Maple Sweet Potato Muffins with Pecans and Dried Cranberries

These muffins are really good.  These muffins are also really healthy.  And most importantly, these muffins aren’t “good” just because they’re healthy. 

I used to get really upset when people would cook “healthy” food, which would basically taste like cardboard, and try to use the fact that it was “healthy” to explain why it didn’t have any flavor.  I suppose I’m a tad critical, but you’re never going to get your friends and family to eat healthy food, and you’ll have a hard time eating it yourself, if it doesn’t actually taste good.  The truth is that butter is very forgiving of the bland cook, adding richness where people forget to add flavor.  Healthy cooking, on the other hand, is like a fluorescent bulb on your culinary skills: harsh and unforgiving. 

Now, C is a HUGE fan of muffins.  He’d probably go through a whole batch of these in 3 days or less if he didn’t think anyone would judge him for it.  Understanding this reality, I do my best to come up with new ways to make muffins that add a bunch of nutritional value to his favorite snack.  This recipe uses some of my favorite fall flavors, like maple syrup and cranberries, and adds a punch of citrus flavor with the orange zest and freshly-squeezed juice that really brings out the sweet and rich flavors of the sweet potato.  These muffins are moist, full of flavor, and conspicuously lacking in butter.  

Applesauce and cooked sweet potato give these muffins their moistness.  The flavor from the orange masks the applesauce flavor almost completely, making the sweet potato and the pecans the stars of the show.  And who doesn't love the combination of sweet potatoes and pecans?    

I’d tell you that the muffins are perfect to make at the beginning of the week to eat for breakfast or enjoy as a snack at work, but you’ll have to freeze them immediately if you want them to survive for long.  I’m going to make your life a little more difficult by telling you that these are amazing right out of the oven.  And you might have to test more than one just to make sure that they’re safe. 

Maple Sweet Potato Muffins with Pecans and Dried Cranberries

Makes 12 muffins

1 large sweet potato, about ¾ of a pound
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup real maple syrup**
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil spread, melted (Earth Balance is my favorite)
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
The zest from 1 orange (about 1 teaspoon)
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice***
2 Tablespoons milk (almond, soy, or regular)
¼ cup of toasted pecans
3 Tablespoons dried cranberries

*Whole wheat pastry flour has a much lighter texture than regular whole wheat flour and is available at grocery stores (I found mine at Whole Foods).  If you substitute regular whole wheat flour, your muffins will have a much denser texture than these.  I'd say you'd be better off using a combination of unbleached all-purpose flour and regular whole wheat flour as a substitute.    

**If you don't have real maple syrup, use honey or brown sugar instead.  Or just buy a bottle of the good stuff and give yourself an excuse to make pancakes this weekend.  Please don't use Aunt Jemima.    

***You won’t need all the juice from the orange that you zested.  My advice is to use 2 Tablespoons of the juice for the muffins, and use the rest of the juice (about half a cup depending on the orange) to make up a batch of muesli for breakfast while your muffins are baking. 

  1. Rinse your sweet potato and stab it on all sides with a fork to poke holes in the skin.  Place it in the microwave on a piece of paper towel and cover it with another piece of paper towel.  Cook the sweet potato on high for 5 minutes.  Then, flip the sweet potato over using a towel (it will be hot) and heat for 5 more minutes. While your sweet potato is cooking, mix together the flour, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set them aside.  

  1. Remove potato from microwave and use a small paring knife to cut a slit in the top of the potato. 

  1. The skin should come off pretty easily at this point, so remove the skin completely and place the cooked sweet potato flesh into the bowl of your mixer.  You should have about 1 cup of cooked sweet potato.  (This can all be done with a hand mixer or even a spoon, but I think that the stand mixer just makes it really easy). 

  1. Add the maple syrup, vanilla, and melted vegetable oil spread.  Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds. 

  1. Add the applesauce and orange zest and mix for about 30 seconds on low before adding the egg.  (Make sure to add the egg AFTER the applesauce, because your sweet potato and melted butter are both pretty hot at this point, and you'll want to make sure the applesauce cools everything down first).

  1. Keeping the mixer on low, add about half of the dry ingredients to the sweet potato mixture. 

  1. Then add the orange juice and continue to mix until it’s incorporated.  Finally, add the rest of the dry ingredient mixture and the milk and mix about 30 seconds until the batter is just combined.   

  1. Turn off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  Roughly chop your toasted pecans and dried cranberries, add them to the batter, and then use the spatula to fold them into the batter. 

  1. Spray your muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or use paper muffin cups.  Use an ice cream scoop (a great baking tool) or tablespoon to fill the muffin tins approximately ¾ full. 

  1. Bake at 375 degrees for about 22 minutes, until the tops of the muffins start to brown.    

  1. Remove from the oven and allow the muffins to cool for a couple minutes in the pan on a cooling rack.  If you used paper muffin cups, the muffins will pop right out of the pan.  If you're like me and didn’t use paper muffin cups (because you never seem to remember to buy them no matter how many batches of muffins you make) just run a butter knife around the edge of the muffin, and then use the knife to ease the muffin out of the pan. (If one of them breaks as you’re trying to remove it from the pan, count it as a casualty and destroy the evidence). 

 Allow the muffins to cool completely before storing them, but like I said, these are awesome when they're warm and fresh out of the oven.  And if you really want to impress someone, you can make this quick glaze and drizzle it over the top of the muffins.  

Maple Orange Glaze
2 Tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon orange juice

Add the cream cheese, maple syrup, and orange juice to a small mixing bowl whisk the ingredients with a whisk or fork until the mixture becomes a smooth liquid (it won't be thick like frosting).  Use a small spoon to drizzle the glaze over the muffins.   

Storage: These muffins are best stored in the refrigerator after they have cooled completely (you can keep them at room temperature the first day), because they are packed with produce and not a lot of oil.  They shouldn't dry out in the refrigerator like a lot of baked goods do, as long as you wrap them up tight with plastic wrap or store them in a plastic container.  

Freezing: Freeze these without the glaze by wrapping each muffin individually in plastic wrap and then tossing them all in a plastic freezer bag.  Keep them in your freezer and then just grab one from the bag when you want it.  You can let the muffin sit at room temperature to defrost or heat it up in the microwave for 30-60 seconds.  You can add the glaze to the muffins after they're defrosted if you like.  



  1. Can't wait to try one of these when I get home!


  2. I made these muffins, and they were delicious! My family loved them, and even I (who usually dislikes eating nuts/dried fruits in pastries) loved them! I kept trying to figure out why the muffins were so wonderfully sweet, but then I remembered the orange zest and orange juice--they gave just the right amount of sweetness. Definitely will be making these again and incorporating them into my breakfast foods. Thank you!!