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"How can I make muffins without traditional leaveners?"

Dear Anne and Sue,

I think I have a hard one for you.…

I’m allergic to baking powder, baking soda, yeast, sourdough, and dairy. I manage to make my own bread, which obviously has to be flat bread, but it’s still delicious. I really want to make muffins, and I don’t know how to make them without baking powder, baking soda, yeast, or sourdough. Is there anything I can use as a substitute? I don’t really expect the batter to rise, but I don’t want to eat something that’s hard as a brick or uncooked inside. Do you think you can help?

Thank you so much.


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Hi Maya,

It is challenging to bake without any of the traditional leavens. We admire the way you’re reaching out to find solutions, such as baking flatbreads. We agree that there are indeed some very tasty ones!
Muffins, however, are tricky because they have a reasonably heavy batter, and much of their appeal lies not only in the flavors of the ingredients but also in their texture. The major substitute that comes to mind is using beaten eggs. We’re unsure if you’re including eggs when you refer to your allergy for dairy products, or if you just mean milk, cultured dairy products (such as yogurt), and cheese. Here are few ideas you might try.

Eggs can act as remarkable leavens, so assuming that you can use eggs, separate the yolks from the whites and stir the yolks into the batter along with their liquid. Beat the whites until they’re light and fluffy and fold them into the batter at the last minute. Beating the eggs adds air to the egg whites and should lift the batter, though how much depends on what other ingredients are in your recipe. Heavier ingredients, such as oatmeal, will lessen the egg whites’ leavening effect. You might try including one more egg white than is called for in the recipe to create some extra lift.
To help eggs with the "lift job," try lightening the batter itself. Use a combination of all-purpose and cake-and-pastry flours. This will reduce the amount of gluten that’s developed in the flour when liquid is added and will make the batter rise more easily.
If you can’t use milk, substitute a carbonated beverage such as ginger ale. The air bubbles from the carbonation can also contribute a bit of leavening.

Also try eliminating the leavens in scones or oatcakes, which are usually denser than muffins. Recipes for these quick breads call for solid shortening to be cut into the flour mixture. Adding shortening makes them more moist and tender, so you are less likely to notice the lack of fluffiness. Here too, try separating the eggs and folding in the beaten whites separately. Quick breads are usually baked at 350°, but in this case bake them at 425°. A high oven temperature quickly converts any moisture present to steam, a very powerful natural leaven. You might also have to decrease the cooking time to avoid dried out, burned breads.

Another possibility is angel food cake. Recipes for this cake use a lot of eggs as leavens. Though they aren’t muffins, they are delicious.

While these substitutes won’t result in traditional products, with some experimenting on your part, you can likely produce acceptable ones!
Perhaps, too, our readers have recipes that fit Maya’s criteria. Please post them on the recipe section of the Forum.

Wishing you luck! And thanks for writing.
Anne and Sue




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