Archive for the ‘Breads & Muffins’ Category

I’m in love with a muffin. Maybe you know this muffin. It lives at (gasp!) Starbucks. It’s tall, dark and hunger-busting. It’s name… is Apple Bran Muffin. I’m not ashamed!

Oh, I’ve thought about making my own. But it just couldn’t possibly be the same. How could I make that perfect muffin? There are endless ways to make them. How could I guess correctly? It’s heavy and dense and moist, full of fruit. The tart dried cherries, the sweet pieces of apple, the oats sprinkled on top. I did try to re-create it once. I tried. My bran muffin was an OK muffin. But a few days later, there I was back at the counter, wearing oversized sunglasses, digging out $2 for the original.

Well this time, my friends, I’ve finally done it. I bought a bigger muffin pan, swapped in whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose, used brown sugar instead of white. And of course, the key here is the wheat bran. Not something you probably have lying around the house. But it’s not that pricey. I bought a container of it at The Fresh Market for less than $2. It’s enough to make several batches of muffins. To fluff up the bran, put the dried fruit in with it and add some boiling water. Let it sit while the rest of the batter comes together.

The wheat bran combined with the whole-wheat flour creates the perfect density to hold the pieces of fruit. The soaking of the wheat bran and fruit is the biggest twist to this recipe. The rest of the batter comes together pretty much like any other. The only thing to do ahead of time is re-create some buttermilk if you don’t have any. Do that by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a measuring cup and letting it rest about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the whole-wheat flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Then put the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and fluff it. Add the brown sugar and mix till combined and fluffy. Add the honey.

Add the egg and combine. Then add a third of the buttermilk and mix. Add a third of the flour and mix just till combined. You don’t want to overmix because you’ll get tough muffins. I don’t know about you, but I like my muffins soft, squishy and happy — unaffected by the cold, hard world. Repeat with two more additions of each.

Then add in the bran mixture.

Mix till just combined. You can tell the batter will make dense muffins because it looks coarse and hearty.

Now all you have to do is scoop that batter into your prepared muffin pan and top each with a little raw sugar and chopped pecans to give it some crunch.

Then pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes. But more accurately… until you start to smell the muffins. When you get a bit of a whiff, run and check them. They’ll probably be done. When you can really smell them, they’re getting overdone.

These are huge muffins. If you’re a light breakfast eater, you’ll probably only want half. I made the big muffins because I wanted them to resemble my inspiration muffin. But there’s nothing wrong with making smaller ones. Next time, I’ll probably make smaller ones and add a little cinnamon to the batter too. Remember that recipes are just suggestions; no one is making you follow them exactly. If you don’t have dried fruit, leave it out. No brown sugar? Use the same amount of white. Or try more honey.

No matter how you tweak it, I hope your muffin will be as gorgeous as this one. Who needs Starbucks? Apple Bran who? Oh. Yeah, I used to know that muffin. But I’ve moved on now.

While we’re here, can I just tell you something? Which isn’t even off topic, because you have to have coffee with your muffin. So here it is: Every day when I make my coffee, I hear Carly Simon…

Know why? Because, yes, there are clouds in my coffee! Clouds in my coffee! And… you’re so vain. I bet you think this song is about you! You’re so vain!…

You feel bad for my husband right now, don’t you? Speaking of my husband… I have a plan. He eats no vegetables. I just read a story about zucchini pancakes. This weekend, I’m going to make crispy zucchini and potato pancakes and see if he’ll eat them. But I’m not going to tell him about the zucchini. Muhahaha. Wish me luck!

Meanwhile, make these muffins!

Apple-Cherry Bran Muffins

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup wheat bran
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apple
  • 1/4 cup dried sour cherries
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  • Raw sugar, for sprinkling
  • Pecan pieces, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 400. Prepare a muffin pan, with either paper cups or spray.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In another small bowl, combine the wheat bran and dried fruit. Add the boiling water and let sit.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter till fluffy, then add the sugar and beat till fluffy. Add the honey and combine. Add the egg; incorporate. Mix in the buttermilk and flour mixture in three additions each, beating each addition till just combined. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl as needed. Mix in the bran mixture.
Using a 1/4 cup scoop, scoop the batter into the muffin cups. It should take two scoops for each cup if you’re using a large muffin pan — or one scoop if using a regular-sized pan.
Top each muffin with a teaspoon of raw sugar and sprinkle with a teaspoon of chopped pecans. Bake 20 minutes or until browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
* If you don’t have buttermilk, put 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup and add enough milk to make 1 cup. Let it sit for a few minutes to create the buttermilk effect.

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When life hands you rotten bananas, squish them with your hands and throw them into some quick bread batter. You can be only so sad with that delicious smell wafting from the oven. Right?

I’ve been making banana bread for years, so I’ve had a lot of practice. And I’ve been through a few recipes. First was a classic one, with white and brown sugar, eggs and butter. The second was a healthier version with oatmeal, an egg, an egg white and oatmeal. I liked them both, but was in love with neither.

So I combined the things I liked about each of them and made my own recipe. The things I love about mine: It’s half white flour, half whole wheat, which gives it a little extra body. I use only brown sugar, which provides just the right amount of sweetness. I add cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup. A little canola oil provides the moistness all baked goods should have. Two eggs, no egg whites. That’s just because I hate wasting eggs. What would I do with the other yolk? Maybe next time I’ll try adding an egg and an egg white and use the extra yolk to make some mayo.

And I even break one of my cardinal rules, which is no nuts in baked goods. Well I almost break that rule. The chopped pecans go on top, not in the batter. Never in the batter.

A few mornings ago, I woke up at 5 and couldn’t go back to sleep. I knew I had three very very ripe bananas waiting in the kitchen to become something better. So I got up and turned on the oven and prepared them for their delicious destiny.

I peeled them, broke them into pieces and tossed them into a bowl.

You know a cook’s best tool right? Hands! My husband’s favorite dinner is meatloaf, which hasn’t been my favorite thing to make because of the squishing meat with your hands. There’s just no way around it. But I’ve mostly gotten over that. Now I kind of like squishing food with my hands. Try it! Just put your hands into the bowl and squish those bananas until they look like this:

If you really don’t want to use your hands, you can use a pastry cutter if you have one. Or a fork. But try it with your hands. You might even like it.

OK, now I have a confession to make. Remember I said it was 5 a.m.? Well, I hadn’t been sleeping well this week and it was kind of a crappy week. Sometimes, even in the best of circumstances, I don’t pay enough attention to recipes. Apparently even when they’re my own. You’re supposed to put half the flours in a bowl, add the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. I got a little sidetracked — or sleepy perhaps — and forgot to keep half the flour separate. If you forget? The bread might be a little tough on the outside from overmixing. But it’ll still taste really good.

So step one, combine half the flours with the rest of the dry ingredients. Did you see that? HALF the flours, not all of it like I did here.

Then put in the banana and the oil. Mix just till combined.

Add the eggs and the remaining flour, then mix again till combined.

Add the syrup and the vanilla, then the oats and mix.

Now it’s ready to pour into the loaf pan. Then scatter some chopped pecans on top.

Perhaps the funniest part of this story is that I made the bread that early so my husband could have some before he went to work. I got the bread out of the oven, made some coffee and sat on the couch. It was about 7 a.m. I was sleepy. So I decided I wanted to go back to bed for a while. Even though I’d just made coffee and hadn’t taken any photos of the banana bread out of the loaf pan. David got up, then came back to say goodbye before he went to work.

I asked if he’d had breakfast. He said he’d made a peanut butter sandwich with the bread and was taking some to work. I said OK and fell back to sleep.

When I came downstairs, I found half a loaf of banana bread. This was all that was left:

But that’s OK. Sharing is good. Plus I know that in this life, there will always be a few rotten bananas. Use yours well. Just perhaps wake up before you bake. Things usually turn out better.

Banana Bread

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 overripe bananas, squished
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup uncooked old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a loaf pan by rubbing with butter or spraying with baking spray. (Unless you have a seasoned stoneware loaf pan. No need to spray or butter those.)

In a mixer bowl, combine 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add mashed banana and oil. Beat on low till combined. Add eggs and remaining flour; beat till combined. Add syrup and vanilla, mix. Add oats, mix.

Pour batter into loaf pan and bake 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick or tester comes out clean. Remove to a cooling rack and wait 10 minutes before removing.

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