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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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

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