Chunky Bran

All day yesterday I was putting off baking these muffins.

They just didn’t sound appealing. I like bran muffins, but as we’ve discussed, “chunky” is not an adjective I like applied to my baked goods. And I dislike raisins.

And DATES!! I do not enjoy dates. Or ever have them on hand, so 7PM on Sunday was not the best time to realize I needed them.

And there were just weird instructions too, which made me kind of hesitant.

On Twitter I was ranting about dates, and raisins, and frankly whining a bit, when my lovely friend Nicole pointed out that really, I could make changes to the recipe and the world wouldn’t end.

SHOCK! SACRILEGE!! I CAN’T MESS WITH DOROTHY’S RECIPES!!!

Then common sense and a lack of certain ingredients prevailed, and I did alter the recipe. I’ll reproduce it here as written, and explain in “the process” where I made changes.

If anyone does bake these following the original instructions, please let us know in the comments how they turned out.

The recipe

Combine, set aside

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. baking soda

Stir together

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

Cream together

1/2 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup brown sugar

Add to butter / sugar mixture and beat in

1 egg

Add buttermilk & soda to egg mixture, then add and blend

1 tbsp. molasses

1 cup natural bran

Stir in flour mixture, then fold in

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup nuts

1/4 cup dates

Bake at 375F for 20 minutes. Makes 12.

The process

OK! Commence the changes!

First, I used soured milk instead of buttermilk – soured milk is just one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to one cup of milk; let it sit for a few minutes and voila! I was pretty nervous about putting in the baking soda, because we’ve all make soda / vinegar volcanoes for a science fair project at some point, right? It did bubble a bit but nothing crazy, so I put that  aside and moved on to the next step.

Creaming the butter & sugar was a flat-out joy in my new KitchenAid mixer (and no, I have not been compensated in any way for this post, sadly). I didn’t need to soften the butter first; I just broke it up a bit with my hands and the mixer took care of the rest. If you do a lot of baking, a heavy-duty stand mixer is worth the money. If you, like me, have been eyeing one for years and wondering if you really need to spend that much on a kitchen appliance – wonder no more. You do. You can thank me later.

A quick Google search convinced me that “natural bran” just means plain old bran flakes, as opposed to “All-Bran cereal” which is an ingredient in some of Dorothy’s other recipes. I’ve only ever used bran flakes anyway, because of cost, so that was an easy one.

I didn’t want to use dates, and as it turns out I’d used up all the raisins, too – so in the end I used 1/2 cup of frozen wild blueberries and 1/4 cup finely-chopped walnuts. Nicole suggested dried cranberries instead of raisins, which would also be delicious, especially when combined with the blueberries. They’d be safe for school lunches then, too, because you could leave out the nuts.

As bran muffins always do, it made a rather unappealing-looking batter. However, I forged ahead. Using 1/4 cup of batter per cup yielded 12 good-sized muffins.

The result

Confession time: I haven’t actually tasted these yet. I’m saving them for morning snack and once me and my test monkeys well-compensated focus group captive audience of preschoolers & toddlers have voted, I’ll let you know. Michael had one last night when they were still warm from the oven and commented that they didn’t need additional butter, thanks to the rather vast quantities baked right in. He also said that he “really enjoyed that muffin” – although both of us are being much more ascetic than usual now in a serious bid to finally lose some weight, so he may have been biased by the taste of buttery goodness.

I will say that they look very tasty, with the classic bran-muffin dark honey brown colour, and dark purple spots from the blueberries.

Next week

Honey Bran. You will need bran flakes, buttermilk or soured milk, and honey. I’m looking forward to those. No fruit! No chunks!

 

 

 

Blender Apple

Happy New Year!

Yes, this post is several days late. Both Michael and I were off work over Christmas and without all the extra-curricular activities and responsibilities of our normal, day-to-day lives, I promptly became a relaxed sloth who read several trashy novels and completely lost track of what day of the week it was.

It was nice.

But! Yesterday the dayhome reopened and I suddenly realized that I had not made muffins – my go-to snack solution for the kiddos. I spent half an hour painstakingly removing seeds from enough (discount) grapes to feed six kids – because today’s modern children are unfamiliar with the concept of fruit having seeds – and swearing that the minute they went to bed, I would get back on the muffin train.

The recipe

Sift in medium bowl

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Mix in blender

2/3 cup milk

1 egg

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 medium red apples, cored, unpeeled

1/4 cup nuts

Add wet to dry. Sprinkle unbaked muffins with cinnamon-sugar.

375F, 30 minutes. Makes 14 muffins.

The process

Because I got caught with my pants down this week, the whole process was frustrating. I had to turn the whole wheat flour canister upside down and shake it to get the full half-cup. I kept getting the 1/2 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon measures mixed up (and I’m still not sure I didn’t put in double the baking soda by mistake). I had to send Michael to the store to buy milk. The only nuts I had available to use were peanuts.

I was very skeptical about the whole-apples-in-the-blender situation. I don’t have an apple corer, so I cut my apples in quarters, crossed my fingers, and threw them into the blender on the “mix” setting, which is one of the higher speeds. This part worked great – within a minute the apples and peelings were completely pulverized, the peanuts likewise, and the wet ingredients had pretty red flecks from the peelings. Clever! I like it!

Aside: This feels very much like the kind of recipe that comes with the instruction manual for a new appliance. Can’t you see the ad copy now? The Housewife’s Deluxe Super EZ Blender! Not just for drinks anymore!

I completely forgot the cinnamon-sugar, although given that these are meant to be healthy snacks for young children that’s probably not a bad thing.

Dorothy’s recipe said this makes 11 muffins, which is just wrong – I had enough batter to make 14 large muffins and one smallish one, and if I’d filled the muffin cups halfway instead of three-quarters I’d have had 16, easily.

All in all by the time these were in the oven I had very little faith that these would work out.

The result

These muffins rose a ridiculous amount, thus fueling my conviction that I put in too much baking soda. Other possibility: I saw on some cooking show over the break that recipes with baking soda / baking powder need to rest for a few minutes after mixing, to give them time to form the air bubbles that help the batter to rise. Because I couldn’t find the right size muffin cups at first, this batter did rest and maybe that’s why they rose so much. No idea, although I am going to try that trick again to see if it works.

Thirty minutes was way too long; at the 15 minute mark they were already risen and starting to develop a crust. At 20 minutes they were basically done; I left them in for a couple of minutes more to let them brown up a little. Bottom line – watch these carefully.

When finished, they tasted just fine, if a trifle bland. I like the blender method; you get the fruit & fibre content of whole apples without any chunks or tedious chopping. That’s pretty slick.

Turns out I just do not like the taste of peanuts in muffins. To me, it was too overpowering.

Michael liked these just fine, and the texture is nice. I think I’d make them again, leaving out the nuts but maybe adding another small apple, and bumping up the seasoning all around – more cinnamon would be nice, and maybe a touch of vanilla.

Next week: Chunky Apple

Ingredients you may not have on hand: 1 tbsp. cream, 1/2 cup raisins

Christmas Cake

This is the first of two Christmas recipes in Dorothy’s book. Christmas morning is always pretty loosey-goosey around here when it comes to actual food – it’s the one day of the year when you can have candy or cookies for breakfast and I don’t say a word. The idea of having some festive muffins around appeals to me, so I was really hoping that this recipe would be both easy and tasty. Dorothy did not disappoint! (for me at least; more on that later).

The main ‘special’ ingredients in this recipe harken back to a different time. I don’t know too many modern bakers who use candied fruit unless they are making a fruitcake, and then they get laughed at because somewhere along the line fruitcake became a shared cultural joke. For the record, good, scratch-made fruitcake is delicious, if you ever get the opportunity to have some; I think pre-made store-bought fruitcakes are horrible, and probably are responsible for the traditional Christmas treat’s total fall from favour.

Wow. I had a fruitcake rant in me. Guess maybe next Christmas I need to learn to make fruitcake.

Anyway, I found the candied fruit at my local Sobey’s grocery store, in a special display set up for the holidays. I don’t know about Loblaw’s since I only buy dog food and diapers there (oddly specific, I know). Bulk Barn would have the candied fruit for sure. Given the cost – I spent $8 on candied fruit and I have much,  much more than I needed – Bulk Barn would be the more economical choice.

The recipe

Combine in large bowl and soak until liquid is absorbed

1 cup All-Bran cereal (I used plain wheat bran from the baking aisle and it worked well)

1 cup milk

Beat in to bran mixture

1 egg

1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)

Stir in

1/3 cup mixed peel

1/3 cup chopped candied cherries (I used a mix of red & green for extra festiveness)

1/3 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts, but Dorothy doesn’t specify)

1 tsp. vanilla

Sift into the wet ingredients and stir to blend

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

3 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

pinch of ginger, cloves, mace (I didn’t have ground cloves on hand, nor mace. I used just ginger – about 1/8 tsp.)

400F, 20 minutes. Makes 12 large muffins.

The process

I had my boys helping me with this recipe, and it went smoothly – this is not a hard recipe. Trickiest part was chopping the cherries; try spraying the blade of your knife with a little cooking spray to keep the bits from sticking. The batter is quite pretty, with bits of red, green, and yellow throughout.

My assistants eagerly sampled the batter and after a quick taste I could see why – it is delicious, sweet and spicy. They don’t often hang around to lick the bowl… and the spatula… and the measuring cup… but they did this time.

I filled the muffin cups a generous two-thirds full, thinking that they wouldn’t rise much given the heaviness of the batter and relatively small amount of leavening. They rose more than I expected. You could easily get more than a dozen by only filling the cups half-full, and the finished product would be a more manageable size.

There is a special note from Dorothy; you can use any dry or candied fruit and/or nuts in this recipe, as long as the amount equals one cup.

The result

My assistants and I eagerly sampled these muffins while they were still warm from the oven. I loved them right away; they are sweet yet spicy, with bitter notes from the candied peel to help balance the flavour. Michael also pronounced them delicious as well. The kids were another story. They tried. They both liked them right up until the hit a piece of candied peel and then it was no way, nothing doing. The texture and strong taste turned them off, and neither could finish their muffin, much to their disappointment (and my secret glee, because more for me, ha!) My almost-one-year-old, on the other hand, pilfered half of mine and screamed for more. All I can suggest is that if you’re hoping to share these with kids you may want to replace the candied peel with cherries or even a completely different dried fruit, like cranberries.

Next week

I’ll be making Christmas Morning Cranberry. In case anyone else wants to have these ready for the big day, you will need to have on hand:

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/4 tsp. allspice

1/4 tsp. grated orange peel

3/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup chopped nuts

 

 

Banana ‘n Peanut

This was the first recipe I was unsure of as soon as I read it. It just sounded… odd. Like texture might be an issue.

However, Dorothy hasn’t steered me wrong yet! The biggest complaint in my house so far has been that there aren’t enough muffins to go around, so the Sunday muffin-bake is becoming a bit of an event. Last night I had both Harry (7yo) and Ron (4.5yo) helping out. I’m determined that they be comfortable in the kitchen and I’d rather bake with them than play cars, so! Even though their presence was distracting and I heard “but he already had a turn! It’s my turn!” more than I wanted, it was still Making A Memory, right?

The recipe

Sift in a large bowl

1.5 cups whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Mash 

3 large ripe bananas

Blend with bananas

1 egg

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil or butter

2 tbsp. crunchy peanut butter

Stir wet into dry with optional 1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts

400F, 15min. Makes 12.

The process

Maybe it’s just me, but I hate sifting whole wheat flour – I find too much doesn’t make it through the sieve because the particles are too big and the holes are too small. So I measured the flour first, sifted in the rest of the dry ingredients, and then set my kids to stirring.

When I realized how many banana-based muffins I’d be baking in the next few weeks, I bought a bag of overripe bananas and tossed them in the freezer. I don’t pre-peel them or anything; on baking day I take them out a couple of hours ahead of time (if I remember) and if I don’t, a quick zap in the microwave does the trick. Then I just cut off the end and squish out the insides. It’s vastly satisfying.

My trusty assistant Michael chopped the peanuts, since he wanted to include them. I wasn’t planning on adding them, myself, but consensus in the test kitchen was that we should try it at least once.

I used smooth peanut butter, not crunchy – no one in this house, including me, likes crunchy peanut butter, and I didn’t want to buy a whole jar for the sake of two tablespoons.

Otherwise, this was a very straightforward recipe – and the batter tasted fantastic. Like a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Once again, Dorothy proved exceedingly accurate in both her amounts (12 muffins, indeed) and her cook times (perfect doneness at 15 minutes).

The result

They smelled great while they were baking; like banana bread with a peanut butter kick. They rose more than I expected given how heavy the batter was, and turned a golden brown.

Ron had gone to bed, so Harry tried one first. He said it was “good”, but didn’t rave about it. Also, he was quite bummed that he couldn’t have one in his lunchbox – peanut butter recipes coming from a time before allergies and nut-free schools.

Michael tried one and pronounced it a “hearty breakfast muffin”. Not surprising, I guess, given the whole wheat flour and protein hit. (He did take one to work this morning so I’ll take that as an endorsement).

At baking time I wasn’t feeling very well and my sense of taste was off, so I avoided them altogether. I’m having one right now with my morning coffee and it’s better than I expected. It’s dense and moist, with a subtle spiciness. My only hesitation is, as I expected, the peanuts (and for the record, they are quite finely chopped so small children can eat them without fear of choking). As the nuts are optional, I would leave them out next time – they don’t add much to the flavour, and the crunchy bits put me right off. I have texture issues with food, though, so probably your best bet is to try it both ways and see which you prefer.

Banana ‘n Peanut

If anyone bakes these, let me know in the comments what you think!