Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Baking Puzzle


I make muffins as a recurring lunch staple to give Joaquin vegetables that he still has not decided to like. In the current stable version of my recipe, I put carrot and zucchini. I like the flavor and texture, though they don’t rise as much as I’d like. This weekend, however, I decided to experiment…

I wanted to replace a lot of the nut flour for more veggies, and golden beets with butternut squash made them so yummy. However, the crazy improvised recipe resulted in muffins that elevated but ended up deflating before pulling them out of the oven. After 30 minutes of baking (no muffin of mine is ever ready in 20 mins), I checked them and found them dense and moist — giving the impression of undercooked. But this has happened before, and I know that baking them more will not make them firmer, only burned in the outside. Still, I think I gave them an extra 10 minutes.

Deflated muffins

I really love the resulting flavor, and specially like that they include more veggies and less nuts. Joaquin already has a lot of nuts in this diet, and I’m trying to find ways to replace some of them for other foods that provide a different nutritional profile.

I suspect my problem may relate to one or many of the following:

  1. Wrong ingredient ratios, because I know nothing about baking theory but always tweak recipes as if I know what I’m doing. After this new failed experiment, I finally have ordered this book.
  2. Wrong way of mixing the batter. Most likely I also overmixed.
  3. Wrong amount of baking soda. I think that at my altitude (5,000 ft), I may need to decrease the amount?
  4. Wrong temperature. I recently discovered that my oven may be running low. I once found it 25°F lower than displayed, and I think that once you start baking, at some point the temperature drops some. Need to get better facts on this. Either way, other of my cakes and muffins don’t end up like this, so there’s some problem with this recipe.

With this post, I’m calling on all of those who know more than me to help me make this recipe work and rise at least a bit. The catch is, we’re following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which eliminates all carbohydrates except for those in fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey. Therefore, this recipe has some limitations:

  • Can’t use baking powder or yeast. The only leavening agent allowed is baking soda.
  • Can’t use flour of any kind — whether gluten free or not. Only ground nuts, seeds, or coconut.
  • Can’t use refined sugar or any alternative sweeteners except for honey. Fruit (fresh or dry) is okay. I used dates this time because I recently read that something in honey suffers a bad transformation when heated, but if I must go back to honey let me know… I can’t imagine that though; more liquid to this batter?

Having thrown that bomb to “typical” bakers, I’ll add… I want to preserve this flavor. I want more veggies than nuts if possible. I want it to have enough sweetness so a three-year-old eats it, but not too much because sugar is one of those things autistic kids should have less of. I really would love any tips you have on fixing my ratios, ingredients, the mixing process, or on any other variables that may be at work here.

So without further ado, this is what I did…


3 eggs
0.5 cup dates
0.5 cup nut flour (mostly almonds with a few pecans)
1.5 cup shredded carrot (2) and zucchini (1)
0.5 cup baked golden beets
0.5 cup baked butternut squash
a handful dry cocounut
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 pinches salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
0.5 tsp nutmeg
0.5 tsp baking soda
juice from half an orange (1/3 to 1/2 cup)

How I mixed this

Ground all nuts and coconut in food processor until some butter started developing. I have never been able to get nut butter in my food processor with my soaked nuts (don’t know why), even if I let them process for ridiculous time spans like a full hour. So now, instead of waiting that long, I go to the point where I know not much else will happen, and I add one tbsp of coconut oil. That’s not enough to get butter either, yet that’s what I do most times when I don’t really need nut butter but I still like grinding nuts to the max within a reasonable time.

To the nuts and coconut oil, I added the dates and let them process enough until they looked like they blended very well in the mix. So the whole think looked like a brown clumpy buttery flour sort of thing. I reserved this in a bowl.

In the empty food processor, I processed the beets. Added the shredded carrots and zucchini, processed. Added two eggs, processed. Added the clumpy buttery nut flour with the dates, processed again — Good Lord! I like to process. I put this mix in a bowl.

muffin batter

Added salt, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and baking soda (in a dry spot so it wouldn’t start reacting)

In the food processor, pulsed the butternut squash and added an egg (originally was going to go for only two). Processed lightly and added this to the rest of the batter. Stirred it all and added the orange juice at the end.

muffin batter

Immediately loaded batter in previously greased muffin trays (coconut oil on bottom and sides — no liners) and baked them in a preheated oven at 350°F for 30 minutes.

This recipe is very much the same as the one I use for my carrot cake, except in that one I use honey instead of dates, and there’s 1.5 cups of nut flour to 1.5 cups of carrots, whereas in these muffins, I was trying to replace 1 cup of the nuts with squash and beets.

So what do you think?…

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  1. On , Tracey wrote:

    My first thought- too much liquid. You are swapping 1 cup of dry nuts for 1 cup of moist veggies. If you want to keep trying with that ration, I would first try eliminating the OJ, using just the zest for the orange flavor, and see how that works.

    My second thought is to add juice of 1/2 lemon to give the batter more acid and a better rise. Add it last so it reacts w/ the soda just as it goes into bake.

  2. On , Maria wrote:

    Yes. That’s my feeling too… Too much liquid.
    What do you think of the amount of eggs?… I always have trouble with that. They’re liquid, but they add structure. I remember in your coconut muffin recipe you have a ton of eggs per cup of coconut.

  3. On , Tracey wrote:

    Coconut always needs way more eggs than any other flour, but I would mess with the other stuff first and see where it gets you. I am not the almond flour guru- maybe someone else will chime in.

  4. On , David wrote:

    I have made zucchini bread and carrot cake and both are very moist. I think that a lot of this moisture comes because it is raw and it releases its juices as it cooks. I wonder if you cook it ahead of time if this would help. Perhaps you could even dry the shredded vegetables on a baking sheet using low temperatures in the oven and still get most of the benefit of the veggies without all the moisture.

    Honey will also change the texture of baked goods a lot. If you are looking for sweeteners that won’t spike his blood sugar, you might check items recommended for diabetics. Though it will still have the same moisture problem as honey, you might consider using Agave for other uses. We are starting to experiment with it, which is a sweetener like honey but is recommended for diabetics because of its low glycemic index. It can be expensive, but Winco Foods in Midvale sells it by the gallon for a reasonable price.

  5. On , Petie wrote:

    I have a muffin recipe that I have used hundreds of times…In comparing the two, I see two main differences. I think you might need more baking soda. My recipe calls for 1tsp with 2 cups of flour (I use wheat vs. nut, but I don’t think that would matter.) The other difference is that my recipe just calls for 2 egg whites. I think you should try less egg. I think if you reduce egg, you might get the right “wet” mixture.

    Also, I’ve always read that you mix all the wet first, then all the dry and then fold the two together with as little mixing as possible.

    Good luck!! :)