Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch our family of 6 struggle to nurse its chocolate habit and still eat real food on $6/day.
Last week I had the best idea ever: low sugar chocolate muffins with low sugar peanut butter frosting. This brilliant idea was followed by a violent craving for such delicious virtuousness.
But try looking up low sugar chocolate muffin on the internet. Just try it.
You'll find a lot of things with Splenda and several low-fat recipes, which contain plenty of sugar. You'll find a few recipes in grams, which makes it even more glaringly obvious that Americans think sugar belongs on the bottom level of the food pyramid, even though they still have fat relegated to the tiny top triangle. You'll find recipes with about 2 Tbsp of cocoa for a big old batch of muffins. But you won't find a nice dark chocolate-y muffin with very little sugar inside and no artificial sweeteners. At least I didn't. I was full of righteous indignation and immediately turned out a dark chocolate muffin with only 1/4 C sugar for the whole 12 large muffined batch (and all whole grains to boot).
And then I realized why this might be more of a challenge than I had originally thought. The muffins were just short of bitter, and possibly only edible due to the peanut butter frosting that did turn out rather well. It was mostly me and Emma making our way through them--I through duty and she through baby-like ignorance of sweeter things. (Ah, the baby-like ignorance...)
I doubled the sugar in the next batch I turned out and added a wee bit of all-purpose flour. This fixed the problem completely and they were nice and chocolate-y and very good. They were also popular with the minions. But by this point, each frosted muffin had about 3 tsp sugar, which is hardly the worst thing in the world, but I felt that this added sugar relegated them to healthy after-school snackdom, rather than guilt-free breakfast-hood (what, I've got my standards, okay).
Still, I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to scale the sugar back again. I knew I could only do it by reducing the amount of cocoa and I wanted a good chocolate-y muffin. I perservered (the life of a food blogging mother being wrought with peril, you see) and even tried a batch using applesauce instead of oil, although this is generally against my principles. These muffins were quite good too, even the applesauce ones. They were not, I must in all good conscience tell you, as good. They are still a muffin of compromise--a muffin that had to sacrifice some of it's deep chocolate-y-ness for a healthier punch. Maybe I should have called them Middle Age Muffins or Old Gray Mare Muffins or maybe Four Children Later Muffins, but we all know that those titles aren't the ones that will bring in the big bucks. So we'll stick with the words 'chocolate,' 'peanut butter,' 'low-fat' and even 'low sugar'--that's where the glamour is. And don't worry if you haven't had four kids and aren't approaching your mid-30's, I'll give you the scoop on those healthy after school muffins too, so you can decide how righteous you wish to be. (And if it's cupcakes you're after, check the web because Americans don't seem to have a problem turning out recipes for those.)
P.S. These muffins can go without the frosting just fine, but the frosting is nice because (well, because it's super yum, but also because) it adds a nice bit of protein and a bit of moisture for those extra virtuous ones. However, they also add a bit more sugar and of course, some fat.
Chocolate Muffins with Peanut Butter Frosting: Low Sugar, Low Fat, Whole Grain
adapted from One Bowl Oatmeal Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
1 C quick oats or 1/2 C oat flour (some families, not to mention any names, have trouble with texture, so they play it save with the flour, although the quick oats don't add tons of chunkiness)
1 C milk
1 Tbsp vinegar
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C applesauce
3/4 C whole wheat flour
1/4 C all-purpose flour
4-6 Tbsp cocoa (I used 5 and thought I could get away with one more)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon (You could replace this with 1/4 tsp almond extract--both flavors give the chocolate a little depth, so choose your poison or your weapon or just whatever--the metaphor sort of got away from me there)
1/4 C chocolate chips (optional) (I bet you could use coconut instead if your minions would not revolt)
Put oatmeal in a bowl (If using oat flour, add it with the other flours). Pour milk over oats. Add vinegar and stir. Let it sit a minute if you've got the time.
Add egg. Add applesauce. Add sugar.
Sift in flours, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon (I sort of give mine a mix on top of the wet ingredients, but you could combine in a different bowl if you'd like). Stir into wet ingredients until just combined. Note: If the batter is very wet (the quick oats variation tended to be a little wetter), add 1-2 Tbsp more whole wheat flour.
Add chocolate chips if using.
Pour batter into prepared muffin tins. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
Frosting 1--Peanut Butter Frosting:
1 C peanut butter
1/2 Tbsp butter
1/4 C powdered sugar (you may even be able to get away with 2 Tbsp. Try it and see if it needs more sweetness)
1 Tbsp milk or cream if necessary
Beat peanut butter and butter. Add powdered sugar. Add milk if necessary to loosen it up (I melted my peanut butter so it wasn't.)
You could also (see below) try adding 1/2-1 oz. cream cheese instead of the milk, though I haven't tried it.
Frosting 2--Cream Cheese Peanut Butter Frosting:
I like this one quite a bit, but was going for more of a peanut butter punch. I bet you could add 1-2 Tbsp of cream cheese to the top recipe instead of the milk/cream option to get the best of all worlds.
2 oz. cream cheese
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1/4 C powdered sugar
Beat cream cheese, butter, and peanut butter. Add powdered sugar.
Frosting 3--Peanut Butter Chocolate Frosting
Make the 1st frosting and add 3-4 Tbsp cocoa to it. I preferred the frosings just with the peanut butter, but if you're even more of a chocolate nut than me and mine, go for it.
Muffin Variation 1--Living Dangerously:
Replace the applesauce with 1/2 C canola oil or butter.
But why, you ask. Because it is somewhat richer and allows the chocolate flavor of the cocoa to come through more. If you don't care about fat, or if your kids need a little more of it on their bones, go for it. You'll have a slightly richer muffin.
Muffin Variation 2--Relegated to Healthy After School Snackdom (My Favorite)
Replace the applesauce with 1/2 C oil or butter.
Use 1/2 C sugar (instead of 1/4 C)
Use 1/2 C cocoa (instead of 4-6 Tbsp.)