Cranberry Orange Crunch Muffins

I was reading Molly Wizenberg’s blog Orangette the other day. First, let me just tell you that Molly is one of the best food writers currently out there. Scratch that. She’s one of the best writers. Period. If you haven’t read her blog or her book, go read them now. I strive to emulate her knack for blending personal stories with spot-on, yet unorthodox, descriptions of food and cooking. For me, she is the heir to Ruth Reichl (not that Ruth has abdicated her throne yet).

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Anyway. Molly was writing about repetition in cooking. About how she tends to go back to the same recipes and make them over and over again. Don’t we all? There’s comfort and safety in familiar recipes. When you have one that works, that’s not to hard to make, that results in food that’s exciting or satisfying or impressive, why wouldn’t you go back to it repeatedly?

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In fact, a big reason why I started this blog was to share exactly those recipes that I find myself reaching for again and again. Nobody can deny the thrill of trying out a new recipe, one that caught your eye while reading Bon Appétit or your favorite food blog. But like any unexplored territory, an unfamiliar recipe can hide unseen dangers. Despite the assurances of the writer, your cake never rises beautifully like in the photograph, or your leg of lamb comes out tough, almost crunchy, like cartilage.

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Not that tried-and-true recipes don’t offer themselves to some adventure. Over time you may start replacing ingredients (either on purpose or because you forgot to buy the cranberries). Or you may start adding things you suspect would improve it. But most of the time, you just stick to the plan, knowing that, like an old friend, they’ll never let you down.

One of those recipes for me is the one I’m sharing with you today. I make these cranberry orange crunch muffins year-round. They are the perfect muffin. Their slightly crisp exterior gives way to an incredibly light interior. They are almost spongy, though not unpleasantly so. The mildly sweet crumb is bracketed by tart cranberries and the toasted sweetness of the pecan topping.

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Fresh cranberries will soon be everywhere. It’s one of the joys of fall (along with butternut and acorn squashes and apples). But you can easily use frozen cranberries to make these. No need to thaw them. Just chop them and use them as you would with fresh cranberries. I bet that once you’ve made them once, you’ll make them again. And again. And again.

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Cranberry Orange Crunch Muffins – Slightly Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

Batter
2 cups (8 7/8 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil
3/4 cup (6 ounces) 2% milk
1/4 cup (2 ounces) fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries

Topping
1/4 cup (7/8 ounce) finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) brown sugar, dark or light, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups or line them with muffin paper cups.

Batter: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, then toss the cranberries in the mix and stir to coat.

In a separate bowl, or in a large measuring cup, whisk together the egg, oil, milk, orange juice, and orange peel. Gently and thoroughly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Do not over mix

Using a muffin or cookie scoop, or a 1/4-cup measure, pour the batter into 12 lightly greased muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full.

Topping: Combine all of the topping ingredients. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of topping over the batter in each muffin cup.

Baking: Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, or until they’re nicely domed and a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven, and run a knife around the edge of each one to separate it from the pan. Carefully tilt each muffin in its cup so steam doesn’t collect underneath as they cool. After about 5 minutes, transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

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