A Muffin Victory
This recipe holds a special place in my nerdy heart. When I created it, I felt like I hacked the system. “What system?”, you ask. Well, back in 2018, I was following the Weight Watchers Freestyle (now Blue) program* and looking for a way to create desirable, not sad, baked goods that didn’t break my daily allotted points bank. I made several attempts and there were certainly some misses but these pumpkin muffins were a win. If words like “light”, “skinny” or “diet” usually send you running away from a recipe, you’re in good company. I too was a “light baked goods” skeptic, so I set out to leverage the heck out of “regular” ingredients instead of using artificial sweeteners and diet food products.
What I got was a tender, springy and warmly spiced muffin that for sure, was not rich, but still very full of flavor. I like to individually wrap and freeze them to take for breakfast or as a sweet snack in the afternoon when I typically go scavenging for something sweet.
Better Baked Goods Through Science
Fun fact! I spent over a decade as an engineer developing and optimizing formulations and processes for the production of biological drug therapies and realized in writing this, that I needed to give a shout out to engineering past. While there were no spreadsheets or statistical models involved (this time!), I definitely approached this as an optimization challenge. The goal was to make a tasty muffin that came to 4 Weight Watchers points. For context, Starbucks muffins range from 15 – 19 points an even most of the WW recipes for FULL size not mini muffins are around 6 points. For my program, I got 23 points a day. Ha! No, it was doable, but 6 points felt like a lot for a freakin muffin. I wanted those points for other things, like wine, pizza and other unexpected cheese-y things I’d encounter during the day.
The big ticket items for WW are sugars, flours/grains and fats. Most tasty baked goods have all of those elements, so instead of eliminating them, I wanted to maximize their impact and bring in some supporting players.
For sweetness, I used both white and brown sugar in the muffin. The brown sugar contains molasses which adds a bit of flavor. The natural sweetness from the apple and pumpkin bumps things up, and the dusting of sugar on top creates a bit of a crust and adds an extra hit of sweetness when you take a bite.
I reduced the amount of flour as low as I could., which definitely makes for a more open crumb. The fat in muffins typically provides, flavor, moisture and body , so just reducing the amount of oil alone was not going to cut it. Fortunately, these are pumpkin muffins, so we have pumpkin puree to do some heavy lifting. The nonfat Skyr or Greek yogurt adds additional moisture, a bit of tang and extra spring when it reacts with the baking soda and creates bubbles.
After adjusting the ratios in a couple rounds, I landed on a final muffin “formulation” that is very moist, tender and a bit springy with just enough sweetness. It’s not dense and cakey like convenience store or Dunkin Donuts muffins. Nor does it feel like a “health food” muffin. It’s good in it’s own right. I hope you’ll give it a try!
Go Ahead & Jazz It Up
I originally tried this with butternut squash puree I had in my freezer, but switched to regular grocery store canned pumpkin because it’s easier to come by and tastes basically the same. You could swap diced pears in place of the apples. I’ve made this with turbinado sugar on top in place of white sugar which gives a nice crunch. You could even mix in more pumpkin pie spice with the sugar sprinkle. I’m sure these would be good with a handful of dried cranberries in the mix. Of course, you could use full fat yogurt or even sour cream if you want a richer muffin. I think Chinese 5 spice could also be nice. Just a few ideas. Make it your own!
*About My Weight Watchers Experience
So, I am a big fan of WW. By following the plan and exercising twice a week, I was able to lose 26 pounds and 4 dress sizes in about 9 months. I am not a paid sponsor. I just really appreciated their focus on mindset and general wellness, the support of weekly in-person meetings and the flexibility I had to eat from all food groups without restrictions. Yes, you have to account for what you eat, but nothing is off limits. This worked for me. I actually created many more WW friendly recipes, desserts, snack and mains but haven’t gotten to posting them yet. If you’d like to see more recipes or hear about what worked for me, leave me a message below or hit me up on Instagram. I’d be happy to share. Are you a WW fan? I’d love to hear your favorite tips and tricks. You can leave me a comment below.
Light & Easy Pumpkin Apple Muffins
- 1 cup of pureed cooked pumpkin (fresh or from a can)
- 1/2 cup of 0% fat Skyr or Greek yogurt
- 1/4 tsp of fine salt
- 2 Tbsp neutral oil (ex. grapeseed, avocado, canola)
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp white sugar (the Tbsp is for the muffin tops)
- 1 small apple (Macintosh is my fave)
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger & pinch of nutmeg and allspice)
- 12-cup muffin tin
- 12 paper cupcake liners
- medium bowl (to combine all ingredients)
- smaller bowl (for flour mixture)
- measuring cups and spoons
- mixing spoon
- cutting board
- knife (for cutting the apple)
- vegetable peeler (optional)
- Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Line the muffin tin with the paper liners.
- Peel and dice the apple into approx. 1/3 inch cubes. You want small pieces so they cook all the way through. You should have about 1/2 a cup.
- Stir together the 1 cup pumpkin, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/3 cup white sugar, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 2 Tbsp oil and 1 teaspoon of spice mix in the medium bowl. Add the two eggs to the mixture and mix well till they are incorporated.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the 1 &1/3 cup flour, 3/4 tsp baking soda (I use a 1/4 and 1/2 tsp measuring spoons) and 1/4 tsp salt with a fork.
- Slowly add the flour mixture to the bowl with pumpkin mixture and stir just until everything is mixed. Stir in the diced apple. Spoon the muffin batter into the lined muffin tins . Each cup will be nearly full.
- Take the 1 Tbsp of white sugar and sprinkle it over the top of the 12 muffins. You can just shake the measuring spoon over each cup. It doesn’t need to be perfectly even.
- Bake the muffins for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are lightly golden brown. Let them cool for a a few minutes in the pan, then transfer the individual muffins to a rack or counter to finish cooling. Enjoy!
To freeze muffins, wrap them individual or in pairs with plastic wrap and store them in a freezer bag or freezer safe container.