Gluten-free Cornmeal Molasses muffins – inspired by Boston Brown Bread

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February 12, 2013 by ka101010

Cornmeal molasses muffins in tin

I lived in Boston for 10 years before moving to Seoul. During this time, I met my husband, a born-and-bred New Englander. This guy is obsessed with his home region’s flavors: clambakes, Sam Adams, maple, molasses, etc. One very old New England recipe is Boston Brown Bread, which features molasses, cornmeal, and different brown flours. Molasses is an awesome sweetener, its flavors are a lot more complex than that of refined sugar, and offers a more savory flavor element. Molasses was an important part of colonial history due to its role in the Triangular Trade, and Native Americans introduced cornmeal to the colonists. The bread is dense and moist, rich with dark, bittersweet molasses flavor and most traditional recipes require it to be steamed in…an empty coffee can. The coffee can was probably not the original cooking vessel for Boston Brown Bread in the 18th century, this innovation is just a strange example of out-of-the-box Yankee ingenuity.

Martha Rose Shulman of the New York Times posted a nice little collection of gluten-free muffin recipes, and one of them was inspired by Boston Brown Bread. Given the variety of available rice flours in Korea, this is a relatively easy recipe to duplicate (perhaps with the exception of molasses). Molasses can be found in department store groceries like Shinsegae, imported food stores like High Street Market and Foreign Food Mart in Itaewon, Bangsan Baker’s Market, or iherb.com.

Glutinous rice flour and Comida cornmeal

Glutinous rice flour and Comida cornmeal

I used a course grind cornmeal called “Comida” (see left) but you may use a finer ground cornmeal. If all you can find is coarse grind and the toothsome texture/crunchy bits bother you, soak the cornmeal in water overnight, drain the liquid, and then add to the mix (other liquids or flours in the recipe may need to be adjusted slightly). Corn has a complex carbohydrate structure that traps a lot of natural sugars, so making a “cornmeal soaker” actually draws more flavor out of the grain.

Instead of using “all-purpose gluten-free flour mix,” I subbed 98 grams of glutinous rice flour, 42 grams of cornstarch and 35 grams brown rice flour. By all means, feel free to use a gluten-free all-purpose mix if you have a favorite brand or blend (according to Shulman, the molasses also tends to mask the “beany” flavor of some gluten-free mixes). I also used my own plain homemade yogurt, but you can sub plain store-bought yogurt or buttermilk. Note that Korean plain yogurt often contains added sugar, which may increase the sweetness of the muffins.

I also added some xanthan gum to add a bit more spring/airiness to the crumb. Xanthan gum is a powder that is often added to gluten-free breads in order to add gluten-like stretchiness and a gas-trapping/hole creating structure to dough. This ingredient is also used to thicken things like salad dressing. It is an optional ingredient, but if you want to satisfy your molecular gastronomic curiosity, you can find xanthan gum at Bangsan Baker’s Market or iherb.com.

With these modifications, the result is a very moist muffin with a nice open crumb structure, pleasant chew, rich and slightly bittersweet caramel-y flavor balanced with the punch of ginger, not cloyingly sweet, and added texture from the cornmeal. I used quite a bit of rice in my flour mix, but the strength of the molasses flavor masked this a bit. This recipe does not call for much oil, so the crumb is not overly greasy, and the (blackstrap) molasses provides a nice helping of nutrients and gorgeous color. All in all, quick way to whip up a taste of New England. Even better, my Bostonian hubby is a very happy camper.

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Gluten-free Cornmeal Molasses muffins (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s Recipes for Health)

Makes 12 muffins (I used a muffin pan with 12 wells holding about 1/3 cup each)

Ingredients:

140 grams (approximately 1 cup) fine-ground cornmeal

140 grams (approximately 1 cup) whole grain gluten-free mix or all-purpose gluten-free mix* — *For the gluten-free flour mix, I used 98 grams (approx 2/3 cup) glutinous rice flour and 42 grams (approx 1/3 cup) of cornstarch

35 grams (approximately 1/4 cup) brown rice flour

2.65 grams (1 teaspoon) ground ginger

10 grams (2 teaspoons) baking powder

5 grams (1 teaspoon) baking soda

optional — 7.5 grams (1.5 teaspoons) xanthan gum

3.5 grams (rounded 1/2 teaspoon) salt

2 eggs

240 grams (1 cup) plain yogurt

175 grams (1/2 cup) molasses — use dark “blackstrap” molasses if possible

5 grams (1 teaspoon) real vanilla extract

75 grams (1/3 cup) canola or grape seed oil

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C, position the oven rack in the center of the oven. Grease muffin pan (I used a nonstick pan with 12 wells, holding approx 1/3 cup batter each). Mix together the cornmeal, gluten-free flours, xanthan gum, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, molasses, vanilla and oil. Quickly whisk in the cornmeal mixture, ensure all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Using a spoon or liquid measuring cup, fill muffin cups to the top. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned and well-risen (muffins should exhibit “muffin tops” of about 1 cm high, and will deflate slightly at room temperature). Remove from the oven.

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Cornmeal molasses muffins in tin

If the muffins come out of the tins easily, remove from the pan and allow to cool on a rack. If they don’t release easily, allow to cool in pan for a few minutes (this allows the muffins to “steam” themselves out of the pan), remove muffins and transfer to a cooling rack.

Keeps for a couple of days out of the refrigerator, for a few more days in the refrigerator, and for a few months in the freezer.

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