14 March 2013

Retro Muffin

I have been getting up early just to have breakfast at home. Or shall I say, we. Ed and I. We are trying to steal a pocket, grab a moment, before dashing off into the cold to catch the train to our respective workplaces. To find a little home-placedness before the day begins. Many times this has only been a few minutes. But they are nice, long minutes, and I like these mornings. The coffee is set, and something is put out to share. These old-timey bran muffins have been the fix of the moment. I like to split them and place them under the broiler for a hot minute before dolloping a dab of salted butter on each half, and eating them with a cup of steaming coffee and a few dark and juicy purple grapes.

Is it a tad ridiculous that I consider a muffin recipe from 1991 a bit retro? But, as  some of my culinary history knowledge seems to remind me, bran was a bit popular in the 80s and 90s, or "trendy amongst the health kickers," should I say. These muffins, adapted barely, from a 1991 issue of Gourmet, have floated around the blogosphere in recent times; Joy The Baker and Smitten have made them and now Salv has, too. And she's glad she did. Twice in 2 weeks.

Let's talk first attractions. The word on these muffins was: very moist, not too sweet, with a straightforward  ingredient list, and the option to litter in some raisins and a pinch of cinnamon if you wish (and you should). No soaking bran overnight, or use of buttermilk or boiling water here. It's sour cream and molasses that do the trick. If you haven't made bran muffins before but want something akin to that delicious bakery confection (but better, and with no preservatives and in well-sized portions), look here.

And perhaps the first thing that gave these a gold star even before even turning on the stove, was the note at the bottom of the recipe: they last up to 4 or 5 days at room temperature tightly wrapped, and get better as the days go on. In our experience, day 2 and 3 have been heavenly. They haven't made it further beyond day 3 as a collective batch....

A note on technique: Be sure to cream the wet ingredients well but as always with muffins, use a light hand when mixing in the dry. Lumpiness is good. Really watch at the end here and look for golden brown tops and springiness and don't overbake. For cooling, I let them cool in the pan for a few minutes, then twist them out and turn them on their sides to rest and let the steam release from the bottoms. After a few minutes like that, onto the cooling rack they go. They are perfect for early mornings and later brunches as a side. Easter and Mother's Day, anyone?

It's hard to take a time out, isn't it? Hectic-ness seems to breed constantly, sending cues to everyone around it to tighten up, hurry up, get up, go. You've heard this before. This past weekend I literally had to convince myself to spend Saturday out of the house. I work in the gallery district of Manhattan. It's one of those walks you make in the morning stretching over the long avenues that add up to 20 minutes and end at the Hudson River. I simultaneously hate it and find it interesting since it's so far from the center and has a personality in itself. But mostly, lately, I've been hating the walk.

It was counter-intuitive, then when Ed suggested a long-postponed gallery spree on a non-work day, and managed to convince me that despite the dull embedded sterility of the neighborhood that bothers me so, I would feel differently if we purposely went there on a weekend. I'm not going to say it was a magical reawakening to the neighborhood but it was a different feeling overall to just walk by the office and not go in, and it was a sun-filled day, with a few art standouts. The above is a pigment print on display at Bruce Silverstein Gallery that I found particularly moving. A group of selected works by Danish artists Nicolai Howalt and Trine Sondergaard, including photos and prints curated in a fashion that somehow ties it together. My favorite show of the spree. Check it out when you're in the neighborhood. Til soon, MN

Sour Cream Bran Muffins Recipe
Adapted from Gourmet Oct 1991

Makes 12 muffins
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (I made my own with molasses and organic cane sugar)
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1 cup organic sour cream
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup miller’s bran
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Set the oven to 400 degrees F. In a bowl whisk together the flour, the baking soda, the salt, the cinnamon and the bran. Set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, beat in the egg, the sour cream, and the molasses, and stir in the raisins. Add the flour mixture to the sour cream mixture, and stir the batter by hand until it is just combined. (The batter will be lumpy.) Spoon the batter into 12 well-buttered  muffin tins, filling 2/3 full and mounding the tops, and bake the muffins in the middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown and springy to the touch. Turn the muffins out onto a rack and let them cool.

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