14 August 2013

Bran Muffins

It's beautiful over here in the NJ/NYC area today. A hint of chill and a light breeze signifying my favorite month's impending appearance: September. Perhaps it is the muscle memories of school starting, and time off wrapping up, the butterflies that signal beginnings, or simply the cooler weather, but this time of year always strikes me as energizing and bringing forth newness. It's no coincidence that it's around this time when I met Ed four years ago.

There are little girls riding a Barbie car in the driveway visible from my bedroom window right now. Their father is playing a guitar on their back doorstep while they fight over petty trifles at 10 am. These sounds fill my morning with little blurts of entertainment during the work-from-home hours while not thankfully being too distracting. That, and the cool breeze has set me into a nice lull that carries through the day. And with the mornings not being as sweltering this week, I've found myself forgoing my favorite yogurt, granola, honey and heap of farm berries bowl for a warm cup of joe and toasted morning muffin. Simple as can be, yet fulfilling. I just have to share it with you.

I already posted a delicious bran muffin recipe on here a few months ago that I've repeatedly made and even given to relatives. They are moist and delicious and hold up well over a few days (which makes them good giveaways). Butter and sour cream is what makes them shine. I love those and plan to keep them in my arsenal but I had also heard great things about the La Brea Bakery bran muffins from Nancy Silverton, where she toasts the bran before mixing it into the batter and purees the raisins for extra moisture. She also does a few other fancy things involving orange juice and separating eggs while omitting molasses. I only skimmed the recipe once online before bookmarking it and promising to return to it when I wanted to use up the last cup of miller's bran in my freezer and felt like fussing a bit. Then the almond flour arrived at my doorstep and my attention went there.

But in the meantime, I had stumbled upon Seattle-area Chef Greg Atkinson's rendition on Nancy's bran muffins, which seemed a bit more streamlined in ingredients. He discussed how he used her process but fiddled a bit and eliminated some particulars so I didn't have to. Well that was enough to remind me it was time to make them. It felt like I was on the same page as Greg, so on Sunday morning, after making another batch of these, (Ed goes through them quite fast so after having one, I made use of the uncleaned muffin tin) I dove into Greg's recipe--so that I could have a little box of muffins for me the week.

Greg added the molasses back into the Nancy-adaptation. But what was new to me was the raisin puree. I was interested in this different kind of way to make the muffins moist- rather than relying on sour cream and butter, raisin puree and oil would donate the moisture. And so these muffins are technically dairy-free with just a tad of egg. I also resisted the temptation to add nuts. I think they stand alone best as they are, and are a palate for any fruit jam. I go for apricot or strawberry as I think it compliments the raisin flavor. 

Greg noted that he dislikes bran muffins wherein chunks of raisins are surrounded awkwardly by muffin crumbs on the inside of the muffin. I stepped back a second, smiled and thought, hm, is that picky or true? I think I could take it either way, but perhaps it would be nice to have a smooth inside for a change and see how that affects texture. He was right!

These bran muffins are delicious. They are branny (the proportion of bran to flour is greater) and breakfasty, and even a bit rich while still being a somewhat blank slate for a nice swipe of jam and a quite healthy start to the day. Just one of them packs a nice dose of heartiness and not too much sweetness, and alongside some juice and coffee, spread with a hint of butter and strawberry jam, keeps me full all morning.

Greg Atkinson's Molasses and Raisin Bran Muffins
Makes 6 generous muffins

Greg's Note: Simmering the raisins in water then puréeing them in the food processor provides a rich, satisfying foundation that elevates these bran muffins above the commonplace. They are crisp on the surface, light and sweet on the inside.

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup grapeseed/olive oil mix (about half of each)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 a large egg (whisk and dole out about 3 Tablespoons)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup wheat bran*

1. Brush muffin tins with a bit of oil or butter, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the raisins and water. When the water begins to boil, reduce heat to low and let the raisins simmer until they are plumped and soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer the raisins and their cooking liquid to the work bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture becomes a rough purée. (Note, I left this to cool for a few minutes before the next step)

3. Stream the oil, the sugar, the molasses and the egg into the food processor along with the puree.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then stir in the wheat bran. Add the raisin mixture to the dry mix, and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix.

4. Distribute the batter evenly in the prepared muffin cups and bake until the muffins are browned on top and springy to the touch, about 20-22 minutes.

5. Cool the muffins on a rack for at least 10 minutes before serving. Note: these can be stored overnight a few days wrapped in plastic or frozen.

*I used Bob's. I also toasted it, spread on a sheet pan for just 5 minutes or so before using.


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