Cherry season is in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier. Not only are fresh cherries delicious, these little orbs of fruity heaven are packed with health-boosting nutrients. They’re rich in antioxidants to help fight inflammation and free radicals; melatonin to promote better sleep; and potassium for fluid balance and blood pressure regulation. When something tastes fabulous *and* promotes better health, I’m all in.
Fresh sweet cherries are easy to find right now if you have access to fresh seasonal produce, but if for some reason you can’t get your hands on them, high quality frozen cherries are a perfectly acceptable stand-in for these muffins. I wouldn’t recommend using frozen cherries for raw preparations, but they’re fine for baking. Sweet cherries come in a several different color variations – dark red, red, and yellow. I’ve always been partial to the dark ones with their deep ruby hue, intense flavor, and that slight “pop” as you bite through their firm skin to the tender flesh underneath. Seriously, what’s not to love? My dentist would probably say “the way they stain your teeth.” Umm, that’s why we have whitening toothpaste. And regular cleanings. Shut up and let me eat my cherries in peace.
I’m perfectly happy enjoying fresh cherries out of hand or chopping them up for a bright and spicy salsa, but occasionally I want to highlight them in something that feels a bit indulgent. I’m sure pie comes to mind for most people when they think of sweet cherry treats, but it’s the middle of summer. I don’t feel like messing with pastry dough in this heat, and I want something that comes together pretty quickly and bakes in a relatively short time. For me, the obvious answer is muffins.
These aren’t any old cherry muffins, though. They’re made with a hearty oat and almond flour base (no gums!), and thanks to the magic of coconut oil and nut milk, they’re dairy-free. I did say I wanted something indulgent though, so I’ve added chunks of really good dark chocolate to all those fresh cherries, and topped the muffins with a crunchy oat streusel. The result is a perfect balance of flavor and texture that feels slightly decadent without being too heavy. It’s basically an oatmeal chocolate chunk cookie with cherries, but in muffin form. AND it’s basically good for you. How awesome is that? Now go preheat the oven, grease your muffin tin (or line it with paper liners), and we’ll get started.
The streusel topping is up first, and it’s simple. Combine the dry components in a medium bowl, break the solid coconut oil into the bowl in pieces, and drizzle in the vanilla. Now get in there with your fingers and work the oil throughout the mixture until it comes together in clumps when pinched. That’s it! Set the streusel aside until you need it.
We’ve arrived at the only real “work” that’s required to make this recipe – pitting the cherries. If you have a cherry pitter, definitely put it to use here. I finally caved and bought one a few months ago, and it definitely makes life easier if you have a large volume of cherries to pit. No pitter on hand? Fear not. You’ve got a couple of options:
Option 1: Grab a narrow pastry tip, sturdy straw, or chopstick. Remove the cherry stem, and insert the tip of your implement into the stem end of the cherry, pressing down firmly until you push the pit all the way through and out the other end.
Option 2: With a sharp paring knife, start at the stem end and cut the cherry all the way around until you get back to your starting point, being sure to slice all the way through to the pit. Twist the now-separated halves of the cherry in opposite directions to pull them apart, and use your finger or the tip of your knife to pop out and discard the pit.
Here’s an example of Option 1 using the 3 different implements I mentioned. It works really well, but unless you want your hands to look like you just murdered someone I recommend wearing gloves. Once you’ve pitted all the cherries, give them a rough chop and set them aside. (I didn’t take a picture of Option 2, but if you’ve ever halved an avocado or stone fruit, it’s the same concept.)
I recommend using a true dark chocolate that contains at least 72% cacao solids for this recipe Earthy and slightly bitter, dark chocolate is the perfect foil for the cherries. A chocolate with lower cacao percentage will make these muffins too sweet – at least for my taste – and to be perfectly honest I’m just not a big fan of milk chocolate. I’m also partial to chopping my chocolate from a block or bar rather than using the chips or pre-packaged chunks. Chips may be convenient but they usually contain stabilizers and unnecessary additives, and I think the varied size and shape of hand-chopped chunks makes the eating experience more enjoyable anyway because you get different proportions in each bite. (If you’re looking for an option that won’t break the bank, the 72% Pound Plus bar from Trader Joe’s is terrific value and excellent quality chocolate.) Once the chocolate is chopped, set it aside and move on to the batter.
Add the coconut oil and sugars to a large bowl or your stand mixer. Note how my coconut oil is still in its solid state – you don’t want to start with runny, melted oil because the friction of the beaters is going to soften and melt the oil.
Cream them together until the evaporated cane sugar dissolves and the mixture looks something like this. You’ll still see specks of coconut or brown sugar.
Beat in the eggs one at a time until each is fully incorporated, then beat in the vanilla.
Now sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, whisk them to make sure everything is evenly distributed, and add half of that mixture and half the nut milk to the creamed oil, sugar, and eggs. bowl. Beat on medium speed until combined, then add the remaining dry ingredients and milk, mixing until it all comes together. Increase the speed to medium-high and let the batter go for about 30 seconds until smooth. The rest of the sugar will dissolve, but if you used natural almond meal with the skins you’ll see flecks in the batter.
Here’s mine ready for the final touches. It’s a pretty wet consistency, which is what you want. Fold in the cherries and chocolate by hand with a spoon or spatula, being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl as you fold so that all the tasty bits are distributed evenly throughout the batter.
This is one of those batters you’re going to want to eat straight from the bowl, but remember that it contains raw egg, so sample at your own risk. Hey, look! What’s that over there? [Surreptitiously sticks a finger directly into the batter for a taste.] Honestly, if you’re using high-quality eggs from a trusted source it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get sick from a taste of raw egg unless your immune system is compromised in some way. If anyone asks, you didn’t hear that from me.
I recommend using a two-ounce spring-loaded cookie scoop to portion the batter into the pan because it’s deep enough to prevent too much dripping, and you’ll get the perfect amount of batter into each well. If you don’t have a scoop you can use a deep spoon, or even better, a ¼-cup dry measuring cup.
Once all the batter is divided evenly among the wells, sprinkle each one generously with streusel and press down gently to make sure it sticks. Into the oven they go, where they’ll bake on the lower-middle rack for 28-32 minutes. They’re done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. (Pro tip: When testing muffins for doneness, check at least 2 or 3 in different areas of the pan to be sure they’re all baked through. Sometimes the ones in the middle take a bit longer. Also, don’t mistake melted chocolate for wet batter!)
These beauties will stay in the pan for just about 10 minutes to allow them to firm up a bit, then I’ll turn them out directly onto the rack to finish cooling. Remember that it’s always best to let gluten-free baked goods cool completely before breaking into them to avoid any gumminess or sogginess in the center. Enjoy!
- For Streusel
- 38 g (6 Tbsp) GF oat flour*
- 8 g (1 Tbsp) arrowroot or tapioca starch
- 48 g (¼ cup) coconut or brown sugar
- ¼ tsp fine kosher or sea salt
- 45 g (½ cup) GF old-fashioned rolled oats
- 39 g (3 Tbsp) solid coconut oil
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- For Muffins
- 400 g (2 ½ cups) fresh dark cherries**
- 4 oz (⅔ cup) dark chocolate (at least 72% cacao)
- 78 g (6 Tbsp) coconut oil, firm but not chilled
- 50 g (¼ cup) evaporated cane juice crystals
- 48 g (¼ cup) coconut or brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 150 gr (1 ½ cups) GF oat flour*
- 70 g (¾ cup) natural almond meal or flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 150 ml (½ cup + 2 Tbsp) almond or cashew milk
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 12-well muffin pan with paper liners or grease lightly with coconut oil, and set aside.
- Make streusel: Combine oat flour, starch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well to distribute evenly. Stir in oats. Break in coconut oil in pieces, drizzle in vanilla, and use your fingers to work oil and vanilla into dry ingredients until mixture is evenly moistened and holds together in clumps when pinched. Set aside.
- Prep cherries and chocolate: Pit cherries, chop coarsely, and set aside (If you don’t have a cherry pitter, refer to original post for pitting options). Chop chocolate into chunks, and set aside as well.
- Mix batter: In a large bowl with a handheld mixer or in a stand mixer, cream coconut oil and sugars together on medium-high speed for about one minute or until sugar dissolves and mixture looks somewhat creamy. Reduce speed to medium and beat in eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined. Beat in vanilla extract.
- Sift the flours, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk gently to distribute. Add half of this dry mixture and half of the nut milk to the creamed oil, sugar, and eggs, and beat on medium speed until combined. Add remaining dry mix and nut milk and beat to combine. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat batter for 30 seconds until smooth (if you used natural almond meal you'll still see flecks of skin distributed throughout).
- Turn off mixer and use a spoon or spatula to fold in cherries and chocolate.
- Bake muffins: Using a two-ounce cookie scoop or ¼-cup dry measuring cup, scoop muffin batter into the pan, dividing evenly among the wells - they should be pretty full.
- Top each muffin with a generous sprinkle of streusel, pressing gently to adhere. Bake muffins on lower-middle oven rack for 28-32 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
- Allow muffins to cool in pan on a cooling rack for a few minutes, then remove from pan and let cool completely on rack.
- Store muffins at room temperature for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to a month.
**May substitute 12 oz pitted frozen cherries, roughly chopped (no need to thaw).