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

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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 was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

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
  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 :D

    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

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  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

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