The secret to baking with frozen blueberries: Don't be blue

Ah, a lovely batch of golden blueberry muffins.

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Um, make that greenish-blue blueberry muffins.

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Fresh blueberries are a pleasure to bake with.

But unless you have access to a blueberry patch, fresh berries can be quite expensive; and their season is short.

Enter frozen blueberries, the backbone of many a winter blueberry pie.

But pie is one thing. Muffins, scones, cake, and coffeecake are quite another, frozen berries bleeding juice into batter to turn these golden-hued beauties a sickly shade of purple-green.

This doesn’t have to happen, you know. There’s a simple solution.

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Rinse your frozen blueberries before you use them.

Rinse berries in cold water several times – until the water is noticeably lighter when you drain them. It’ll start out dark blue, but will gradually shade its way up to a watery red/blue.

When that happens, dry the berries well with several layers of paper towels, top and bottom.

Let’s see what happens when we use them in muffins.

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Top two photos: frozen berries being stirred into muffin batter. Bottom left: batter made with fresh berries. Bottom right: fresh berries + crushed berries.

Gently and quickly stir the frozen berries into the batter. You’ll see a few inevitable streaks of blue, but the entire batter shouldn’t turn blue. If that starts to happen – stop stirring, you’re done!

Clearly, it’s easy to get golden muffins when you use fresh berries; they don’t bleed at all (bottom left).

But this recipe called for 2 cups of fresh berries, plus an additional 1/2 cup of crushed fresh berries; let’s see if crushing the berries (bottom right) turns the batter blue.

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So far, so good. The muffins made with frozen berries are in back; with fresh berries in the middle, and with a portion of crushed berries in front.

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Top to bottom: frozen berries, fresh berries, crushed berries. The frozen berries tinted the muffins just a bit…

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…but not nearly as much as they would have had I not rinsed them.

This photo is from an earlier experiment; unrinsed frozen berries on the left; rinsed and dried frozen berries on the right.

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Man, now I REALLY want a blueberry muffin, don’t you? This berry-packed recipe is for Famous Department Store Blueberry Muffins, a clone of the sugar-crusted muffins once served in the top-floor café at Jordan Marsh, a Boston department store (and New England institution). Jordan’s, sadly, is out of business; but their muffins live on.

Remember, rinse and dry those frozen berries before you use them; it DOES make a difference. Enjoy!

Note: To those of you below wondering about losing flavor and nutrients when you rinse the berries, it’s true, you probably lose a little bit of the berries’ nutrition. But most of the juice (and vitamins) remain inside the berries; and I doubt you could notice a difference in flavor. By all means, use berries without rinsing, if that’s your preference. As usual – no baking police here!

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Nancy

    I have not yet tried the rinse and dry technique. Usually for muffins I lightly stir the frozen berries (make sure they don’t have ice crystals on them) into the dry ingredients, pour in the liquid, and then gently mix just until blended. I bake these at a slightly lower temperature.

    Nancy, thanks for your feedback here; I love hearing the little tricks everyone has to deal with frozen berries in muffins. 🙂 PJH

    Reply
    1. Mary Bowles

      We freeze our own blueberries. When I use them for muffins or blueberry cake, I set them in a colander, rinse and let them drain. When I am ready to fold them into the batter, I flour the berries, using more flour for the larger ones. I think the older recipes used more of a “wild” berry,the ones now are much larger and juicer and tend to sink, draining and flouring seems to make a big difference.
      Mary, Thanks for the rinsing and flouring tips. Many customers wonder how to “keep their berry afloat” in the batter and this will help. JoAnn@KAF

  2. Anne Marie

    I keep my blueberries frozen until the last possible second. I freeze them on a tray and THEN vacuum bag them so they stay individual berries when I open the bag. (5 gallons or more a season) As soon as I need them in a recipe, I open the bag and toss in several tablespoons of the flour from the recipe, and then toss the flour with the berries, coating them. Then berries and their tossing flour get mixed into the recipe at the last and folded in. Berries thaw so quickly in the oven there is no reason to thaw them first. The flour allows them to set in the batter and not sink to the bottom of lighter mixes 😀

    Anne Marie, that’s a good tip, thanks. And I’ve found that home-frozen berries don’t “bleed” nearly as much as pre-packaged from the store, I think because they don’t go through all the jostling and slamming around that commercially frozen berries do. PJH

    Reply
  3. Kelly

    Love all your comparison pictures. I’ve done the rinsing; I also like to toss them with flour. That really seems to prevent the green as well, even if there are some purple streaks when folding them into the batter. 🙂

    Thanks for the tip, Kelly – much appreciated! PJH

    Reply
  4. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies

    PJ, I’ve also read that dusting the fruit in your dry mix or just a little extra AP will help the blueberries distribute better and stop the bleeding. Wonder if that would work with the crushed berries..

    Amber, I actually didn’t have any problem with the crushed fresh berries and muffin color; it’s only the frozen ones that “bleed blue.” I’ve found mixing them with the dry ingredients first does help somewhat, though not as much as rinsing. Thanks for the suggestion – PJH

    Reply
  5. Tandy

    I’ve had good luck tossing the blueberries in the dry ingredients before adding the wet. I know it’s not typical but hey, if it works . . .

    Exactly right, Tandy – whatever works for you, in your kitchen, is the perfect solution. Thanks for the tip – 🙂 PJH

    Reply
  6. Joyce

    I find rinsing them takes away the flavor, & no one complains of the color,they r just glad to see i’ve made blueberry muffins…

    It’s true, Joyce, either way no one will complain about fresh, warm blueberry muffins! PJH

    Reply
  7. Kolohe

    I freeze fresh blueberries on a cookie sheet then bag them in 2 cup bags from the food saver…it sucks the air out..keeps well for 6-8 months…I’ve also done this with blackberries and raspberries …

    Good idea, freezing in 2-cup increments – thanks for the tip! PJH

    Reply
  8. Briana DeGruttola

    When you rinse out essentially the juice, aren’t you loosing nutrients too?

    Briana, probably losing some nutrients, yes; but a lot of juice (and nutrients) remain, as well. PJH

    Reply
  9. EC

    Love the suggestion, but doesn’t rinsing the blueberries cause them to lose some (or a good deal) of their flavor?

    No, their flavor remains intact – at least in my opinion. They actually don’t lose a whole lot of juice during the rinsing process. Try a side-by-side test sometime, making the recipe, dividing the batter in half, then adding rinsed berries to one half, unrinsed to the other. See what you think – this is exactly the kind of test we do in the test kitchen all the time. PJH

    Reply
  10. KGMOM

    Aren’t you losing flavor when you wash all that juice down the drain?

    It’s not a whole lot of juice – the berries themselves remain intact, so it’s just any juice that’s leaked out during the freezing process. Someone with a sensitive palate might notice a loss of flavor, but in side by side tests, I couldn’t taste a difference. PJH

    Reply
  11. Kiran

    Hi,
    The recipe looks beautiful but we don’t get a lot of frozen blueberries in our part of the world :(.
    However, the blueberries tinting the cake did remind me of a similar problem which I hope you can solve. When I bake carrot cakes, I always add walnuts to them and they turn black while baking – they taste great, however, they do look quite ugly. Any help would be appreciated? 🙂
    Thank you! ..

    Kiran, the black walnut issue you mention has to do with walnuts’ reaction to baking soda. Walnuts are very sensitive to alkaline environments, and can change color when exposed to a certain level of baking soda. As can the grated carrots in your cake – which can turn green. You might try reducing the baking soda/powder just a bit, see if you can obtain the same texture and improved color by using a little less. Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  12. Catherine Gergen

    I’ve had excellent luck with (personally) dried blueberries. They plump in the baking process, still have the wonderful flavor, but don’t treat your baking like water-bomb targets. After about 14 to 16 hrs in a tabletop dehydrator, they go into a zipper freezer bag for ANY possible use. We grow some marvelous berries. WA state

    What a great idea – dried blueberries are really expensive to buy, but when you dry your own… I’ll have to try that, as I actually do have a dehydrator. Thanks, Catherine! PJH

    Reply
  13. Dave Aldrich-Thorpe

    As a New Englander that has made many blueberry muffins, pancakes, pies, loaf cakes – I would rather have the blue spots and “green?” spots than lose the flavor by washing them off. My kids only know spotty muffins!

    Actually, Dave, I didn’t notice any reduction in flavor (I tested both ways); but to each his own, right? That’s what I love about food – we’re all free to have it however we prefer. PJH

    Reply
  14. Mary McC

    Another way to avoid the problem is not to add frozen blueberries to the batter, but instead layer them in as you fill the muffin pan. Probably takes about the same amount of time as rinsing and patting them dry…

    So, just dollop some berries onto a layer of batter in each cup, then add another layer. I’ll have to try that sometime, Mary, thanks. PJH

    Reply
  15. Eric

    I agree with a few others on here – I don’t make muffins much, but for scones I always mix up my dry ingredients first, then toss my frozen (or fresh) berries in the the bowl with the dry ingredients before stirring in the wet mixture. I have found that, for scones at least, stirring in berries at the end a) either leads to over mixing (not a problem if you add them to dry mixture) or b) doesn’t distribute the berries evenly or c) makes it too easy to smash the berries, especially delicate berries like brambles.

    Anyway you do it, though, they always taste great despite how they look!

    Reply
  16. Colleen

    What would happen If you made the batter the night before and folded in blues and baked in the am?

    Nothing bad would happen, many bakeries make their muffin batters overnight! This gives the flour time to absorb more of the moisture in the batter so it makes for a better muffin.-Jon

    Reply
  17. Sandie@afoodieaffair.com

    With all the different types of blueberry muffins and cakes I’ve made, I can’t believe I haven’t done this! I’ve tried coating with flour, etc. but this is great! Gray muffins taste wonderful, but don’t look very good at all!

    Reply
  18. Teresa F.

    Thanks so much for showing photos of the different blueberries! Everyone now knows how each type turns out and pick what they want their muffins to look like. You are indeed making me yearn for a blueberry muffin.

    The most memorable blueberry muffins I’ve had was at the Univ. of Ca. Davis Coffeehouse. Their cookbook listed half-n-half instead of milk. It really makes for a rich and delicious muffin!!

    Reply
  19. Carolyn

    Back when I had raspberry canes, I would freeze the berries on a sheet pan and then transfer to plastic bags – usually in 1 cup increments. When I had accumulated enough and had the time, I made raspberry jelly (a token to my late sister who had dentures). I gave away the jelly to family and friends with the proviso that if they returned the empty jar I would give them another full one. When I went on a trip I always left a jar for my cat sitter and there was always an empty on the counter when I returned.
    I bet anyone who receives those jars full are delighted! An old Vermonter taught me to never return an empty dish (or jar!) empty. If you left me one of your jars, I would be sure it was returned full. I cannot guarantee it would be jelly, though! Would you take homemade salsa or hummus or granola? Elisabeth

    Reply
  20. Carole N

    New to your site but was wondering how to use up those frozen berries. Thank you. Is there a way to print the info but not the pics?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You may use your frozen blueberries in just about anything. Quick bread, pancakes, crumb cake, coffee cake are just a few suggestions. Follow PJ’s advice by rinsing with cold water, drying on paper towels and folding them into the batter with a gentle hand. If you would just like the recipe without all the blog pictures, below the very first picture you will see the recipe name. It appears like this; recipe – Famous Department Store Blueberry Muffins. The recipe is a link and will take you to our recipe archives from the blog. When you get there, just click on Printable Version so it will be formatted without all the customer reviews! If you have any trouble, please call us at 1-800-827-6836. Elisabeth

    2. Beeje

      Another suggestion: When I want to keep a blog post or cooking website recipe without pictures, ads, nutritional info etc I just copy/paste the whole thing into Word then edit out the non-essentials. Then I change what’s left to my preferred font and font size and save the doc to my hard drive in the relevant “Recipes” subfolder. This is a quick & easy way to access favorite recipes without the clutter of paper, and it’s also very easy to share recipes via email. Just my two cents!

    3. PJ Hamel, post author

      Beeje, thanks so much – lots of people have questions about this exact topic. Cheers! PJH

  21. Ara

    Great post. I was checking continuously this weblog and I’m inspired! Extremely helpful info particularly the last part 🙂 I deal with such information a lot. I was looking for this certain information for a long time. Thank you and good luck.

    Reply
  22. Beeje

    This info is definitely helpful but I haven’t had any luck in finding info on a similar problem. I have what appears to be a delightful recipe for blueberry bars; they have a base batter, then layer of jam, then a crumb topping, then a layer of fresh blueberries. The “fresh” blueberries in Florida in January are both very expensive and not very impressive, so I was thinking of using frozen blueberries instead. I’m wondering how to adapt the recipe for blueberries that are simply baked on top of the dish and not incorporated into the main batter. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Beeje, I don’t think any adaptation is necessary – just put the frozen berries on top and bake, just as you would fresh. Good luck – PJH

  23. Liz

    I just found this post. If this section is still reviewed for questions, I have one. I have tried drying the rinsed frozen berries on paper towels but the berries form ice crystals in the rinsing and stick to the towel. It takes a long time to peel them off. Sometimes the towel shreds and I am left with tiny pieces on the berries that I can’t get off. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Liz, let them thaw just a bit before putting them onto the paper towel, so that they’re no longer able to form ice crystals. Another thing you can do is dry them on a cotton dish towel – one that would have to be devoted to that particular use from then on it, since it would obviously be stained with juice! Hope this helps – PJH

  24. Karen R

    My daughter would not eat fruit muffins until I discovered dehydrated berries. Add a little more liquid to the batter, stir in the dehydrated blueberries (or raspberries — raspberry chocolate chip muffins!), scoop, and bake. Blueberry muffins with no mushy spots.

    Reply
  25. Clay Pendleton

    I usually just drop in rinsed, drained Wyman’s frozen wild blueberries into my pancakes when cooking to prevent bleeding throughout the batter. I then take a knife and cover berries with a little batter to prevent from sticking when flipping over. I would amagine that one could do the same for muffins? I would just slowly drop the berries into the batter while poring batter into muffin tin and add a few on top. You could then take a knife and just slowly stir to incorporate blueberries. 🙂

    Reply
  26. Joanne soveroski

    When I worked at a scratch French bakery in Denver, CO in the ’80’s I made loads and loads of muffins. What we did to the frozen berries was to lightly dust flour on them and gently shake excess off the berries. The place was called, Le Petite Catering and Bakery. I loved working there and I still love to bake!

    Reply
  27. Clay Pendleton

    I have always wondered why you don’t see fresh wild blueberries in stores? Unless you live where they grow one can only purchase them frozen or canned. There must be much more hybrid type berries out there growing to fill the fresh market need.

    Reply
  28. Theresa Thorne-Webber

    Am I the only one out there who enjoys the different colors and textures? I’ve made blueberry muffins many times, and it’s kind of fun (to me!) to see how each muffin comes out as an individual, just like a snowflake….

    Reply
  29. George Chapman

    Fresh out of college in 1956 I worked for Jordan’s for a few months before Uncle Sam called—dang I missed the muffins.

    I like to infuse the sugar on top with a little lemon zest.

    Reply
  30. Meredith

    Thank you for this! Any chance you’ve ever come across a recipe that uses pureed blueberries instead of actual blueberries? My son is very picky and doesn’t like to “see” the berries, but I’ve had great luck with green (pureed spinach) muffins and was hoping to make blue ones now! And with any luck, maybe pink after that (strawberries, raspberries)?! Oh the things I will do to sneak fruit and veg in when I can…

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We don’t have any muffin recipes that call for pureed fruit, but maybe someone in our baking community might have some ideas to share. Sounds like a great way to sneak some fruits and veggies in! Barb@KAF

  31. sarah

    I am wondering if I can use a mixed berry pouch I bought at Wal-Mart. It has strawberry, raspberry, blueberries. I even have mangos and peaches that are frozen could those go into a muffin recipe?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sure, any kind of frozen fruit can go into a muffin; just make sure those mango and peach pieces are chopped finely enough, OK? Good luck – PJH

  32. Jude

    I’ve been using your blueberry tip for blueberry muffins and it works wonderfully, even in very large batches. For scones, I’m finding that since the rinsed blueberries are soft, they squish and bleed when I incorporate them into the dough (even when I add them to the dries or coat with flour). Do you have any additional tips for using rinsed frozen blueberries in scones?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Jude, that’s a tougher one, as you have to handle the berries/dough more (and more forcefully) to incorporate the berries. One thing you can try is dividing the dough in half, patting it out to about 1/2″ thick, gently placing half the berries on top, pat the remaining dough 1/2″ thick in the same general shape as the first half, laying it on top, and gently pressing the rest of the berries on top. Then gently shape into rounds and cut into wedges. This minimizes the handling of the berries. Worth a try? PJH

  33. kai

    I have just made a batch of blueberry muffins using frozen berries but it turns out to be great only when warm. The berries gives off a sour smell that is not very pleasant though taste wise still good. any idea on that sour smell?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Another Kai, how fun! You can try rolling your berries in a mixture of super-fine sugar and corn starch (50/50) before adding them to the batter. This will create a thin layer of sweetness that may prevent that sour smell. Still not what you are looking for? Try using dehydrated (or freeze-dried) blueberries instead, which have a great flavor and will tint the batter a beautiful blue! Good luck and happy baking! –Kye@ KAF

  34. Nasiba

    Thanks so much for the tip. I found this article when searching as to why my blueberry cheese Danish braid came out sort of runny in the middle. Are the frozen bluebeeries to blame? The recipe that I found though does call for any bluebeeries frozen or fresh. Could you kindly let me know. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Frozen blueberries often exude more liquid than fresh, so yes, frozen blueberries could be the problem. You might also want to bake the braid a bit longer, tenting it with aluminum foil if it appears to be browning too quickly. Hope this helps – PJH

  35. Jason

    frozen or dried blueberries for scones?
    i used dried before the came out great but they are a little pricy so now i wanna try with frozen.

    any tips? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jason, most of our blueberry scone recipes do call for fresh blueberries (http://bit.ly/17rfqTE and also this one here: http://bit.ly/STAxw), however, frozen berries can work well in these recipes too. Just follow the tips in the blog, including rising the berries before hand and patting them dry. The fresh berries will give the scones burst of juicy, sweet flavor. Freeze dried berries can be a nice addition if you can get your hands on them, making a lighter textured-scone, which does not tint the batter blue. Either way, you’ll have a blueberry success! Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  36. christine

    My problem is pancakes, whether or not i rinse the frozen berries, they always make the pancakes too wet, any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Christine, I’d say thaw (by rinsing), dry gently to get as much liquid as possible off of the berries, and then, instead of stirring them into the batter, scatter some atop each round of batter as you pour it into the frying pan. This will keep the berries’ impact on the batter as minimal as possible; and will also help keep the surrounding pancake a nice golden color – rather than turning it purple! Good luck – PJH

    2. Constanze

      I’d dust the frozen berries with a little flour and fold them into the pancake batter still frozen. That’s what I do and they turn out always wonderfully delicious. :O)

  37. rockyrd

    enjoyed this and its basically the way we make them here in downeast ME when we have frozen wild blueberries. it works for cakes and cobblers too.
    would love to see what you have to say about making pies with frozen berries.
    we live in Wyman country and get 30 lb boxes of frozen wild ME blueberries.
    pies with runny juices are not well received, although tasty makes the bottom crust really gummy.
    i am a judge at the wild ME blueberry festival and we are always looking for the “Goldilocks” pie- not too runny, not too solid but just right.

    Reply
  38. elizabeth Rogers

    I believe all that blue dye you’re washing away, holds antioxidant properties. I for one would prefer to include those healthy properties in my muffins, regardless of the problem described in this post.
    As noted by PJ in her blog: To those of you below wondering about losing flavor and nutrients when you rinse the berries, it’s true, you probably lose a little bit of the berries’ nutrition. But most of the juice (and vitamins) remain inside the berries; and I doubt you could notice a difference in flavor. By all means, use berries without rinsing, if that’s your preference. As usual – no baking police here! JoAnn@KAF

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Not a lot of changes you can make, Barbara. Just expect the pie to be a little juicier than normal. If you don’t usually use a thickener, I would suggest to use one when using frozen berries. Jon@KAF

  39. Barb

    Just found this page! Awesome info! I say add a little red food coloring to make purple muffins! Or add some yellow to make fun green muffins! Or swirl other colors in at the last minute to make psychedelic muffins!

    Reply
  40. Michelle Botticelli

    I bake gluten free/organic blueberry muffins and scones for my clients weekly. I have on many occasions tossed batters out because of the blue tint and the mushiness. As I was reading your post I had a flash back to my mom and her paper toweling the berries! I will try this and let you know. Thanks for the memory.

    Heaven bellies

    Reply
  41. Kandice

    So glad I found this article! I know I can count on KAF to have the best baking tips.

    I am making cupcakes for a friend’s small casual wedding. Due to various allergies they will be milk and egg free. I’m an experienced allergy-free baker so no worries there. However one of the flavors will be blueberry pancake and I was wondering how frozen would work. I prefer using frozen wild due to their small size. I will test the rinse method and dried blueberries to see which one works the best. Many thanks!

    Reply

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