Change tends to come quickly. Maybe it takes you by surprise. Lately change has been sneaking up on me.
Two weeks ago I was running in full winter gear as snow flurries fell onto my tongue. This week I’m wearing shorts and tank tops. Not together. Let’s not get too crazy. Two and a half months ago I had my heart broken. Talk about chaos. A week and a half ago I remembered why I loved the mountains and a barn filled with horses—peace. And five days ago I crossed the finish line of the Shamrock Shuffle with a new personal record and the Chicago skyline rising in front of me. I felt this overwhelming sense of luck and joy, and that feeling just hasn’t gone away yet. Change is sticking.
I once thought bran muffins were ridiculous. I worked at a coffee shop in Raleigh and we sold muffins. The bran were always left at the end of the day, and honestly I didn’t blame our customers. Why would you opt for healthy, tasteless bran when you could go the blueberry or carrot?
Over Christmas I got Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole Grain Flour by Kim Boyle, a cookbook I had read about over and over again on my favorite food blogs and had been coveting. In fact my favorite regular weekend pancakes come from this cookbook. I decided to buy one new whole grain flour at a time and jumped into the weirdest and most unknown chapter: amaranth flour. In fact I’m not even sure how to pronounce this flour. Look for it with the other specialty flours in your grocery or co-op. A bit about amaranth, in case you are as clueless as I was.
“It’s fragrance is strong and unique, grass with subtle undertones of chalk or stone, more like hay than a freshly mown lawn. … it’s those seeds—a single amaranth plant is capable of producing about 50,000 of them—that are ground to make the flour. … Its seeds are gluten-free and high in protein, lysine, and fiber. … Amaranth pairs very well with strong-flavored sweeteners like honey, molasses, and muscovado sugar.”
With a whole bag of this new flour to use up, I was going to have to make every recipe in that chapter, including the bran muffins, which also include prunes. Prunes + bran … please insert poop joke here.
Now despite all of this negative talk about bran muffins, I am still posting this recipe. Why? They are fucking amazing. True story. I am a changed woman. I am on Team Bran Muffin. They’re totally bursting with a bright and full flavor from the amaranth flour, molasses, prunes, and orange juice and zest. They’re filling but not even remotely heavy. And they’re particularly good cut in half, warmed up in the microwave, and slathered in honey. They freeze well, too, and make a great on-the-go breakfast.
Embrace the change, weird or spectacular, and especially when it takes you by surprise. Oh, and make these muffins. Duh.
Orange Bran Muffins
makes 10 muffins
from Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours
For prune puree
1 cup orange juice from about 3 oranges
1 1/2 cups pitted prunes
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1/2 cup amaranth flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup molasses
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon orange zest from oranges used for juice
To make the prune puree, bring the orange juice and prunes to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn the flame off; cover; let steep until the prunes are plump and have absorbed some of the juice, about 30 minutes. Using an immersion blender (or regular blender or food processor), puree the prunes and juice in the pan until smooth. (Note: you can actually do this ahead of time and keep the prune puree in the fridge in a container for a week or so.)
Preheat the oven to 350°. Rub every other muffin tin in two muffin pans with butter (this gives muffins room to spread while baking).
Measure the bran into a medium bowl. Warm the buttermilk over a gentle flame until just lukewarm. Don’t let the buttermilk get so hot that it separates. Pour the warm buttermilk over the bran, and set aside.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter, and set aside.
In a small bowl whisk the wet ingredients together with 1/2 cup of the prune jam, making sure that the egg is thoroughly mixed in. Add this mixture to the softened bran and milk, stir, then add the entire wet mixture to the dry mixture.
Scoop the batter into 10 muffin cups. The batter should be slightly mounded above the edge of each cup.
Bake for 30 to 34 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. The muffins are ready to come out when the bottoms are a dark golden color (twist a muffin out of the pan to check). Take the tins out of the oven, twist each muffin out, and place it on its side in the cup to cool. This ensures that the muffin stays crusty instead of getting soggy.