Sometime during my childhood, a grandparent or family friend wrapped up a copy of Pretend Soup, a cookbook for preschoolers and young children, for my birthday gift. Each recipe spanned four pages: two with only text (for the adult supervision); two with hand-drawn illustrations and short, simple sentences (for the kids). Multiple nights each week, while Mom stood at the stove stirring boiling pasta or flipping grilled cheese sandwiches, I perched on a chair at the dining table pouring over the cookbook’s pictures, and later I pretended to create each dish at my Fisher Price toy kitchen.
As a determined 8-year-old, I decided to surprise Mom by baking something from the cookbook all by myself. After directing her to stay upstairs in her bedroom while I worked, I picked out the “Hide and Seek Muffins”: basic vanilla muffins with a large fresh strawberry chunk in the center. I flipped open to the illustration pages, pulled out the required ingredients, and nearly cried.
The drawings only explained how to mix everything together… They never stated how much of each ingredient!
For a few minutes, I seriously debated making up the measurements as I went. But even as a kid, I figured out that would probably end in disaster, so I eventually caved, hoping Mom wouldn’t catch on, and ran upstairs to her bedroom.
I slyly posed my question. “Mom, IF you were going to make muffins… How much flour and baking powder would you use? Just if you HAPPENED to…”
She played along, explaining that it depended on how many muffins and the amounts of wet ingredients, but guessed between 1-2 cups of flour and 1-2 teaspoons of baking powder.
I dashed back downstairs (sliding down the banister, of course) and studied the cookbook a little longer. I finally settled on choosing a different and more straightforward recipe, but as I turned the pages to look at the previous options in the cookbook, I realized that the measurements were actually listed on the adult text-only pages after all!
I traced my finger down those pages instead, carefully mixing up the batter at the kitchen table while standing on a wooden chair, and poured it into the muffin tins. As soon as I wiped away the stray drops, I dashed back upstairs to show Mom the trays of raw batter. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to touch the oven; with incredibly klutzy tendencies, I probably would’ve burned myself!
Mom followed me back downstairs, popped the muffin tins into the oven, and I set the timer. Half an hour later (the strawberry centers took longer to cool than the muffins!), we devoured half the batch well before Daddy arrived home from work.
Since that day as an 8-year-old, I haven’t actually baked any more surprise-center muffins, but when this memory recently resurfaced, I decided that definitely needed to change! With spring in the air and summer already on my mind, I created these healthy Tropical Surprise Mini Muffins. Filled with the bright flavor of coconut and juicy pieces of pineapple, these little guys immediately transport your taste buds to warm sandy beaches with tall swaying palm trees. With so few calories, they’ll even get you ready for swimsuit season!
Similar to Pretend Soup’s, my recipe is very basic. Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another—no mixer needed today! Unlike that original recipe, you’ll treat this one more like cake batter by alternating between adding the flour mixture and milk to the egg mixture, stirring in each just until incorporated. Alternating additions are mandatory. They prevent over-developing the flour’s gluten strands and guarantee that the muffins turn out light and airy, not dense and dry. Trust me; it’s worth the extra step!
To ensure the muffins stay light and almost white (like those sandy beaches!), I omitted the egg yolk. Just whisk the egg white with melted coconut oil (clear!) instead of butter (yellow!). I also added in a tiny bit more coconut oil to make up for the missing fat from the egg yolk, which helped create a more tender texture.
The majority of the coconut flavor comes from coconut extract, not the coconut oil. Do not skip the coconut extract! You can find it on the baking aisle near the vanilla extract. It’s shelf-stable and keeps for ages, and you can use the leftovers to make my almond joy cupcakes too!
For the pineapple centers, I diced the fruit rather finely. Unlike a huge chunk, smaller bits are easier to bite into without pulling out the entire filling! To prepare these tiny treats, fill each mini muffin cup a little less than halfway with batter. Use a ½-teaspoon measuring spoon to plop the pineapple into the center, and gently press the fruit into the batter with your index finger. Top with the remaining batter, filling each cup almost to the rim. (That’s how you get those tall domed tops!)
Positively bursting with the taste of paradise, these Tropical Surprise Mini Muffins will remind you of summery days spent sipping on piña coladas—just sans the rum! Because of their juicy pineapple centers and bright coconut base, these soft and tender treats don’t seem lightened up or skinny at all. With so much flavor packed into each little muffin, they’ll help you slim down for summer and make you proud to pull out your swimsuit again!