Longing for the seasonal pumpkin craze that takes America by storm yet is seemingly non-existent in Italy, I set out to make pumpkin muffins. However, baking in Italy is a bit more challenging. Mostly because I do not speak Italian but also because they do not have the same ingredients as we do in the United States. Due to my gluten-intolerance, allergy to corn and intolerance to dairy, paleo muffins are the best option for me; but Italians are not on the “Paleo train” like many Americans; and for good reason. When your country produces the best carbohydrate products in the world, cutting them out of your diet is a sin! As a result, finding ingredients such as coconut oil and coconut flour are near impossible. However, if you set out with an optimistic attitude and you are willing to be creative and flexible, you can still bake a paleo, gluten-free product in Italy.
Saying this, my optimistic attitude was definitely put to the test. The first road bump? I could not find canned pumpkin anywhere! I considered cooking a pumpkin and then pureeing it myself but due to a lack of time, I decided to morph my pumpkin muffins into banana muffins. So, definitely not the best way to soothe my longing for all things pumpkin, but at least banana muffins are tasty?
Since almonds grow here, almond flour was easy to find. Coconut flour? Not so much. I settled for finely ground coconut flakes. And after searching for a half an hour and finally communicating successfully, thanks to google translate, that I was looking for a product called coconut oil (olio di cocco), I found out they do not carry that product. So, I was led to the entire aisle devoted to olive oils. The patient store clerk showed me which one had the lightest taste and I bought that one. I was not disappointed. I am a HUGE olive oil fan and when I bake paleo “not pumpkin muffins” in Italy, I am happy to substitute with a product that is crafted here. I was able to find maple syrup but it was super expensive. So, for twice the amount and half the price, I purchased raw brown sugar instead. I found an odd looking white liquid that claimed to be vanilla extract. It said “senza glutine” but it was not appealing to me so I splurged and bought whole vanilla beans.
After I conquered shopping, I discovered a whole new set of challenges at home. I could not find baking soda anywhere. Thank goodness, almost all Italians drink sparkling water. Since sparkling water contains carbonation, it acts as a leavening agent. Plus, it would be the perfect solution to replace the moisture I was missing by substituting a dry ingredient for a wet ingredient. Next, I discovered that we were out of eggs. My host dad told me to never buy eggs because they have a friend that gives them fresh eggs every week. Unfortunately, I forgot to check if we had some before I left for the store.
Thankfully, Papa showed up as I was running out the door to go to the Patisserie to buy eggs. He said he had some and if I could wait five minutes he would bring me some. I swear to you, that man is an angel. Not a day goes by that he does not help me out with one issue or another! The last and final obstacle I conquered was figuring out how to use the oven. My host family has a fancy oven that has recipes per-programmed into it. My recipe said to bake my muffins at 325 degrees Fahrenheit which is about 170 degrees Celcius. So, I found a recipe called “Torte di Nonna” that was programmed for that temperature and I baked my muffins for about 20-25 minutes.
To my surprise and utter joy, they turned out wonderfully! The sparkling water contained just enough carbonation to give my muffins a lift and the coconut and almond flours created a texture that was firm but not dense. The olive oil was light in taste which allowed the banana, cinnamon, vanilla and chocolate chunks to be the prominent flavors.
- 2 cups almond flour
- ¾ cup coconut flour
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 mashed bananas
- ¼ cup raw sugar
- ½ cup sparkling water
- ¼ cup light olive oil
- 3 eggs
- ½ dark chocolate bar, chopped (optional)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F or 170 degrees C.
- Dissolve the raw sugar in the sparkling water.
- Mix all dry ingredients together in one bowl and all wet ingredients in another bowl.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.
- Grease muffin tin with olive oil or line with paper.
- Pour two heaping tablespoons of batter into each muffin tin.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Though the challenges were many, I was able to bake non-pumpkin paleo muffins in Italy with the help of store clerks, Papa, and google translate. Although, I do not feel like I’m a part of the pumpkin craze that’s currently being celebrated in every aspect of American life, I’m okay with it. I’m thankful that all cultures are unique and different foods are celebrate; that’s what makes the world an interesting place. I’m looking forward to eating one of my muffins for breakfast tomorrow while I drink my morning caffe amidst quickly spoken Italian words that I am slowly beginning to understand.