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:
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:
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.