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Good Enough to Eat – Molasses Bran Muffins

Lately we have developed somewhat of a rhythm to our weekend cooking plans. Each weekend we tend to make a main dish, like a soup or baked pasta, a side, which is typically grain based such as a broccoli and quinoa salad, two loaves of bread, using home made starter and a recipe from Tartine, and some sort of baked good.

There is something about turning out perfectly puffed baked goods that I find deeply satisfying. Likely, this joy stems from the fact that I have failed at baking so many times in the past. Much of my recent success stems from one key piece of advice that I have heard countless times and have never really followed. And that is, that I FINALLY read the directions. All of them. Sometimes twice. Until I actually understand what is going on. And then I get down to business.

Baking truly takes a lot of preparation. First you need all of the right ingredients, you need to carefully note what type of flour to buy, the size of the eggs called for DOES make a difference. Light and dark brown sugar are not the same thing, and no, honey is not a substitute for maple syrup. Please, whatever you do, do not substitute light butter or margarine for the butter called for in the recipe, and if they don’t specify, its pretty darn likely that they are calling for UNSALTED butter. And generally, if they call for milk, buttermilk, or yogurt, you can assume that the full fat version is required, unless the author explicitly states otherwise.

Sometimes it feels as though, given all of these rules, we must take off our thinking caps and turn off our brains when we bake. But I feel it just takes a great deal more mastery before we are able to make the substitutions and judgement calls that separate the good bake hands from the true innovators that are pushing the art of baking forward. Kim Boyce, author of “Good to the Grain” is, in my mind, one of these innovators on the forefront of the baking scene. With her book on baking with whole grain flours, Kim has forever changed the way I look at whole wheat and other whole grain flours. No longer do I see these as musky, mealy substitutes that only a health nut could love. Thanks to her recipes and to those of other bakers that have understood the many nuances of baking with quality milled whole grains, I feel as though I can hone my baking skills while producing hearty baked goods which will provide nutrition and sustenance to the loved ones around me.

I think Bran Muffins get a bad rap. Often times justifiably so as many of them are dry, mealy, and totally bereft of flavor. On the other end of the spectrum are bran muffins which purport themselves as a healthy breakfast food, but are really packed to the gills with cheap low quality oils and highly refined sugars. This recipe from Boyce’s “Good to the Grain” truly does the bran muffin justice. Her use of a home made prune jam, which acts as the main source of sweetness, provides an ingenious and natural source of fruit based sugars. There is only a slight 3 TBSP of butter in the entire recipe, the additional moisture comes from buttermilk, molasses, and fruit. These make a great breakfast treat, provided, of course that you don’t bake them into muffins the size of grapefruits, as some bakeries are wont to do.

Molasses Bran Muffins – adapted slightly from Kim Boyce’s Recipe in “Good to the Grain”

Emily’s Tip – Zest the Oranges BEFORE you squeeze them to make the Juice, it is infinitely easier than trying to hold a half of a squeezed orange and zest it, trust me.

1 C Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
1 1/2 C Dried Fruit, Cut in Half (Kim Uses Prunes, I Used a Mixture of Prunes and Figs, Raisins Would Also Work Well)
1 1/2 C Wheat Bran
1/2 C Amaranth Flour
1 1/2 C Whole Wheat Flour
2 TBSP Dark Brown Sugar
1 1/4 TSP Baking Soda
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
1/2 TSP Ground Cinnamon
2 C Full Fat Buttermilk
1/2 C Molasses
3 TBSP Unsalted Butter, Melted and Cooled Slightly
1 Egg
1 TBSP Orange Zest (From Oranges Used for Juice – See Emily’s Tip Above)

To make the dried fruit jam, lay the pieces of dried fruit, cut side down, in a small sautee pan or skillet (that has a fitting lid), cover with the orange juice and bring to a boil. Turn off the flame/remove from the heat, cover with the lid, and allow to sit for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is plump and has absorbed some of the orange juice. Puree in a small food processor, or use an immersion blender until you have a smooth puree.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins with baking spray. Measure the bran into a medium bowl, place the buttermilk in a microwave safe container and microwave in 10 second intervals until the buttermilk is just lukewarm (do NOT overheat as it will separate and look positively gross.)

Pour the buttermilk over the bran, stir, and set aside.

Sift the remaining dry ingredients (amaranth flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon) into a large bowl (if some does not pass through the sifter just dump it out into the bowl with the remaining dry ingredients.)

In a small bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients with 1/2 cup of prune jam (you will have left over jam, set it aside for another use or freeze it for a later batch of muffins.) Make sure the egg is thoroughly incorporated before adding the mixture to the softened bran and buttermilk. Add the entire wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir gently. Use as few strokes as possible. Once the batter is just mixed spook into alternating cups of the muffin tin (will make about 10 muffins.)

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, rotating half way through until they reach a dark golden color. Once the muffins are done take one out of the tin to make sure the bottom is dark and golden. Place the muffins upside down on a cooling rack to ensure they stay crisp and that the bottoms don’t become soggy from steaming in the tins. The muffins fare well in a container on the counter for about 2 days. Freeze any muffins you do not plan to consume during that period. Frozen muffins defrost well if left on the counter at room temperature for a few hours.

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