This spring I did a road trip with my friend Angie. We drove up to Monterrey, Calif., and then drove down Pacific Coast Highway stopping in various cities until we got back to the L.A. area. Trying to keep the trip as cost-effective as possible, we stayed in cheap motels (one of which we were too grossed out to even sleep under the covers in our respective beds) and tried to limit the amount of times we ate out (we brought food/snacks for the trip).
I made this rule that buying food at a coffee shop didn’t count as a meal. Which meant that you could buy a scone and coffee or a bagel sandwich and coffee and either way it didn’t count toward our one-meal-a-day eating out policy.
In Cannery Row in Monterrey we stopped at Tidal Coffee for breakfast. Traditionally I don’t need a ton of food for breakfast to keep me fueled for hours. Coffee and a snack does the trick, so when I rested my eyes on the bran muffins displayed on the countertop, my eyes list up like Christmas trees. I love bran muffins! I exclaimed with such enthusiasm I’m sure anyone who overheard me thought of me as a fraud. Because really–who loves bran muffins? It’s tantamount to those people that order salads while out for dinner because they just love salads. Um. No. I’m guessing 99.9% of people think salads are the healthier option but it’s more socially acceptable to exclaim about how much you love salads and proceed to order them with no cheese and dressing on the side, so you can daintily dip your fork in the dressing before spearing a piece of lettuce.
But really, I do love bran muffins. (And salad, incidentally–but not for dinner at a restaurant.) I order bran muffins often at new coffee shops I happen upon because I find good bran muffins to be a bit of a rarity. Even weirder, the healthier tasting the bran muffin, the better I like it.
For real. What I love about bran muffins is how healthy they taste. I’m not living in la-la land. I know traditionally bran muffins are not healthy at all which is neither here nor there. I love the taste of health in bran muffins even if they aren’t all that healthy.
But then I got to thinking… wouldn’t it be nice if there was a healthy bran muffin that tasted good? Or even just a healthy bran muffin in general? With this idea in mind, I set out to make one. First I started with a recipe that called for bran cereal. I’m almost positive I made a similar recipe when I was a lot younger and I thought it turned out OK. In my healthier version, I used olive oil instead of canola oil. The muffins didn’t even look like the bran muffins I pictured in my mind because I was picturing bran muffins you find in a coffee shop–dark-ish brown. These muffins were light brown and tasted like saw dust. Into the garbage those muffins went.
So I kept searching and eventually settled on a recipe from The Cafe Sucre Farine that sounded as promising as possible. It used real wheat bran instead of bran cereal. I was positive this would make all the difference in the world.
For my second attempt I whipped up a batch of muffins sort of following the recipe but for I used olive oil as the oil and coconut sugar as the sugar and omitted the raisins because I didn’t have any raisins in the house. Instead I topped the muffins with dried blueberries (didn’t have enough to mix into the batter and didn’t even have enough to top all my muffins!) and blueberry sugar.
They turned out good. Real good. Better than the first muffin I made. But they still weren’t what I wanted. First, they were slightly dry. Not horribly dry, but I think when you’re making bran muffins there’s more of a chance of drying out bran as opposed to say when you’re making a banana muffin. Because I used coconut sugar I don’t think the muffins were as sweet as they could have been. Also the muffin needed something inside. Uninterrupted bran muffin didn’t cut it, especially uninterrupted slightly dry bran muffin.
On my third go-round I do believe I nailed it. I made sure not to overcook the muffins and added a bit of brown sugar to the coconut sugar. I also added to the batter mixed chopped dates, golden raisins and pumpkin seeds. You fill these muffins all the way to the top of the muffin tin and they form a nice little peak that pokes up during the baking process. I love this because I hate flat muffins.
The entire point of this recipe was to make a healthy muffin first and foremost and taste was secondary. I mean I wanted both, obviously, but what I love about bran muffins is how healthy they taste. My third go-round, recipe as written below, delivered both.
- ½ c. olive oil
- ½ c. coconut or brown sugar
- ¼ c. brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 6 T. molasses (I did not use the black strap kind)
- 1 ½ c. buttermilk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 c. wheat bran
- 1 c. whole wheat flour
- ⅔ c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ c. golden raisins
- 4 c. medjool dates, pitted and chopped
- ½ c. pepitas
- turbinado sugar, for sprinkling before baking
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 18 regular-sized muffin cups or 8 jumbo with non-stick spray.
Whisk together oil, sugar and eggs in large bowl until well blended. Add molasses, buttermilk and vanilla. Stir to combine.
Sprinkle bran, flours, baking powder and baking soda over the top. Stir just until all of the flour mixture is incorporated (do not overmix). Add raisins and stir to combine.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins, filling almost to the top. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes for regular sized muffins or 18 to 20 minutes for jumbo muffins or until firm to touch and a tester comes out clean.
Allow to sit in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely on a rack.