose, but I've never successfully made muffins before so I had no idea what the consistency was supposed to be.

Next time:
If I were to do this again, and I certainly will, this is the recipe I'm using:

1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
* 3/4 cup orange juice
* 1/4 cup maple syrup
* 2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup frozen cranberries

* Dropping the liquid and baking powder back down (and using real baking powder), although I'm keeping the liquid sugar in the form of maple syrup. They were too sweet for my taste so I dropped the syrup from 1/3 cup to 1/4 cup, but since I'm substituting a liquid for a dry sugar to begin with, I think the less liquid will be OK.

I also read somewhere that if you drop your oven temp by 25 degrees you get taller muffin tops, but I'm going to try it at 400 again the next time and adjust from there in the future if I still don't like their rising action. And for the sake of comparison, I'll only soak the grains a couple hours again. But in the future, soaking them overnight will need to be tested as well. I'm just not interested in changing TOO many variables at once, especially since I don't consider the first attempt to have been a complete failure. They were edible, and even downright delicious. So I call that a win.


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