Muffin

The Trader Joe's–Inspired Morning Muffin My Mom Can't Live Without

July 27, 2018

It’s 11:30 a.m., and I’m sitting at my desk when my mother’s face pops up on my phone screen as it begins buzzing. She knows we have a strict, no-calls-only-texts rule during the work day, so I assume it must be important. I answer her call to hysterical shrieks and cries, somewhere in between Nancy Kerrigan and that Kim Kardashian meme. I begin panicking as I try to make out what happened. Finally she catches her breath and exclaims, “Trader Joe's no longer has my Moral Fiber muffins!”

As she goes on, fitting in a good ol’ "WHY?!" in between sentences, I begin to relax, realizing there was no tragedy other than a loss of fiber. “I can’t believe it,” she laments. “I’ve already called up five stores to see if I could buy up their stock, but it’s already gone. Why would they take it away?”

My mother hasn't been this upset since Costco stopped selling her favorite veggie burgers, an equally traumatic experience. But these muffins were different. She had one of these toothsome packages of bran bursting with sweet blueberries every morning for breakfast. Even I enjoyed them enough to occasionally steal a package from her freezer (she buys in bulk, of course). Like the good Jewish son that I am, I knew what I had to do for her: Recreate them myself. And so began the process of reverse engineering a muffin from memory without a recipe.

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Luckily, any store-bought product, especially organic, vegan, low-calorie muffins, have all their nutritional facts on the internet. With the power of Google, I had the full ingredient list in my hands and it seemed rather simple. The muffins only had water (for moisture), white grape juice (for moisture and sweetness), wheat bran (for bran...), whole wheat flour (for structure), blueberries (for blueberries…...), soybean oil (for fat), baking soda (for leavening), and salt (for flavor, since every sweet pastry is better with salt). Since the components are listed in order of predominance, I assumed I could kind of wing it.

I used my 'baker’s intuition' (a pseudoscience, like alchemy or ghost-hunting).

I started out with 1½ cups of water and scaled out the rest from there using my “baker’s intuition” (a pseudoscience, like alchemy or ghost-hunting), then stirred the batter together, scooped it into a muffin tin and threw ‘em in the oven. Omg, did I just replicate these muffins in 15 minutes? Is there anything I can’t do? Should I quit my job and start a muffin empire?

That’s what I experienced before I took the tray out of the oven. The tops deflated immediately and I can only describe this mess of muffins as goopy. Well, maybe I scored points for flavor? Nope. I’m all about a not-too-sweet baked good, but these were just sad.

As my own worst critic, the overwhelming feeling of failure ignited my determination to rectify this dumpster fire. First, I swapped around proportions to go heavier on the dry ingredients to give it a bit more structure. Next, to balance out the increased bran and whole wheat flour, I threw in a mashed, overripe banana to add moisture and fat, thus preventing the dreaded sawdust texture in so many whole wheat muffins. And finally, to satisfy my sweet tooth, I added wildflower honey to give the grape juice a little extra boost of sugar. Before you start sliding into my DMs in disappointment, I know honey can be a heated topic of discussion when it comes to its vegan classification. For me, I prefer the floral notes of honey to the more powerful flavors of other natural sweeteners like maple syrup or sorghum, so I can live with almost-vegan (but you do you).

Behold: a newer, bluer bran muffin. Photo by Julia Gartland

The revised batch were just sweet enough and, I dare say, even fluffier than their inspiration. While I was proud to have triumphed in this tasty trial, this quest would only end once they were in my mother’s possession. I hand-delivered the batch and her excitement at their return might have even exceeded her grief when they were taken away. This was affirmed with the text messages I would wake up to every morning from her thanking me with messages like, “Had a muffin for breakfast, truly the best ever!” Or my personal favorite, which came a few days after and said, “So I inhaled your muffin while drinking kombucha. My throat is still on fire. OMG when am I going to learn how to eat, drink and swallow before waiting to breathe in. Still delicious though!”


Another Way to Breakfast

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2 Comments

ustabahippie August 4, 2018
I’m going to have to try these!
 
Chris July 31, 2018
I am SO with your Mom! Those TJ muffins were my favorite go to with cream cheese. I was devastated when I went to buy them and they were discontinued. THANK YOU so much for all your efforts and hard work in re-creating them. I can’t wait to try your recipe. What an awesome Son you are :)