Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fresh Cranberry & Apple Muffins with Almond Streusel Topping . . .

One weekday morning a few days ago, while in the kitchen assembling my kids' school lunches, my husband sat at the table munching his breakfast of oatmeal with a sprinkling of dried cranberries on top. He tries to be relatively careful about what he eats most of the time, and he picked up the cranberry package to read the nutritional info on the back. After a moment he remarked to me, "Where can we buy dried cranberries that don't include sugar?" To which I replied, "I'm not sure they exist. Plain raw cranberries are incredibly tart and they're pretty much unpalatable. I think they have to add sugar to dried cranberries or nobody would eat them." He muttered something then that sounded like, "Hmmm . . . damn."

Now, having had a little time to ponder, I figure I could be totally wrong about that. Maybe health food stores sell unsweetened dried cranberries? I don't know, but I should investigate further. Dietarily, I understand the hubby's interest in having no-sugar-added cranberries atop his healthy bowl of oatmeal.

As a baker, however, I don't feel the least bit handicapped by a need for fresh versus frozen versus dried cranberries--sweetened or not. Most recipes that call for cranberries are incredibly versatile; have you ever noticed this? Especially when we're talking about something as forgiving as a muffin recipe. You can almost always reliably use fresh, frozen, or dried berries and expect fine results.

These muffins were made with the first bag of fresh cranberries that I happened upon in the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. And, please don't tell this to the Cranberry Police, but I'm planning on hoarding several more bags before the season's through--gonna stick those guys in the freezer for future reference. They're not around for long, you know. But they freeze like champs. Just fling 'em in there, right in the bags they came in. Get 'em while they're around, bakers! Go ahead and hoard those babies. Just do it, and don't look back.

About this recipe . . . 

These muffins are made from a hybrid recipe I concocted after baking about a zillion different muffin recipes in the last few years from who-knows-how-many sources. I hope you like these as much as I do (and I like them a lot). Oh, and feel free to leave the apple out of these altogether if you prefer your cranberry muffins straight-up.

Cranberry & Apple Muffins with Almond Streusel
 (For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Ingredients for the muffin batter:
3/4 unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup orange juice
2 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal (whole almonds ground finely, but not until they become paste-like!)
1and 1/4 tsp. kosher salt (or 1 tsp. regular salt)
4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 pinch each, ground cinnamon and nutmeg
1 and 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup apple pieces (peeled, cored, chopped small; I used a Jazz apple--sweet and crispy!)

Ingredients for the streusel: 
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 granulated sugar
1/3 cup almond meal
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 pinch kosher salt (or regular salt)
1 tiny pinch cinnamon
1 tiny pinch nutmeg

To make the streusel (make it before doing the batter): 
In a medium size bowl, mix together all the streusel's dry ingredients. Then, using your fingers or a fork, lightly squish the butter into the dry ingredients; the streusel should be kind of lumpy looking. Set it aside.

Prepare your pan and preheat the oven:

Prepare 24 regular size muffin cups, or 12 - 14 jumbo muffin cups. If using paper liners, lightly spray them with vegetable spray; spray even the top area of the muffin pan between the cups. If not using liners, then spray the metal cups, along with the top of the pan, generously with vegetable spray.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make the muffin batter:

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy. Blend in the room-temperature eggs, then blend in the sour cream, buttermilk, orange juice, and the extracts.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add this into the liquid ingredients, beating on low speed just until combined.

Add in the cranberries and apple pieces (if you're using them), blending on low speed just until combined.


Using a portion (ice cream) scoop, equally divide the batter among the muffin cups. Top them evenly with all of the streusel.

Put the muffin pan(s) on top of a baking sheet to help prevent the bottoms from burning (I always do this with muffins--it's a lifesaver!). Bake the muffins until the tops are golden, they spring back when lightly pressed on top, and when a toothpick inserted deeply into the center comes out clean. Anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes depending on the size of your muffin cups. If they seem to be browning long before they're really done, be sure to cover them lightly with a sheet of foil.

Let the muffins cool for a few minutes while in the pan on a rack, then remove them to finish cooling on the rack.

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