Recently, two friends were lamenting the lack of available bran muffins and how they’d been searching for a muffin packed with satisfying, tasty, and somewhat healthier ingredients. I made the rounds here in my hometown and found bran muffins in only one store. While we weren’t looking, bran muffins seemed to be fading into the sunset. I have always appreciated the homespun somewhat coarse nature of the bran muffin and understand that it is not for everyone, but I believe it has earned a permanent place in the baker’s recipe file.
During my bed and breakfast cooking days, we generally baked 4 to 5 dozen muffins each morning, changing flavors daily. I gathered a lot of really yummy muffin recipes and came to understand its versatility. The range of acceptable texture for muffins is much higher than any other baked good, making the muffin the ideal vehicle for ingredient swaps, substitutions, and leaps of fancy. A muffin can be anywhere from somewhat dry to almost too moist and still be a great muffin. I decided to break out the wheat bran and begin looking into creating a versatile bran muffin recipe.
I’ve always liked my bran muffins to be more on the moist side and to be packed with as much fruit as possible. The plain-Jane look of the bran muffins takes to bits of colorful fruits and vegetables very well. I am partial to a very dark bran muffin, so I stick with wheat bran instead of the paler oat bran. The other ingredient that makes bran muffins dark is using molasses as the sweetener. To take the darkness even further, I use coffee as some of the liquid.
One of my other favorite muffins was the very popular and fruit-filled Morning Glory Muffins. These classic muffins have been served since the 1970s at the Morning Glory Café in Nantucket and include coconut, pineapple, shredded carrot and apple, and walnuts. A super tasty combination that was a reliable crowd-pleaser.
What if I married the fruity flavor profile of Morning Glory Muffins with my extra dark bran muffin? Several tests later, the answer was a complex, fruit-forward, hearty, delicious muffin that you can feel good about having for breakfast or at tea time if you are in need of some real sustenance with your hot beverage. I christened it the Stormy Morning Bran Muffin. I wrote out the recipe below, but a word about the possible additions and substitutions that are possible first.
The five components of these muffins are: dry ingredients, liquid ingredients, purees, sweeteners, and mix-ins. Besides swopping out all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour or unbleached flour, which is fine, you can adjust the spice to your liking. I have 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in this recipe, but you could add or change any warm spices you like. Ground ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, mace would all be nice.
The moistness of these bran muffins comes from liquid ingredients, liquid sweeteners, and a fruit puree. Below, I have made a chart of some different swap-outs for each of these categories. The mix-ins are almost limitless, and I will give a laundry list later on.
A quick note on the purees: these mashed fruits or cooked, pureed fruits or vegetables are a building block in moist muffins. For example, besides adding flavor, the pureed pumpkin in pumpkin muffins helps create that tender, moist crumb. Banana does the same job in banana muffins. The extremely old, black banana adds such great moistness, taste, and sweetness; old, frozen bananas are one of the baker’s best friends. For example, Fannie Farmer’s classic banana bread recipe does not call for any added fat because the extra ripe banana acts as fat in the quick bread. Also, applesauce and prune puree (known as lekvar) can be used to replace fat and add sweetness in baked goods. I have a quick recipe for lekvar following the Stormy Morning Bran Muffin recipe.
These mix-ins are the part where you can try any combinations you can think of or use whatever you have at hand.
Apples, grated or chopped
Pears, grated or chopped
Fresh or dried berries,
Lemon, lime, & orange peel, grated
Candied ginger, chopped
Fresh ginger, grated
Dried figs, chopped
Fresh or dried cherries
Fresh or dried apricots, chopped
Fresh or dried mango, chopped
Favorite nuts and seeds, including flax, sesame, poppy, and pumpkin seeds
It is a good idea to toast walnuts and pecans before using in a recipe as toasting really enhances the nutty flavor.
*Banana, very ripe, mashed
*Cooked, mashed pumpkin or butternut squash
*Dark corn syrup
Stormy Morning Bran Muffins
Preheat oven to 400˚F
Special equipment: large mixing bowl, wooden spoon, small whisk or fork, medium mixing bowl, muffin pans, lined with muffin papers or sprayed with baking spray, silicone spatula, cooling rack
- 1 ¼ cups wheat bran
- 1 ¼ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup prune butter (lekvar)
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup grated carrot, about 2 carrots
- 1 cup chopped, well-drained pineapple
- ½ cup grated apple, about 1 apple
- 1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
- In large mixing bowl, stir together dry ingredients, set aside.
- In medium mixing bowl, whisk together prune butter, milk, honey, oil, and eggs.
- Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients just until combined. Fold in grated carrots, pineapple, apple, and nuts.
- Fill muffin pans about ¾ full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack, in pan 5 minutes then serve warm. Any leftover muffins can be frozen up to a month in tightly sealed container. To serve from freezer, microwave 10 seconds at a time until just warmed through, about 20 to 30 seconds.
Oh, there is no added sugar (except honey) in this recipe, as I like the fruit to sweeten these muffins. Add up to 1/3 cup brown or white sugar, if you prefer a sweeter muffin.
Prune Butter (Lekvar)
Makes about 1 cup
Special equipment: microwave-safe bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup, food processor, scraper
1 cup prunes
½ cup coffee or water
- In small microwave-safe bowl or glass 2-cup measuring cup, microwave the prunes and liquid for about 2 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes.
- Place prunes and liquid into bowl of food processor. Pulse several times until liquid is somewhat incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl. Process for 1 minutes until mixture is mostly smooth. Some larger bits of prune remaining is fine. Can be stored, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to a week.