Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oprah’s Oatmeal Muffins and The Zero Fat Muffin Experiment by Cleo Coyle

Like Cher and Martha, Oprah has achieved that rare thing—global one-name recognition. Her public battle of the bulge alone should be enshrined in the broadcast hall of fame. First her weight was up then down; then way up and down again. Do you remember any of that?

For Oprah, the public yo-yoing began with a crash, liquid diet. After four months on the Optifast program, she finally fit into her size 10 Calvin Klein jeans and walked onto the set of her talk show pulling a red wagon filled with the equivalent of the 67 pounds of fat she’d lost.

Then it happened. The horror! The horror! The burger! She went off her diet one day, eating a single bacon, avocado cheeseburger. (I can’t believe I still remember that.)

If I correctly recall Oprah's foodie fall from grace, she ate that burger and went absolutely crazy. She couldn’t stop eating and chomped her way right back up again, gaining back all the red wagon weight and more.

Disgusted and frustrated, she turned to health professionals for advice, who explained to her that crash dieting doesn’t work. It destroys the metabolism, setting the dieter up for the kind of yo-yoing weight loss and gain that Oprah had experienced. (Hey, listen, I’ve gone up and down about the same thirty pounds all my life, so I can honestly say: “I feel you, Sister!”)

Oprah forced herself to learn about her body and nutrition, eating right and exercising. Instead of a crash diet, she changed her way of eating and living, and a wonderful thing happened: She pulled her viewers along for this new ride of living and learning.

During this period, she endorsed a cookbook by her personal chef, Rosie Daley, whom she’d hired away from a spa. The front flap of the cookbook says Oprah loves these recipes because they helped her lose weight and feel good. I noticed it on my bookshelf the other day. I haven’t looked at it in years, and I pulled it down.

Cleo Coyle, lover of
muffins, fan of Oprah,
and author of The
Coffeehouse Mysteries
Now I enjoy cooking all kinds of recipes. Last week I shared a classic (and decadent) French dessert, Chocolate Pots de Crème. Click here for a PDF of the recipe if you missed that one.

I also have fun developing and adapting healthier recipes, too. Among my favorite treats to enjoy with a cup of coffee are my Healthier Oatmeal Cookies with maple glaze. Get the PDF of that recipe by clicking here. In the PDF, I explain one reason why whole grains are so good for us and so good at helping us take off weight.

I really enjoy the taste of rolled oats, so I paged through the Oprah cookbook looking for that ingredient, and low and behold, Oprah had a favorite oatmeal muffin recipe.

I couldn’t believe this recipe contained no butter or oil, not one milligram. That seemed a little extreme. I mean, I'm all for healthy recipes, but if they don't satisfy you on a foodie enjoyment level, then I doubt they'll help you in the long run.

Even though I was wary of this recipe, I gave it a quick try. So here you go, my zero-fat muffin experiment for your edification. (Scroll down to my "report" below to see what I thought of it.)


Adapted from In the Kitchen with Rosie: Opraph's Favorite Recipes with notes from Cleo Coyle

Makes 12 standard muffins
(or 24 mini muffins)

128 calories per standard muffin and only 2.5 grams of fat 


Light vegetable oil cooking spray
2 large egg white (I used extra large, all I had on hand)
1/3 cup maple syrup (do not substitute “pancake” syrup)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (juice form about 1-1/2 medium oranges)
1 cup skim milk (I used 1% low fat)
1 tablespoon orange zest (grated rind of one medium orange)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice (I increased to ¼ teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (I eliminated because allspice carries that flavor note)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1-1/2 cups rolled oats (old fashioned, not quick cooking)
1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white flour, see my end notes on this switch)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup dried cranberries (I substituted raisins, doubled the amount, and soaked them in water then drained them for extra plumpness)
¼ cup chopped pecans (I had no nuts on hand and didn’t add any nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

Step 1 - The Oprah recipe says to “spray the tins 3 times with vegetable oil” and I know why. With no fat in this recipe (no butter or oil), these muffins will want to stick like crazy to your pan, hence the liberal use of non-stick spray. I decided to make mine with paper liners.

Step 2 – Whisk egg whites in a mixing bowl until frothy. Whisk in pure maple syrup, orange juice, and milk. Add in the orange zest, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Whisk to blend. Switch to a spoon or spatula and stir in your rolled oats, flour, and raisins (or cranberries and nuts).

Step 3 – Fill your muffin cups about 2/3rds full. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the muffins are firm in the center. If baking mini-muffins, they should be done in about 12 minutes.


FLAVOR – HIT! The flavors of maple, orange, and spices with the raisins tasted delicious. Once I correct the texture (see below), this promises to be a satisfying breakfast or coffee break muffin, especially with pecans or walnuts added next time around.

TEXTURE – MISS. My results looked very pretty indeed but the texture was way off what it should have been – rubbery instead of tender and crumbly. Yes, I know! Whole wheat flour soaks up more liquid than white, and my batter was in fact too liquid before it went into the oven, but I wanted to try a 1:1 ratio just to see what I’d get. Next time I’ll use the whole wheat flour or (maybe) split the whole wheat and white flour and increase the white flour a bit. My aim here is to make a tasty, low fat oatmeal muffin -- oatmeal and whole wheat together might be very healthy indeed but tasty? I don't know. I'm going to continue experimenting with further adaptations. (I'll keep you posted. )

STICK FACTOR – MISS. I used two different paper liners, some with a slight waxed coating and some without. The liners without that slippery waxed coating were a disaster. Some of the muffin actually stuck to the paper! Now this could have been my fault, having used white instead of whole wheat flour, but I suspect that's why the Oprah recipe did not give you an option of using paper liners at all but instead insisted on spraying the tins with non-stick spray 3 times! I think I'll solve this problem by using foil liners next time and spraying them with non-stick spray once.

So there you go, a no-fat muffin, an inspiring story and a basic healthy muffin recipe to play with yourself.

Honestly, until I get this recipe right, I'll continue to stick with my Healthier Oatmeal Cookies (with or without the maple glaze)!

Click here for that recipe PDF and...

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

To get more of my recipes, win free coffee,
or find out more about my books, visit me
 at my *virtual* coffeehouse:

Click on the book covers above
to learn more about Cleo's culinary mysteries.


A final, quick note for our mystery reading fans.
The latest Mystery Readers Journal with the theme Hobbies, Crafts, and Special Interests is now available.

The issue, edited by Mystery Fanfare's Janet Rudolph, includes many mystery authors who have guest posted for us over the past year. You can check out the contents by clicking here, which will also give you info on how to purchase a copy (hard or electronic) for yourself.



  1. Muffins are my favorite kind of recipe to tinker with. (In fact, I can't make the same muffin twice, because I never fully follow any recipes!) They might not turn out right, but I always feel like I had fun experimenting. :D

  2. All my young adult life, I was this tiny thing. My nickname was Twiggy, Bones, Toothpick...you name it. If it had to do with something thin, I became known by it.

    Until I had my child. I ballooned by 50 pounds and only lost 20 after she was born. 30 pounds overweight, I tried every diet out there, losing about 5 pounds a year until I was within 10 pounds of the weight I wanted to be.

    I couldn't shake that last 10 and didn't really care. I'd try to diet it off once in a while but really, I just maintained. Then I noticed a steady increase. 5 pounds usually came and went but for one month...those 5 pounds didn't budge. I was now 15 pounds over my desired weight and no matter what diet I did, I couldn't lose more than 2 pounds and I couldn't stick to it either.

    I had no idea I had bad eating habits. And I had no idea some of the "diet" food I was eating made things worse. 5 cans of diet soda a day, just to name one thing that kept me chunky.

    Then one day...my doctor informed me I had high cholesterol. With some very early deaths due to heart disease in my immediate family, I freaked out and changed the way I ate. I counted calories and fat and proteins and carbs. I lost six pounds in the first month.

    The pounds don't melt away as fast as they used to for me, but they stay away now. And one thing that helps is finding healthy foods that mock the junk I used to love to eat. Like muffins and oatmeal raisin cookies. LOL

    So you can see why I had to stop lurking and actually comment. LOL Thank you so much for posting the recipes! I can't wait to try them.

    Best wishes for best health,

  3. I was just reading Gin's comment and wanted to applaud. I think making a lifestyle change is not only incredibly challenging, but ultimately so much more worthwhile than a crash diet. I've been trying to find some time to exercise for weeks and I think I've got some inspiration now!

  4. Replies to...

    @Wendy - Hurrah for foodie experiments! The famous gastronome Brillat-Savarin once said, “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a star.” Although I doubt very much he would have enjoyed this zero-fat muffin, I do think he would applaud the foodie fun we try to have in our Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen!

    More replies to come...

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. Replies to...

    @Gin –I was so pleased to see your comment! Thank you! I don’t know any woman who isn’t struggling with (or, at the very least, aware and concerned about) her weight. As we get older, our metabolism fights us, as well. But there’s no reason to give up on ourselves and our health and fitness. (I use the term “fitness” loosely. I’m not talking running a marathon but simply feeling good, you know? Not getting winded when climbing a simple flight of stairs.) I hate the word “diet” and (like Oprah) I don’t think they work at all. When we feel deprived, we start fixating on what we’re missing. The very best success in losing weight and feeling good comes not from eliminating what we enjoy from our lives but finding healthier replacements.

    I also know saying the word “exercise” will make some people cringe. But the greatest exercise in the world is simply walking! Walking is something almost all of us can do. (I think the inventor of the Walk-Man should win a Nobel Prize. Before that device, walking or jogging was such a bore. Now we can bring along an audio book to keep us company; a mix of our favorite music, or a full-blown Broadway musical.) And walking one hour a day, every day, can completely turn our health around in a very short time.

    Thanks again, Gin, for dropping out of lurk to share your very personal experience. You certainly inspired me—and I’m sure more people today will feel that way, too!

    @Elizabeth – You know, every spring, I, too, need inspiration to roll that dang Sisyphus boulder up the hill. Frustrating but, in the end, good exercise! :)

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  6. Cleo, love the Hit or Miss decisions at the end. Those really help understand what works in a recipe like this. And I agree with you. Walking is the BEST exercise. In snow or in sun or inside. Add twenty sit ups and ten to twenty "girl" pushups and you're working all the muscles. :)

    I'm going to fiddle with your recipe as well and report back...soon.



  7. Reply to...

    @Avery - I know how hard you work to adapt recipes (making them gluten-free) so this has got to be a walk in the park for you -- and speaking of walking -- I'm delighted to know you feel the same way I do about it! :)

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  8. Cleo - love this! Thank you for testing and thank you for your Hit and Miss conclusions. Sometimes we learn more by things that don't work!

    Gin's story is such an inspiration. I lost quite a bit of weight (that had accumulated over my pregnancies) and about twelve years ago I took the excess off. But now ten pounds (maybe even 15) have crept back on and I need to watch and exercise. My husband and I have started walking again and I'm keeping a closer eye on my carbs. Sugar is my downfall. Absolutely. If I have too much I get sluggish and tired. And with less energy, I move less. Vicious circle. Thanks, Cleo, for opening up this discussion and thanks, Gin, for sharing!

  9. I loved your testing out the recipe for us and I will certainly use your oatmeal cookie recipe while you try to perfect the fatless muffin recipe. I love to eat healthily, but the food does have to taste great.

  10. Two for the price of one! What a great post, Cleo. I have a passion for oatmeal, so I know where I will start. I loved the analytical approach to this.


  11. LOL, Cleo! I have the same cookbook. I remember thinking I had bought the secrets to great eating without weight gain. Yeah, right.

    Gin, I'm so glad you came out of lurkdom!

    As far as walking, my dogs take me on a walk at least twice a day. : )

    ~ Krista

  12. Replies to...

    @Julie - Could not agree more: Misses offer the greatest opportunity to learn. Agree also on the sugar. I really enjoy cakes, cookies, and candies, but if I'm sane (and want to stay that way), I'll balance them with fruits and veggies! TY for sharing your own struggles. I personally don't know any woman who can't relate!

    @Lil - Oh, thank you for that. I know there are people out there who don't care about food or what it tastes like. (And I doubt very much that they're reading this blog!) But I absolutely agree with you. "Good for you" food that also tastes good is definitely my goal. And I hope you enjoy my oatmeal cookies!

    @MaryJane - Shout-out to my fellow crime-writing cook and oatmeal lover. :)

    @Krista - Oh, man, I wish there was a magical cookbook that would do that! -- Also, I love that your pups take you for a walk every day. (Or is it the other way around?) Another wonderful reason to adopt a furry friend.

    Cheers, everyone!
    Cook with love, eat with joy,
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  13. What a great conversation we are having today...now you get my take on the whole shebang!! We found out that this year we could get a substantial break on our health care plan if we followed their healthy lifestyle plan. Initially I was thrilled...after all we don't smoke, we don't drink excessively and I thought we were relatively healthy. Lo and behold...the extra weight that I blame on baby fat (even though the baby just turned 17!!) didn't "fit" into their guidelines...so now I am going to join Weight Watchers with a big push in the patootie from Blue Care Network. How will I fare?? Hmmmm I'll have to let you know...but ladies thank you in advance for your experiments with healthy eating...now I need how to figure out how to fit in all the bacon Elizabeth entices me with ;-)

  14. Thanks for the recipe! Can't wait to try your oatmeal cookies.

  15. Replies to...

    @Nancy - "I blame it on baby fat (even though the baby just turned 17!!)" - OMG. You always manage to crack me up. Thank you! I hear laughter burns calories so I guess we're both on our way to a better health insurance premium. :)

    @Kathleen - You are very welcome! So nice to see you in the Kitchen!

    Cook with love, eat with joy,
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter