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No-Recipe Morning Glory-Style Muffins to Free Up Your Mornings

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I am a woman who wants it all, wants both things: I want mountains and ocean, to be invisible and be able to fly. I want to buy organic and local and still feel like I’m getting a deal. I want to drink a lot of coffee and not get caffeine shakes. I want to be someone who wakes easily at 5 a.m. and sets about making the kind of breakfast students in nutrition school might make, something with protein and green things out the wazoo. But actually I wake up most days wanting a pastry.

This, of course, is something almost everyone wants—which brings us to someone brilliant’s million-dollar idea, now in regular rotation at your neighborhood bakery and mine: the morning glory muffin, a hearty, branny apple-carrot muffin with raisins and sometimes walnuts or oats or coconut or, or, or… They are called “morning glory,” I think, because of the glory involved in convincing yourself that you have made a Smart Breakfast Choice, one with fruits and vegetables and whole grains. They are my favorite. I get one whenever I feel like I can spend $4 on a coffee shop treat.

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I am also someone who can’t leave a good thing alone, and so I fiddle with the formula at home: I swap the carrots for zucchini or the apple for a crisp pear, dial the sweetness up and down, mix in seeds or dried figs. The results of these fiddlings go into a big zip-top bag and then into the freezer; I pop one in the oven to heat up while I go about my ablutions and early-morning email-checking—maybe you’ll put one in your backpack and let it thaw while you drive to work. This not-recipe will give you about 24 muffins, enough for about a month’s worth of breakfasts.

On our way to a bright and hearty morning!
On our way to a bright and hearty morning! Photo by Julia Gartland

Here is how to make any (any!) kind of rooty, fruity muffin:

Pick your roots and fruits. Carrot, apple, pear, sweet potato, hard squashes like butternut or acorn, parsnips, beets, zucchini. Any of these (and more!) will work great. Peel anything with a tough skin on it and coarsely grate until you have 3 1/2 to 4 cups. Squeeze as much liquid out as you can and set aside. And don’t forget that beets will turn the whole muffin pink.

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Find your flours. These muffins should mostly be grated vegetables held together by a mere net of batter. But the batter deserves just as much thought as the veg. For texture’s sake, at least 2 cups should be all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, or a gluten-free all-purpose flour—but the rest can be ground flaxseed, bran, wheat germ, almond meal, buckwheat, rye flour, rolled oats, or a mix of any of the above. You’ll need 3 cups total.

A note on sugar. Depending on the vegetables you pick, you may need more or less sugar. Apples and carrots, for example, are naturally pretty sweet, so I’d stick down near the lower end—3/4 cup or so. Parsnips might need a little more. I haven’t experimented much with swapping sugar for liquid sweeteners like honey or maple syrup, but if you do, please tell us how it goes! All in all, you’re looking for between 3/4 cup to 1 1/4 cups white or brown sugar.

And one on oil. Oil, rather than butter, makes these really moist (which you need with all the whole-graininess and the shredded veg). And I especially love olive oil here. But you can use any kind of oil you like or have on hand—any neutral oil or melted coconut oil, which will add a lovely flavor of its own, will do. You’ll use 1 cup of oil. If you’d like, you can substitute 1/2 cup applesauce for 1/2 cup oil. The muffins will be just as tender and moist.

Don’t forget mix-ins. Raisins! Dried blueberries! Snipped-up prunes or apricots or dates! Don’t forget fresh or frozen, unthawed fruit (cubed apple, frozen raspberries)—or sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, pecans, flaxseed, uncooked quinoa...go crazy. You’ll want 1 to 2 cups mix-ins. (Err on the side of less if you’re mixing in something smaller, like flaxseed or quinoa—like 1/4 cup.) Now that you’ve got all your ingredients picked out, it’s time to assemble. Combine the grated roots and fruits, the flour(s), your favorite warm spices to taste, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and the sugar in a large bowl. Mix well to combine, coating the grated veg completely.

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In a separate smaller bowl or large measuring cup, combine 1 cup yogurt, the oil, and 2 eggs. Pour this wet mixture into the dry and be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl well as you mix the batter together. When the flour is almost totally mixed in, add the mix-ins. Stir to combine, then set the batter aside to rest for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350°F and grease or line two muffin tins. (This rest period will let the flour absorb the liquid and will give you nice domed tops on the muffins.)

Scoop the rounded 1/4 cups of batter into the tins and bake, turning the tins halfway through, for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden at the edges and springy at the centers. Let cool 5 minutes in the tins, then remove the muffins to cool completely on a rack.

If you’d like to freeze them, simply pack them into a gallon-sized zip-top bag. They’ll taste fresh for about three months. I heat one from frozen in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes.

Not sure where to begin? Two favorites of mine are a straightforward morning glory-style muffin—grated apple and carrot with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pumpkin seeds, and raisins—and a spunky sweet potato-parsnip muffin with five spice powder, chopped prunes, and sunflower seeds.

What's the story morning glory?
What's the story morning glory? Photo by Julia Gartland

A few ideas to get you started:

Classic morning glory: Use carrots and apples for the vegetables, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and olive oil. Mix in toasted walnuts and raisins.

Parsnip, sweet potato, and prune: Parsnips and sweet potatoes make up the veg component; prunes and sunflower seeds add texture. Use half oil and and half applesauce, and stir in a generous 3 teaspoons five-spice powder.

Chocolate-beet: Use beets and apples for the vegetables, a 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and 2 3/4 cups mixed flours, and neutral oil. Add chocolate chips if you’d like!

Chai, pear, and parsnip: Use pears and parsnips for the vegetables, coconut oil, brown sugar, and a chai-like spice mix: 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, a grind of black pepper.

How to Make Your Freezer Work For You
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How to Make Your Freezer Work For You

Give us your best make-ahead breakfast ideas in the comments below.