Is it weird to say that bran muffins are my favorite muffins? Because it’s true. I have no problem with a lemon-poppyseed muffin, or a blueberry muffin, or a banana-nut muffin, or even a chocolate chip muffin. But to me, a muffin is meant for breakfast or snack, and those are basically dessert. They’re halfway down the road to cake. A bran muffin, on the other hand, has plausible deniability. It’s damn near health food. And there’s nothing else in the baked good kingdom quite like it.
Of course, most bran muffins aren’t actually health food. They’re stealth sugar bombs, and for a while I had to go cold turkey on them. But recently I found a recipe that’s let bran muffins back into my life. It’s built entirely on whole wheat flour, and sweetened with molasses and a touch of honey. I still wouldn’t call them health food, but they’re substantial and slow-burning enough that I can have one in the morning and stay satisfied for hours. The molasses makes these wonderfully dark and damp and bittersweet. The whole wheat makes them extra-earthy and amps up the spongy-grainy texture. They’re my perfect bran muffin.
I like to pack these muffins full of fruit, nuts, and seeds, so that they can stand on their own as a light breakfast or afternoon snack. The muffin pictured below has raisins, sunflower seeds, and blanched slivered almonds. Really, just about anything is fair game. I know lots of people hate raisins, but I love them, and for me a bran muffin isn’t a bran muffin without them. That said, any dried fruit will do just fine, or even no fruit at all. And although I’m normally not a big fan of nuts in baked goods, they’re really lovely here, adding crunch and a wonderfully unpredictable texture.
There’s another reason I love this recipe: it produces those wonderful overhanging dome-tops that are my favorite part of a bran muffin. The key is to fill the muffin cups all the way to the top; if you do, there should be exactly enough batter for 12 perfectly domed muffins. As the muffins bake, the tops rise up out of the cups, nudging right up against each other. My favorite way to eat these is to carefully separate the spongy bottom from the chewy top, then eat the bottom first and save the top for last.
Molasses Bran Muffins (makes 1 dozen muffins)
1 1/2 cups (170 g) whole wheat flour
1 cup (64 g) wheat bran
1 tsp (4 g) baking powder
1 tsp (6 g) baking soda
1/2 tsp (3 g) salt
About 3/4 cup raisins or other dried fruit, chopped if large (optional)
About 1/2 cup toasted chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup (240 ml) milk
1/2 cup (170 g) molasses, honey, or a combination
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (120 ml) canola or vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 400º F, and position a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan, or line the cups with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, wheat bran, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add dried fruit and nuts (if using) and toss to coat. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together milk, molasses and/or honey, eggs, and oil. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
Remove the muffin pan from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let the muffins cool for at least 10-15 minutes before removing from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Leftovers: Completely cooled muffins will keep in an airtight container at room temperature overnight, or in the refrigerator for up to a week. They also freeze beautifully; just pop the muffin pan into the freezer until the muffins are frozen solid, then transfer them to a zip-top bag and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. Frozen muffins will thaw in a couple of hours at room temperature, or you can pop them straight into a 300º F oven for about 10 minutes to warm through.