These gluten free coffee cake muffins with everyone’s favorite crumble mixed into the batter and baked on top make any breakfast special. You can’t beat that tender crumb and nubby topping!
A muffin is not a quick bread loaf
When I share a recipe for a quick bread loaf or cake, I’m often asked if the recipe can be made as muffins or cupcakes. When I post a recipe for muffins or cupcakes, well, you get the idea.
But a muffin is not a quick bread loaf and a cake is not a cupcake—and I promise I’m not trying to be difficult! This is also not something that’s unique to gluten free baking at all. The same holds true for conventional baking.
Just so we’re all on the same page, the term “quick bread” refers to baked goods that are made with chemical leaveners such as baking powder and baking soda, not yeast. Much of baking (muffins, cakes, cupcakes, quick bread loaves) falls into this category. The difference is in the shape and size.
A muffin batter can be less stable than a loaf of bread, since it’s being baked in individual wells in a muffin tin. Batter and dough bake in the oven from the outside in. When making a quick bread loaf, the baking process takes considerably longer to reach the inside of the baked good.
Sometimes, a recipe designed to be made in a a muffin tin will work well enough as a loaf or in a cake pan. But it’s hard to predict, so I never like to promise! That’s why this recipe for gluten free coffee cake muffins is completely separate from our recipe for sour cream gluten free coffee cake.
How to make these gluten free coffee cake muffins
As much as I love a one-bowl recipe, these muffins just don’t lend themselves to that method. If you’re like me, once you understand the general idea of a recipe method, you can basically figure out the steps for yourself.
We begin with a simple crumble recipe that is made first so that it has time to chill in the refrigerator. It’s made with brown sugar and shortening that have been mixed well together into a paste with a fork, to which flour and a pinch of salt are added.
To make the muffin batter, the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ground cinnamon) are whisked together and set aside. Then, butter, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla are beaten well in a large mixing bowl. The dry ingredients are added in batches, alternating with buttermilk. Since the batter is quite thick, the final third of dry ingredients should be mixed by hand.
Finally, most of the refrigerated crumble (reserving about one quarter to use as a topping) is folded into the muffin batter. The batter is divided among prepared wells of a standard 12-cup muffin tin, and the remaining crumble topping is scattered on top.
Why most of the crumble is mixed into the muffin batter
When baked into a cake or quick bread loaf, the crumble pieces are thick and generous. For these standard-sized muffins, rather than a simple gluten free muffin with a crumble topping, most of the crumble topping is mixed into the batter.
The crumble pieces in the batter hold their shape during baking, adding flavor and extra pockets of sweetness to the cakes themselves. The crumble pieces on top add that crisp-tender texture that let you know it’s a real coffee cake. The best of everything!
Ingredients and substitutions
Dairy-free: The crumble topping is naturally dairy-free. There are two types of dairy in the muffin batter and should both be replaceable with dairy-free alternatives.
You should be able to replace the butter in the muffin batter with Earth Balance buttery sticks, which always seems to be the easiest butter replacement to find. If you do have my favorite vegan butter made by Melt brand, I would use that.
In place of the buttermilk in the muffin batter, I recommend using my favorite buttermilk replacement which is great if you’re dairy-free, and also great if you simply don’t have buttermilk on hand. Buttermilk can always be replaced with half plain yogurt (non-dairy plain yogurt if you’re dairy-free) and half milk (non-dairy milk if you’re dairy-free).
Egg-free: Since there are two eggs in this recipe, you should be able to replace each of them with a “chia egg” (1 tablespoon ground white chia seeds + 1 tablespoon lukewarm water, mixed and allowed to gel). Since they’re pale muffins, you may see some colored chia flecks in the muffins.
Cornstarch: If you cannot have corn, try replacing the cornstarch with arrowroot or potato starch.
Shortening in crumble: I use shortening in the crumble because it melts more slowly and is more stable as it bakes. Shortening has very little to no moisture, so the pieces of crumble that are mixed into the muffin batter hold their shape during baking. That keeps their texture and flavor intact in the finished muffins.