Muffins hold a special place in my heart—several years ago I told my famous “love muffin” story on this blog, and every so often, have shared another version of the original. I make a muffin for nearly every holiday, going with the flow and flavors of the season. To me they are a special gift—the personal, just-the-right-size cake, yes? You can make them super healthy with bran and protein powders, or gluten-free for special diets or—in the case of this muffin—extra special with fresh seasonal fruits and extravagant splurges.
This muffin is a good example of perfect flavor balance—there’s a tart burst of cranberry against sweet floral perfume of vanilla and orange in every bite. To take this confection over the top (Often the point of a holiday cake, yes?), there is the unexpected splash of Grand Mariner…Fa La La La La!
I often give this muffin as a gift, as fresh as I can deliver them. They will keep several days in the frig, and heat up nicely in just a few minutes in the oven. The reheat actually creates a lovely sugar crust on the top that is my favorite part. So if you are still hunting for that last gift, hunt no further…let’s get baking!
- One and one-half cups cake flour (strongly suggest King Arthur for the flours)
- One and one-half cups whole wheat pastry flour
- One cup finely ground rolled oats (A few pulses in your food processor is all you need. You can also buy oat bran, which is already ground, but bran will create a dryer muffin, so not recommended here.)
- One-half cup freshly ground flaxseed (use a coffee bean or spice grinder--a heaping quarter-cup should yield the half cup you need.)
- One cup cane sugar (For this special muffin, I try to have vanilla sugar on hand—a jar of regular cane sugar in which an empty vanilla bean pod has been placed for a least a week. Never—ever—throw away vanilla bean pods! The sugar is amazing.)
- One teaspoon baking powder
- One tablespoon baking soda
- One teaspoon fine sea salt
- One teaspoon each ground cardamom, ground ginger and freshly grated nutmeg
- Seeds from one large vanilla bean (For the very best vanilla beans, I trust Penzeys)
- One cup high-quality buttermilk, such as Kalona
- One cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt
- Two large eggs, beaten well
- Zest from two large oranges
- One tablespoon Grand Mariner
- One small bag whole fresh cranberries, about two cups (Frozen cranberries are fine, just rinse to thaw. But make sure the cranberries are completely dry before you add them to the muffin batter.)
- One-half cup toasted pecans, finely chopped
- Raw sugar for topping
- Be sure to have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Prepare two muffin trays: you can line the cups with natural parchment paper liners, which is nice if you are giving as gifts, or you can grease the muffin cups with either butter or coconut oil. I’ve used all three methods with success.
- Using a large whisk, mix the flours, oats, flaxseed, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the yogurt until smooth. Add the beaten eggs and whisk to completely combine.
- Add the vanilla bean seeds, orange zest and Grand Marnier. Whisk to combine.
- Now create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pushing all the dry ingredients to the sides of the bowl until you can see the bowl’s bottom in the middle. Pour in the wet ingredients directly into the well and use a sturdy rubber spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet, rotating the bowl as you fold in until all the dry ingredients have been mixed with the wet. Keep gently folding until all the ingredients are combined, but keep in mind that the more you mix, the tougher the dough can become—keep a light hand, scooping all the way from the sides and bottom into the center. The fewer the strokes, the better.
- Finally gently fold in the whole cranberries and the pecans.
- Fill your muffin cups three-quarters full for that “over the top” bakery shop effect. Sprinkle liberally with raw sugar for sparkle and a sweet crunch. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the muffin tins halfway through. Remove muffins from cups and cool on baking racks. If you are not using liners, you may need to loosen the muffins from the tins with a butter knife.
While these muffins are, at least in my opinion, extra special, they are not extra sweet. So if you are thinking “cupcake”, think again. They are rich, well balanced and incredibly floral, which—again in my opinion—is way better than sugary sweet.
If you are ready to embark on more holiday baking, try my Raspberry Thumbprints or cherry almond muffins, both of which are gluten free. Or maybe you are in the mood for my gingerbread Christmas Cake—our family favorite. However you sweeten up your holiday, may you enjoy peace and joy in every bite.