Have you ever done that thing where you open your eyes really wide in an attempt to keep from crying? Like if the air can hit the tears before they’re shed, it’ll dry them up and you’ll be good? Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of that. And the whole, waving your hand in front of your face? Yeah, that too. Comfort comes in many different forms for different people. For me, though, comfort- more often than not- comes in the form of a recipe. Food comforts me, but not just the eating of it; the preparation of food soothes me as well. These Cranberry-Orange Muffins, with their Streusel Topping, do just that. The warmth of the muffin itself, along with the process of creating them is what I need for times like these.
“Murphy’s Law of Deployment” states that:
“When your Soldier’s gone, I’m gonna make all Hell break loose.”
So, basically, Murphy’s a jerk. In the last nine months, I’ve dealt with losing my wedding ring and a cancer scare. I’ve wrestled with Twins who are coming into themselves- with attitude and boundary-testing galore. Appliances have broken, and friends have died (obviously one more was more heartbreaking than the other). Threats of hurricanes in my city; now a devastating hurricane to my family’s homeland which still has us reeling. The latter is the biggest cause for my angst these days.
Right now, as I type this very post, my family is struggling with the reality that my Aunt and Uncle haven’t been heard from in more than a week. My uncle Freddy is the eldest of my mother’s six remaining siblings. My mother and Aunts, Christina and Paula, have already passed away, so only the six remain. Not having any idea of what is going on with him, and my “Titi” Lei (as we affectionately call her), is gut-wrenching to say the least. It’s tough to stay optimistic when you have no answers. As a family we’re pooling our resources to get news, but the going is slow. Arduously slow. So, I do the one thing I do best, and the one thing I know I can control. I cook. Bake. Eat.
Muffins are one of those things that, once you know the fundamental technique required to make them, you can do blindfolded. Maybe not really blindfolded, but you can totally watch a sitcom while making them. It truly is, “dry ingredients go together, wet ingredients go together, combine, stir just a little, and bake.” Truly, that’s all.
So, what are muffins? Muffins are quick breads. Quick breads are just what they sound like- breads that don’t go through the laborious process of proofing and, therefore, come together and bake quickly. Since there is no yeast used in quick breads, you aren’t forced to wait out a first and second rise of your bread dough. Quick breads are notoriously easy and reliable in their finality. For me, when I need/want, a comfort baked good, muffins are my go-to. Mixing and baking can happen, depending on the recipe, in less than an half-hour.
Cranberry-Orange muffins take just about that long. What I enjoy about my cranberry-orange muffins is how much flavor they pack in a little bundle of bread. Granted, the addition of my homemade Pumpkin Spice Blend may have a little to do with that as well.
Blending together the dry ingredients- which, typically, consist of flour, a leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder), salt and spices- is the first step.
Now, while some baker’s prefer to combine their sugar with their eggs, I add mine right along with the rest of the dry ingredients. I find that I get a better texture throughout my baked muffin this way.
Another thing that I do, which may be a bit unconventional, is add my cranberries at the beginning of the mixing process instead of at the end. Most recipes will call for you to toss your berries in a small amount of flour just before adding to your finished batter. The theory is that encapsulating the berry in flour prevents it from sinking to the bottom of the muffin tin. While I’m sure it’s a legit technique: one, it’s never prevented my berries from sinking. Two, I’ve never done that without also adding a clump of flour to the batter as well. Toss the cranberries in the dry ingredients and coat them in the flour, instead. I found this way works perfectly, it also eliminates an extra step and excess flour. All that avoids excess mixing which is bad (we’ll talk about why in a minute).
Next comes the “orange” in Cranberry-Orange Muffins. A wedding cake client of mine spoke to my heart when he said, “If I am served lemon cake, I want it to make my mouth pucker.” When I make a Cranberry-Orange anything, it’s not only going to taste like orange, you’re going to smell it coming. The epitome of disappointment is biting into a muffin that tastes nothing like what it claims to be. I get that feeling every time I eat a weakly flavored Cranberry-Orange baked good. Adding the rind of not one, but two, oranges satisfies my need for an orange grove in my mouth. After you’ve zested the oranges, juice them. Invest in a great microplane, like this one. Small slivers of orange are optimal. Our next boost of orange will come from the juice of both. Don’t add the juice yet, though, that comes later.
What I find missing from a lot of food videos these days is showing the importance of mixing ingredients properly. Eggs that are incorporated into a muffin batter, for instance, should be lightly beaten prior to adding, and not just chucked into the dry ingredients. Adding the eggs whole and unbeaten forces you to overmix the batter which, again, is bad. Lightly beat your eggs, please and thank you.
When creating quick breads, the goal is to combine the separate ratios (dry to wet) together prior to combining them into a complete batter. The name of the game is “the least amount of mixing possible.” You accomplish this by combining the eggs, melted butter, that orange juice we reserved earlier, and the milk in a separate bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients until completely blended.
Now, add the wet to the dry. And let me give you the low-down on “Tunneling”. No, we’re not busting outta the joint.
The key to the perfect quick bread is zero tunneling. Overmixing a muffin batter will cause the gluten in the flour to develop which is the cause of tunneling. Its easy to assume that the more you mix, the better your end result will be, but in the case of quick breads there’s nothing further from the truth. Since our end goal is a fluffy, tender muffin, the less mixing the better. Tunneling presents itself as holes throughout the baked product. No holes= tender and tastier. Holes= tough and doesn’t stay fresh as long. How do you prevent overmixing? Gently fold the better just until your flour is no longer visible. As soon as it has become one with the wet ingredients you’ve added- stop!
With that ever-looming threat of tunneling still at the forefront of our thoughts, be mindful not to manhandle the batter when portioning, either. Portioning, or scooping the batter into muffin tins, is best done with a portion scoop (or ice cream scoop). A little fact, unknown to most home chefs, is that each scoop has an indicator that will tell you its capacity. Look for stamped number on the scraper (or wiper) of the bowl (“scoopy part” super-Marta term). That “bowl size” will tell you how many ounces a full scoop yields. My #16 (1/4 cup) portion scoop provides the perfect amount of batter for my muffin pan. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with a tablespoon of my streusel, then pop it straight away into your preheated oven and bake for 18-20 minutes. Don’t over-bake, as that will also lead to tough muffins.
Enjoy these Cranberry-Orange Muffins with (or without) Streusel Topping. I think they’re amazing with a steaming cup of joe, and they’re even better with the addition of yogurt and fresh fruit. Pin this recipe for when you need a comforting, spiced muffin.
Can I ask a favor of you, friend? Please pray for my uncle Freddy and Aunt Lei, and the entire island of Puerto Rico. They need it.
Cranberry-Orange Muffins with Streusel Topping
The key to tender, delicious muffins is to avoid over-mixing.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 tsp pumpkin spice mix
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 cups dried cranberries
- zest of 2 medium oranges about 3 tbsp, juice reserved
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1 cup 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup streusel topping optional
- Preheat oven to 375° and lightly spray a muffin pan with non-stick baking spray. Line each muffin tin with liners and set aside.
- In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, spices, salt, baking soda, sugar with a whisk. Toss the cranberries in to coat with the flour. Add the orange zest and mix to combine.
- In another bowl, combine the milk, orange juice, melted butter, and eggs. Mix well and pour into the dry ingredients.
- Fold the batter gently, just until the flour is absorbed. Don't overmix! Scoop into the lined muffin pan and sprinkle about a tbsp of streusel over the top of each, if desired (add more if you'd like).
- Bake for 18-20 mins or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before enjoying.
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