Cranberry walnut bread and muffins: a Thanksgiving classic

cranberry-walnut bread and muffins

Here’s a baking truism:

The plainer, simpler, and more common the dish, the more recipes you’ll find for it.

And boy, doesn’t that turn simple into complicated – fast!

I was recently looking for a simple (yet not boring), plain (but still tasty) recipe for cranberry nut bread. One that could easily morph between loaf and muffins.

And, most important, one that didn’t include orange.

To many people, cranberry and orange go together like software and bugs. And I admit to enjoying the odd cran-orange muffin every now and then.

But my real love is the tart-sweet flavor of cranberries paired with the buttery nuttiness of walnuts.

Orange, go sit in the corner; you’re not wanted here.

Looking the place I usually look first, I opened my grandmother’s wooden recipe box. And found a recipe called CRANBERRY BREAD.

Hmmm… Looks pretty good; A bit sweet, perhaps, but… drat, there’s that OJ!

Well, DUH, let me check the King Arthur Flour recipe site. Surely I’ll find a rendition of this classic New England favorite there.

I did, in fact. Made the muffins. OK, not great…

I can do better than that, methinks.

So I ask Susan Reid, our Baking Sheet editor, and she shoots me over a recipe from our newsletter.

With orange juice.

Remember what I said about simple being harder than you think?

Next: take a favorite muffin recipe and change it into a cranberry nut muffin.

What’s my favorite muffin recipe?

Simple. Doughnut Muffins. And with 171 glowing customer reviews, I know you like it, too.

Should be easy to change – it’s a plain cinnamon muffin. Just add cranberries and nuts, right?

Wrong. The amount of batter for the pan is just perfect as is; add 2 cups of cranberries/walnuts, and you’ll need another muffin pan.

I don’t have two muffin pans; and I suspect many of you don’t, either.

So, out comes my calculator. I figure I need to reduce the recipe by 25% to make it fit into a single muffin pan.

1 1/2 eggs? Nah, leave the eggs alone.

3 tablespoons each vegetable oil and butter? Well, without the Doughnut Muffins’ butter topping, perhaps I’d best keep those at full strength, too. Besides, 1/4 cup is less fussy to measure.

Things seem to be working out just right. But then I have one final inspiration:

Whole wheat.

This classic muffin needs a homey, comfortable look. Substituting whole wheat for half the all-purpose flour should add a rich, golden hue to the muffins, a perfect complement to the red cranberries and mahogany-brown nuts.

But whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid than AP, right? Should I change the amount of milk? Or maybe change the milk to sour cream, or yogurt – to help tenderize the wheat bran?

And how about a touch of almond extract?

By this time, I’ve worked myself beyond simple recipe to something complex.

Why? Because it’s a challenge. Like Everest, the perfect cranberry nut loaf is out there, just waiting for me to NAIL IT.

Is this recipe perfect?

Not quite. The whole wheat flour, though it adds nutrition and lovely color, does make the loaf crumblier than I like; the bran interferes with gluten development.

And I’d like a SLIGHTLY moister muffin…

And I think using all-purpose flour in place of whole wheat would accomplish both those objectives – wouldn’t it?

Back to the drawing board…

In the meantime, let’s make this Cranberry Walnut Bread (or muffins) just as the recipe stands.

And if you can’t wait, skip to the end of this post to see how the non-whole wheat version turned out.

Preheat the oven to 425°F for muffins, or 350°F for a loaf. Note the different temperatures.

Lightly grease a standard muffin tin. Or line with 12 paper muffin cups, and grease the cups with non-stick vegetable oil spray; this will ensure that they peel off the muffins nicely. If you’re baking a loaf, lightly grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan.

Place the following in a mixing bowl:

4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar

Beat until well combined.

Add 2 large eggs.

Beat until well combined.

Stir in the following:

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional
3/4 cup sour cream or yogurt, full-fat or low fat-preferred

Place the following in a food processor:

1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Premium Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup dried cranberries

Process until the berries are coarsely chopped. Add the nuts (if they’re not chopped), and process briefly, just until the nuts are chopped up a bit.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients.

Mix just until everything is thoroughly combined.

Divide the batter among the wells of the muffin tin, filling each one about 3/4 full. A muffin scoop works well here.

Sprinkle the top of each muffin with coarse sugar, if desired; coarse white sparkling sugar, or Demerara sugar.

To bake a loaf instead of muffins, scoop the batter into your prepared 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.

Bake the muffins for 14 to 15 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into one of the center muffins comes out clean.

Bake the loaf for 45 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Remove muffins or loaf from the oven. Nicely risen, I’d say!

Tilt the muffins in the pan to cool a bit… then transfer them to a rack to finish cooling.

…then transfer them to a rack to finish cooling.

Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 10  minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.

For best results, don’t slice until completely cool.

Store muffins or bread well wrapped, at room temperature, for 2 to 3 days; freeze for longer storage.

Now, what happens when you make the muffins entirely with all-purpose flour, no whole wheat?

Revelation. The brown sugar gives them nearly the same golden hue as white wheat flour does.

And they probably would have been a tad moister, had I remembered to turn on my oven timer and not over-baked them.

Bottom line: half whole wheat or not, this recipe is quite satisfactory, thank you.

To make these muffins without whole wheat flour, simply substitute 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour for the cup of whole wheat flour. I mimicked the Doughnut Muffins finish, too, by dipping the muffins in melted butter (2 tablespoons for the batch should do it), and granulated sugar (about 1/4 cup; no cinnamon. Remember, I don’t want any assertive flavors fighting it out with the cranberries and nuts).

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Cranberry-Walnut Bread or Muffins.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...


  1. marcin

    Wow. Just what I’ve been looking for. And thank you for making all those calculations and tests for us. My mind wanders over the same territory yours does! :)

  2. Kim

    If you were to change the recipe to use fresh cranberries instead of dried what else would you change? I have loads of frozen cranberries in my freezer that are just waiting to be baked into something.

    Kim, not sure I’d change anything much. Chop the cranberries; you may want to increase the sugar by a couple of tablespoons, plus sprinkle sugar on top of the muffins or bread… Good luck – PJH

  3. glpruett

    Many, many years ago I bought a 24-cup standard muffin tin at a restaurant supply store. From that time on, I never make a standard muffin recipe–I always double it to make two dozen muffins! It used to come in very handy when we had children at home and I was working full-time, as I could squirrel away a dozen muffins into the freezer to bring out mid-week as a “freshly-baked” surprise. And I agree with Olivia’s comment–a real timesaver when it comes to making cupcakes!

    As to the recipe, though, I’m afraid I’m going to stick to my oj and orange rind version–it’s somehow just not quite right to bake a cranberry bread without the orange included! To each his own–that’s the beauty of home baking!!!

  4. kaf-sub-jrobbins944

    Cannot find nutrition information for this recipe?? It turned out great by the way!!! My wife is a weight watcher stickler and has to compute the points.

    Sorry, only some of our recipes have nutrition information, and this one doesn’t; we hope in the future to have the resources and software to provide it for all… PJH

  5. poketigger

    USE said” dried cran berry’s” i have loads of frozen can i use them”
    I notice flours choices that was huge help thank you.
    I love to try .
    thanks mike

    You could try, Mike – chop coarsely, and be sure to sprinkle the tops of the muffins with sugar, and add an additional 2 tablespoons to the batter, to make up for the extra-tart fresh berries. Good luck – PJH

  6. athomas1220

    I have made the loaf twice. The 1st time I chopped the dried cranberries as directed and used the vanilla/almond extracts. I took out of oven at 50 minutes as the toothpick came out clean but the loaf was underdone in center third. (Put the uncooked residue in hamburger former and divided into thirds and re baked as biscotti).
    2nd time around I used whole dried cranberries and baked 60 minutes and used Fiori di Sicilia as flavoring. This time the loaf was a bit dry.
    Plan to make again with the berries pulsed in the food processer and removing at 55 minutes. Should be just perfect. I expect the pulsed berries add extra moisture. Both extracts seem to work well.

  7. queenbee58

    I tired this recipe and it’s taste was just okay, I thought it was to dry how ever my family loved it so I will make it again. I think next time I will add bananas or applesauce for moisture.

    Good idea, the fruit for added moisture. Let us know how it works out, OK? PJH

  8. PA

    I made the muffins with fresh chopped cranberries and walnuts! Nice light texture and all the flavors make a very pleasant taste. I bet a drizzle of white chocolate on top would really give this simple recipe a decadent flavor. I’ll have to try that! Thanks for sharing :-)

    Thanks for sharing your successful version of this recipe! Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

  9. zb

    Should the butter be melted or no? It says to melt it, but the picture shows it not melted.

    The original recipe called for melted butter – when we made the recipe we used softened butter for easy mixing – Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF


Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *