Once upon a time, my family and I went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina on vacation. We rented a little seaside cottage, walked barefoot in the sand, and ate freshly caught crab until we couldn’t stuff in one more bite. We watched beautiful pink sunrises against the pounding surf and savored the last, fleeting rays of daylight when the sun slipped back into the ocean again. It was a glorious, all too short week.
And while we were there, we stopped at the famous Duck Donuts in Duck, NC. And I tried what has gone down into my memory as the single, most delicious muffin I have ever eaten– their distinctive cranberry orange muffin. I have tried muffins like this since, but I have never had one as delicious as that muffin I enjoyed on vacation. Was in the careless playfulness of the sea breeze in my hair that made it taste so good? Perhaps it was the smell of salt and the beautiful, weathered wood in the boardwalk sidewalks. Whatever it was, I have never tasted another muffin quite so delicious. And I have never been able to recreate the special flavor I had there. But, in the attempt to recreate them, I have invented many delicious breakfast muffins– not the same, but still delicious.
And we take what we can get, eh? 🙂 What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Cranberry Orange Spice Muffins
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. orange extract
1/2 cup oil
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
Orange Glaze (optional)
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tbsp. softened butter
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. orange extract
2 tbsp. milk (more or less as needed to get icing the consistency you want)
Whisk together flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom until combined. In a separate bowl whisk together orange extract, oil, orange juice and zest, buttermilk, and eggs. Using a spatula gently fold wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to overstir (batter will still be lumpy– use about 15 “stirs”). Fold in chopped cranberries and nuts with 1-2 more folding motions. Fill muffin cups about 1/8 inch from the top of the muffin tin and bake at 425 for 5 minutes. Without opening the oven change the heat to 375 and bake 20-25 minutes more, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
To make glaze, cream softened butter and powdered sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until there are no lumps. Add in orange juice and zest and extracts and mix well. Add a portion of the milk as needed to get the consistency you want (each orange has a different amount of juice, so you may need a squidge more or less milk). Drizzle cooled muffins with orange glaze, if desired. *Note: if you prefer unglazed muffins, shaking a little turbinado sugar over the tops of the muffins before baking will give you a nice, sparkly crust after they have baked.
Now, in pictures! 🙂
Ah, I just love cranberries. Not only are they deliciously sweet/tart, but they provide a refreshing pop of color in the middle of winter when everything at the store seems to be a different shade of sickly green or brown. For this recipe you can use either fresh or frozen cranberries, but when I use frozen ones I like to thaw them slightly (not so much that they leak juice everywhere and turn the muffins pepto-bismol pink, but just enough to soften them a bit). I like to chop them a little bit, too, but if you want whole berries, go ahead and leave ’em whole. 🙂
Next, in a separate bowl go ahead and mix your dry ingredients together. There is something so beautiful about all those different spices in there. Mmmm. Hey baby . . . lookin’ . . . spicy!
In another bowl whisk together your wet ingredients. Since muffins shouldn’t be overmixed, it’s important to have everything ready to rock and roll so you don’t have to stir too much.
Next, go ahead and fold your wet ingredients into your dry ones. Surprisingly, you should only have to fold about 15 times. The batter will still look lumpy and have some flour clumps in it. You will want to stir more and get it smooth. DON’T DO IT. Leave those lumps in. Just like a sweet old grandma . . . love ’em lumps and all! Your muffins will be light and moist, and you’ll thank me later. Once you get the lumpy batter mostly incorporated, fold in your chopped (or not!) cranberries and chopped nuts in with a few more folds. But don’t overstir. Your muffin batter should still have some nice lumps in it. OK I think I have said the word “lump” more times in this paragraph than I have in the rest of my life, combined. haha. Everyone gets it, right? LUMPS ARE GOOD. At least in muffins. 😀
Now, here’s a little trade secret. The secret to beautiful, mile-high muffin domes is to give them a short little zip in the oven at high heat, right at the beginning of baking, and then turn down the heat WITHOUT OPENING THE OVEN and finish baking at a lower temperature. And just FYI, this doesn’t work for cupcakes– just muffins. Don’t ask me how I know this. 😀
Fill your muffin cups almost to the top– leave about 1/8″ space between the batter and the top of the muffin tin. I always use a muffin scoop when I make muffins because it takes about 2 seconds to measure the batter, there is no goopy mess spilling all over the the muffin tin, and all the muffins are the same size (no more crazy, spilling over the top muffins beside a dwarfed, embarrassed tiny muffin. You’re welcome). My favorite muffin scoop is here. I use the blue one for muffins and cupcakes, but I have lots of other sizes for everything from chocolate chip cookies to French Macaron filling. After you place the batter in the muffin tin, you can sprinkle them with turbinado sugar, if you want to. I often sprinkle muffins with this sugar because it gives them a little sparkle and a cutesy little crunch.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees (I got a cheapie oven thermometer at walmart for about 5 bucks to make sure the temp is right– you’d be amazed how often ovens are WAYYYY off temperature). Bake the muffins for 5 minutes at 425 degrees. Then WITHOUT OPENING THE OVEN, change your temperature to 375. I don’t want to yell in your face (haha!), but please don’t open the oven at this point. Your muffins won’t like you at all if you do that. Just change the temperature and content yourself with gazing through the window. Finish baking the muffins at 375 for about 20-25 minutes, until they are golden brown and pass the “toothpick test.”
Each oven is different, so keep an eye on these beauties. Since they are dark from the spices, be careful not to overbake. The muffins should spring back lightly when touched, and the toothpick can have a few moist crumbs on it, but it shouldn’t be wet when you use it to test the center of the muffins.
After the muffins are finished baking, let them finish cooling on a cooling rack. I love to put the cooling rack over a silpat lined baking sheet. The silpat is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Absolutely nothing sticks to them, which means you can drizzle the glaze over your muffins (if you decide to use the glaze), let the muffins dry, and then wipe off the mess when you’re done. Easy peasy. I’m all for easy cleanup! (Do they make silpats that are toddler sized? haha).
Sprinkle a little extra orange zest on top of the glaze before it dries, if you want a sweet little garnish for the muffins. Take a plate of these beauties over to a friend or neighbor and share a cup of coffee and a visit. Break off a piece of one of these delicious, spicy muffins and dunk it in your coffee, if you want to. Good food and good friends are the best cure for even the coldest of days.
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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