There is something about initiating a discussion on muffins that makes me feel like the world's least interesting human.
It probably doesn't help that I'm currently wearing a bathrobe and a t-shirt that says "Thomas Jefferson Still Lives" under that. And that I'm drinking club soda. And that I'm writing this on a Friday night.
But please don't let my lameness stop you. This is a fine pastry specimen. In fact, I referred to the batch I baked around Christmas as holiday stud-muffins.
This probably does not help my cause much. But hopefully it does something for the muffins.
The recipe is inspired by a blueberry spelt version in Nigel Slater's Ripe. It's a wonderful base to use throughout the year and takes kindly to whatever berry-of-the-moment the season is hosting. And this is one of my favorite incarnations. So despite being past its seasonal prime, I deemed it worthy enough to risk a passé label.
It has the tender quality of a muffin masquerading as a biscuit and hints ever so slightly of eggnog. The cranberries swing with the spices and offer up pleasing tart pockets. Things might even teeter on the side of savory, if there wasn't a sprinkling of demerara over their tops.
But the crunch from the sugar is a must. If it were up to me, I'd make a demerara scattering mandatory across most baked goods. They also freeze brilliantly. Which means they can pretty much go wherever, whenever.
They are a real renaissance muffin.
Cranberry Spice Muffins
Adapted from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
heaping ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ to ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg (see note)
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ cup butter, softened
scant 2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup plain whole milk yogurt
1¼ cups cranberries (fresh or frozen whole)
a few spoonfuls demerara sugar
few spoonfuls rolled oats
Set the oven to 375 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.
In the bowl of stand mixer, cream the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy, scraping down the sides occasionally (the mixture will want to cling to the side of the bowl, especially if you use the paddle attachment). With the mixer running, slowly add the eggs one at a time; add in the vanilla and yogurt.
Add the sifted flour mixture in three or four swift additions with the mixer running (the flour does not have to be fully incorporated; you don't want to over-mix the batter). Stop the mixer and fold in the berries. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups (it will be very thick). Scatter the tops with ½ to 1 tsp demerara per muffin and sprinkle on some oats.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of a muffin. Let the muffins cool briefly in the pan and then place on a rack to fully cool.
Makes one dozen muffins
-I used sheep's yogurt, because I love it. Any yogurt will do, but I prefer whole because it adds a little richness and the recipe does not use a lot of fat overall.
-I eyeballed the nutmeg measurement (I ground it for 10 seconds with a microplane). This yielded a faint but tangible presence. Use your judgment and do more or less depending on your relationship with the spice.
-You can substitute the whole wheat pastry flour for another whole grain, like whole wheat or spelt. The pastry flour will yield a lighter crumb, but I've also used other less delicate types with satisfying results.