cranberry pecan muffins

Cranberry muffins in the dead of summer may seem a strange choice, but I discovered some forgotten bags of cranberries in the freezer, and in the interest of not throwing out everything before I move, I decided to do something with them. I also conveniently happened to have some pecans and some buttermilk that was on its last legs lying about, so muffins seemed clearly written in the stars. I made these last weekend, when I was still in the “Hey, I’m moving soon so I should use up this leftover food” stage, rather than the current “JUSTTHROWALLTHEDAMNSTUFFAWAYNOW!!@&#%” stage.

So, “real” moving sucks worse than a lot of things. I made it out of my apartment yesterday, and I have all the aches and pains to prove it today, including a slowly mending pulled back muscle from lifting boxes improperly during a fit of rage at the landlady. I knew I was a messy cook (as my mother noted when I was at home a few weeks ago), but there was stuff splattered on every wall, cabinet, baseboard, door, and appliance (maybe the ceiling too?) in the old kitchen, which I somehow never noticed when I was actually living there. I’ll blame some of them on spilled drinks at parties, but oof, scrubbing each and every one off was not so fun. Now we’re on to stage 2, in which we pack, clean, and move everything out of Mark’s apartment, which will be followed by stage 3, in which Mark drives a big scary moving truck with all of our life’s possessions in it to Jersey City. From there, it all becomes a lot easier (we hope).

In the meantime, this recipe hearkens back to a less stressful stage of moving, when it still seemed worthwhile to do something creative with odds and ends that wouldn’t survive the move, before I became exhausted and vindictive towards all items too troublesome to pack. You may want to save these till autumn, when they will be more in tune with the seasons, but in any event they are lovely and tender, tangy from the buttermilk, tart from the cranberries, and, er, nutty from the pecans (ok, I’ve been “helping” Mark finish off some alcohol while writing this, so my command of adjectives is failing at the moment). 

Cranberry Pecan Buttermilk Muffins

These muffins are not very sweet, so if you want sweeter muffins, you could change the sugar to 2/3 or 3/4 of a cup. I was happy with the faint hint of sweetness, but the one thing that I thought needed improvement was the puckery tartness from the cranberries. I found a trick from Cook’s Illustrated for cutting the bite from the cranberries a bit, so I’m including those instructions, and recommend that you follow them. They really know what they’re doing over at Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe called for walnuts, instead of pecans, and milk, rather than buttermilk, so I’m including those options as well. I do think that using buttermilk will lead to a more tender muffin, though, and it adds to the flavor.

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar (see note above)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and allowed to cool for a few minutes
1 cup buttermilk or whole milk
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped coarsely
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (if frozen, microwave in bowl until partially but not entirely thawed, 30-45 seconds)
1/2 tablespoon powdered sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F (that may sound high, but bear with me, it’s for a reason). Butter, grease, or line your muffin tin. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and baking powder. 

Crack the two eggs into a medium bowl, and whisk until well-combined, about 20 seconds. Add the granulated sugar and whisk vigorously for another 30 seconds, until the mixture is thick and the sugar evenly incorporated. Pour in the melted butter in 2 or 3 steps, whisking after each addition. Add buttermilk in two steps, whisking just to incorporate.

To prepare the cranberries, place them in a food processor with the 1/2 tablespoon of powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Pulse just until they are chopped coarsely, about 4 or 5 pulses. Toss the cranberries and pecans gently with the dry ingredients.

Fold the liquid ingredients into the dry with a rubber spatula, just until the batter comes together, about 25-30 seconds (see note at bottom). There should still be small spots of flour when you stop. Do not overmix, or your muffins will be tough. Evenly distribute batter among muffin cups, and place pan in oven. As soon as you’ve closed the oven door, drop the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. The original recipe says that starting the muffins in a very hot oven and then dropping the temperature helps your muffins to have domes on top. I’d never heard of this before, but I tried it, and all my muffins did indeed have lovely domes. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You can cool them on a wire rack if you want; I pull them out of the pan right away, slather on some butter, and usually burn myself a few times. Enjoy with your morning cup of coffee.

Note:

If you’re not sure what it means to “fold” ingredients (it’s something I didn’t know for quite some time), you take a spatula, cut it down into the center of your mixture (with the flat part facing you), and turn it so that the flat side is against the bottom of the bowl. Scrape it towards you along the bottom of the bowl until you hit the side, turn the spatula again so that the flat part is pressed against the side of the bowl, then bring the spatula up out of the mixture. Repeat this process, turning the bowl after each fold, until everything is mixed as well as the recipe instructs. It takes a lot of words to explain this, but do it once and you won’t have to think about it again.

Adapted from King Arthur Flour and Cook’s Illustrated

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