What we’re doing here is illegal on SO many levels. Not only do these muffins break some important laws of baking, it’s generally accepted that anything this delicious (and healthy) must be illegal in some way…
These muffins start out innocent enough with a simple base of whole wheat flour infused with orange and hazelnut, but they soon take a few wild turns. Instead of adding lots of sugar, they’re sweetened mostly with pureed dates. And (stay with me) the only fat we’re using is from cacao butter – you know, the part of the cocoa bean that is used to make white chocolate.
Cacao butter might be one of my all-time favorite ingredients both for its taste and versatility. I mean, the fact that it has the flavors, aromas, and mouthfeel of chocolate is good enough. But it is also an incredibly interesting fat that is solid at room temperature, making it ideal for many vegan baking applications.
So these incredible muffins don’t have any white chocolate, per se, but they taste like white chocolate because of the cacao butter, which we’re using in a very particular way… If you simply melted this stuff down and added it into the batter, it would cause problems. The butter is rock hard at room temperature and the muffins would turn out very hard and rubbery once they cooled. But what we’re doing is chopping it into tiny chunks that melt in the oven just as the batter is rising, thus bathing these orange hazelnut muffins with the melt-in-your mouth flavors of white chocolate from the inside out. And lest you think these are really unhealthy, the total fat content is lower than if we used typical oil, while the sugar is kept to a minimum by using dates. Win-win-win.
The thing is, cacao butter can be notoriously difficult to source. Even though I live in a pretty large city with plenty of healthy options, this is one ingredient I’ve rarely been able to find locally. Thankfully, my friends at Vitacost.com sent me an entire block of the Navitas brand Raw Cacao Power and I’m overjoyed:
Vitacost also sponsored this recipe and sent along the vanilla, flaxseed, and hazelnuts used here. I like shopping at Vitacost because they’re like your local supermarket, except they have everything you can never find, cheaper prices, and free shipping on orders over $49. For cooks who use some unusual ingredients (Andrew raises his hand), Vitacost.com is a great place to find these things.
Makes 12 muffins
Preheat your oven to 350º F
As is the standard with my baked goods, we’ll need a “flax egg” which can be prepared by mixing 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 2.5 tablespoons of water and letting it sit for 5 minutes to thicken into the perfect egg substitute.
One of the ways we’re keeping the sugar content down in this recipe is by using dates as a sweetener. By blending the almond milk and dates until combined, we have plenty of sweetness from a whole food that is packed with nutrients. So, combine 1 1/2 cups of almond milk with about 5 pitted medjool dates in a blender and whiz until no date chunks remain. Then, pour this into a bowl and add the rest of the wet ingredients (vanilla, flax egg, a little coconut or brown sugar, 2 tbsp orange juice, and 2 tbsp orange zest).
In another bowl, combine the three dry ingredients – whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda – and mix. Then, pour in the wet ingredients and gently whisk together just until the batter is combined (do NOT over mix – a few small clumps are fine).
Now for our awesome add-ins. As mentioned, the cacao butter is the rockstar of this recipe. Take a knife to about 1/4 cup of the solid butter and chop it until you have small slivers and chunks (none larger than peas), then throw these solid pieces into the batter. It’s really important to make sure no large pieces of this butter remain. Why? Because it will melt as the batter sets in the oven, leaving large pockmarks where the chunks used to be. By adding just small slivers, however, they melt evenly, adding to the fluffiness and coating the muffins with this beautiful white chocolate flavor.
For the hazelnuts, you can throw them in whole, but I think they work much better when chopped in half. I did this by gently tapping them inside my mortar and pestle, but you could also use a knife to loosely chop them. Add the nuts and gently fold them into the batter as well.
Spoon the batter into muffin papers and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or just until a toothpick comes out clean. After you remove them, you will notice that a little of the cacao butter did melt down into the bottom of the papers (this is fine). And since this butter will return to a solid, it’s best to remove the papers while still slightly warm or they will have a tendency to stick.
These are best served warm. As mentioned, the cacao butter will return to a semi-solid state once it cools, thus giving the muffins a more firm (but still melt-in-your mouth) consistency. I think they’re great this way, but if you want them to be super soft once again, simply reheat in the microwave or a warm oven and they’ll get all melty and delicious.