This recipe for 100% whole-wheat muffins has been tested and tested and then tested some more. I’ve honed in on a new technique for baking with whole-wheat flour, which I believe will change the game when it comes to healthy-ish baking. Our “soaker” method creates a 100% whole-wheat muffin that’s uber-tender, light and fluffy, and stays moist for days after baking.

muffin cut in half and topped with butter on a white plate

Why This Recipe Works

Most 100% whole-wheat muffins are riddled with issues—whether it’s being dry and crumbly, rock hard, or even short and stout, most whole-wheat muffins are for the hard-core health nuts. 

Not these muffins—though I do think the health nuts will eat these up too. 

After a variety of tests and many failed methods, I found using a “soaking method” achieved an outrageously tender whole-wheat muffin that was springy, moist, flavorful, and light. Once I honed it on the soaking method, I then needed to refine the ratio of dry-to-liquid both during the soaking stage and mixing of the batter. 

Aside from this revolutionary (in my opinion) method, I also add a bit of cornstarch which is often found in cakes to aid tenderness. Instead of a natural sweetener, I opt for traditional brown sugar but pull way back on the amount. And instead of butter, I use olive oil which keeps the muffins nice and moist, even days after baking.

flour, starch, spices, olive oil, vanilla, egg, batter, and sugar measured out and arranged on a table

Ingredients in These Healthy Muffins

Whole-wheat flour

I was committed to developing a muffin recipe that uses standard whole-wheat flour. I love me some recipes that use whole-wheat pastry flour and white whole-wheat flour, but it’s time we have a muffin that uses good ’ol regular whole-wheat flour.

Buttermilk 

What used to be the liquid left after churning butter is now a thick and tangy cultured milk product. The slight acidity helps activate the baking soda, and the tanginess adds a nice balance of flavors to the muffin.

If you can’t find or don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute with milk + vinegar. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to a liquid measuring cup, then pour the milk over top to reach the 1 cup mark. Stir and allow the mixture to rest 10 minutes before using. I will say, the texture of homemade buttermilk is not nearly as impressive as buttermilk from the store, so if you can, use store-bought.

Cornstarch 

Cornstarch is a common ingredient in cakes and helps to create a light and tender crumb. If you can’t have corn, you can try arrowroot starch, though we have not tested that (yet). 

Leaverners

You’ll need a bit of baking soda and baking powder for these muffins. We like double acting baking powder.

Brown sugar

Use light-brown sugar and be sure to pack the cup when measuring. We don’t recommend using dark brown sugar as that will alter the amount of liquid in the recipe and likely impact the texture of the 

Olive oil

I love baking with olive oil, and when it’s one of the main flavors I will often use extra-virgin olive oil, like in this lemon tart recipe. However for this recipe, I often prefer regular olive oil for its mild flavor which allows the vanilla, cinnamon and whole-wheat flavor to come through. 

Egg

Make sure to use egg labeled as “large.” If you’re using farm-fresh, you can weigh the egg (out of shell) to verify you have the right amount. It should weight 50 grams.

If the egg weighs less than 50 grams (out of shell), crack another egg, whisk the eggs together then weight out 50 grams. Save the rest for a breakfast scramble. 

Flavorings 

Ground cinnamon and vanilla add just enough oomph without stealing the show. If you want to play around with flavors, I encourage you to make these once then mix up the spices and extracts. Orange zest, almond extract, ground ginger, and nutmeg are just a few I would try first. 

a muffin, broken in half and arranges on a small white plate with a knife of butter

Test Kitchen Tips

  • Use a food scale to measure out the ingredients. This is THE most foolproof way for measuring out ingredients. If you don’t have a scale, be sure you fluff the flour before spooning the flour into a measuring cup and leveling with a flat edge. 
  • Coat your muffin tin very well with nonstick spray—this is the only way to ensure the muffins pop out easily. This recipe makes 8 muffins, so before you bake I recommend you wipe out the empty well to avoid the cooking spray from burning. 
  • Use an oven thermometer to understand how hot (or not) your oven is! Most oven run at least 15 degrees hotter or cooler than they display. Adjust the temperature as needed. 
  • Preheat your oven longer. Even if your oven beeps and says it’s preheated, it likely isn’t up to temperature yet. I recommend allowing your oven to preheat for an added 10 minutes before starting to bake. 

Healthy Muffin Recipes

Check out this list of other healthy muffin recipes that use a variety of wholesome ingredients.

FAQs

Can I use Greek yogurt instead of buttermilk?

We don’t recommend substituting the buttermilk out—it’s an incredibly important ingredient for these muffins.

Any mix-ins you recommend?

We are still testing different mix-ins and will publish those variations as they are tested and passed. A few ideas we are testing include healthy chocolate chip muffins, zucchini muffins, pumpkin muffins, and mini muffins. Any requests?

Healthy Whole-Wheat Muffins

Print Recipe
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Soaking Time 8 hrs
Total Time 8 hrs 20 mins
Yield 8 muffins
Category Breakfast
Cuisine American

Directions

You get all of the benefits of whole wheat flour (flavor and nutrition) and none of the expected drawbacks (dry, dense or crumbly).

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups (150 grams) + 2 tablespoons (15g) whole-wheat flour, divided
  • 1 cup (252g) buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons (20g) cornstarch*
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon (5g) baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoons (2g) ground cinnamon, optional
  • ¼ teaspoon (2g) kosher salt
  • cup (71g) packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (56g) olive oil
  • 1 (50g) large egg
  • 1 tablespoon (15g) vanilla extract
  • Turbinado sugar also called sugar in the raw, for sprinkling on top

Instructions

  • For the soaker, combine 1 ¼ cups (150g) flour and buttermilk. Stir to combine then cover with plastic or a tight fitting lid and refrigerate overnight (8–10 hours).
    sticky dough mass in a clear glassbowl
  • Heat oven to 425ºF (218ºC). Thoroughly coat muffin tin with nonstick spray.
  • Whisk together remaining 2 tablespoons flour, starch, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
    flour and spices in a small glass bowl
  • In a large bowl, which together brown sugar, oil, egg and vanilla until smooth and pale and most of the sugar has dissolve; 1 minute
    caramel-colored liquid in a glass bowl with a whisk
  • Add soaker to sugar-oil mixture.
  • Whisk soaker into sugar mixture until smooth.
    bubbly caramel-colored batter in a large glass bowl with a whisk
  • Stir in starch mixture to combine.
    caramel-colored batter in a large glass bowl with a whisk
  • Scoop batter by ⅓ cup into muffin tins top with turbinado sugar.
    batter in muffin wells in a muffin tin and topped with sugar
  • Bake 5 minutes then turn oven down to 400ºF (204ºC) and continue baking until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out with few crumbs attached, 8–10 minutes more, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking. (Total bake time 13-15 minutes.)
    8 baked muffins in a 12-tin muffin pan
  • Let muffins cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from muffin tin and let cool 5 minutes longer. Serve.

Notes

Store muffins in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. After a day or so, the turbinado sugar on the top of the muffins will start to weep—it’s safe to eat, but if you’re making these ahead and plan to serve them a day after baking, skip the sugar topping and instead serve with some honey or honey butter.
If you can’t have corn, you can try arrowroot starch. We have not tested this (yet) but it should work fine.

Nutrition

Keywords healthy muffins, whole-wheat muffins
Did you make this recipe?Leave a comment below and tag @ZestfulKitchen on Instagram and hashtag it #zestfulkitchen!
muffins piled into a bowl lined with white parchment paper

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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