I enjoy being able to share what I know and love. Like when I was teaching English as a Second Language to adult migrants. As a native English speaker, you’re essentially passing on what you know and love about your own language (whilst trying to explain it!). The students I taught had been through so much hardship and were thrilled just to learn a few basics; everyday language that enabled them to negotiate life in a new country. It was my privilege to share some of my knowledge with them.


The same applies to sharing my love and knowledge of baking and all things cake. I’m no expert, but I couldn’t help getting a wee bit excited when a friend began asking me questions about baking; “Ali, what’s the difference between bicarb and baking soda…?” By her own admission, ‘a complete novice’, R wanted to know what equipment was needed, and what sort of thing would be best for a beginner baker to make. It didn’t take long to decide that brownies and muffins were the place to start.


A couple of weeks later we were ready, and with the kids playing at our feet, we began by making her husband’s favourite: Double Chocolate Raspberry Brownies… an excellent choice! Next up was Choc Chip Banana Muffins, which were almost healthy enough to share with young E (13 months). Then, because she is motivated to cook healthy food for her family, R asked if I had any savoury muffins in my repertoire. I was ashamed to admit I did not… which is really how these muffins were born!


Admittedly, there is no shortage of muffin recipes on the web, but sometimes it pays to know someone who has tested them out first. For these, I chose polenta as a base because it provides a lovely crunchiness to the texture, and when baking gluten-free, we’re already halfway there! Polenta always seems to taste better with sugar, so these are not sugar-free. Polenta, sugar, plus some ham, corn and chives, rounds out the flavours for a great-tasting, savoury muffin that is gluten and dairy-free.


Ham, Corn and Polenta Muffins {gluten-free + dairy-free}

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

½ cup polenta
1 tablespoon caster sugar (optional)
1 ¼ cups gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil (olive oil or coconut oil is fine)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 x 310g tin (approx 1 cup) creamed corn
1 x 125g tin (approx ½ cup) corn kernels, drained
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic chives
100g (4 oz) shaved ham, chopped
Sweet paprika, for topping (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C (375F). Grease 12 regular (½ cup) non-stick muffin holes. (Or if yours are old and tend to stick like mine, then please, please line with muffin papers or baking paper! I cut 12 squares of non-stick baking paper, 15cm x 15cm each and used them to line the ungreased muffin holes).

Sift the polenta, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a large mixing bowl. Place the oil, eggs and creamed corn in a separate bowl, whisk together well and pour into the dry ingredients.

Add the corn kernels, garlic chives and ham, and stir together with a metal spoon until just combined. Do not overmix. The mixture should still be lumpy.

Spoon the mixture into prepared muffin tins, filling ¾ full. Sprinkle with paprika and bake for 20 minutes until risen and golden brown. Leave in the tin to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Polenta is available at most supermarkets and health-food shops.

Adapted from Family Circle’s ‘Baking – a commonsense guide’ with some help from The Smitten Kitchen


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