Light cranberry orange muffins

December 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm (breakfast, C (2 stars, okay, edible), Cook's Illustrated, Dessert, Muffins and quick breads, Necessarily nonvegan)

I have a recipe for pumpkin cranberry bread that I just adore.  I wanted to try making it into muffins, but I couldn’t find any more fresh cranberries.  So instead I found this recipe in Cook’s Illustrated’s The Best Light Recipe.  The basic recipe is for blueberry muffins, and then they offer variations for bran muffins, corn muffins, raspberry almond muffins, and cranberry orange muffins (which call for dried not fresh cranberries).  Alex and I made the cranberry orange muffins for breakfast last Sunday, along with these two ginger muffins.


  • 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries, chopped fine
  • 2/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) plus 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 tsp. grated orange zest
  • 2 cups (10 ounces), plus 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour
  • 1 Tbs. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups plain low-fat yogurt


  1. Combine the cranberries and orange juice in a microwave-safe bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on high until the juice is bubbling, about 1 minute.  Let the cranberries stand, covered, until softened and plump, about 5 minutes.  Strain the cranberries, discarding the juice.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 12 cup muffin tin.
  3. Meanwhile, process the sugar with the orange zest until pale orange, about 10 seconds.  A hand mixer won’t work for this–you’ll need a food processor.  Remove 3/4 cup of the sugar to a large bowl, and 1 Tbs. of sugar to a very small bowl.  You should have 1/4 cup of sugar left in the food processor.  Add to the bowl of the food processor: 2 cups of the all-purpose flour (not the last Tbs.!), cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Pulse once or twice to mix.  [Note this is my own dish-saving suggest.  CI says to mix the dry ingredients in another bowl.]
  4. Add the softened butter to the large bowl with the 3/4 cup of sugar.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla.
  5. Reduce the mixter speed to low.  Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture until just incorporated, followed by 1/3 of the yogurt. Repeat this process twice more.  Do not overmix.
  6. Toss the cranberries with the remaining tablespoon all purpose flour, then gently food them into the batter with a rubber spatula.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, and sprinkle the tops with the remaining Tbs. of sugar.
  7. Bake until golden and a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then flip them out and cool on a rack for 10 minutes.

The exegesis: Cook’s Illustrated says they started with basic muffin proportions (3 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 1/4 cups of milk) and worked backwards to make it lighter.  They said traditional muffin recipes usually call for 8 to 10 tablespoons of butter.  Using only 3 Tbs. resulted in tough, bland muffins.  Both 4 and 5 Tbs. worked well, although the crumb was not as delicate with 4 Tbs.  To get a more delicate crumb they recommend switching from the traditional “quick bread” technique to the creaming method.  Creaming the butter maximizes the dispersal of the fat throughout the batter.  Replacing 1/3 of the flour with  lower-protein cake flour also helps achieve a more delicate texture.  They use yogurt to give the muffins a bit of tang and a moist crumb.  They recommend tossing fresh berries with a little bit of flour, which helps the berries stay evenly suspended in the batter.

My notes:  I didn’t have enough dried cranberries so I made only 3/4 of the recipe.  The recipe was supposed to make 12 muffins, so 3/4 of the recipe should have made only 9 muffins.  But when we went to fill the muffin tins we had way too much batter for 9 muffins.  We ended up filling all 12 muffin tins.  Strange.  Does CI have bigger muffin tins than me, or do they fill them to the very top?  I also forgot to sprinkle the extra Tbs. of sugar on the top of the muffins.

The cranberry orange muffins were quite a bit more work than the two ginger muffins, but they ended up lackluster.  Derek didn’t like them at all–he much preferred the ginger muffins.  I thought they were okay tasting.  It wasn’t that there was anything precisely wrong with the cranberry orange muffins.  They just seemed somehow wan.  They did indeed have a delicate and moist crumb.  You could taste the orange, although it could have been a bit stronger.  I didn’t care for the use of dried cranberries.  I wanted that tart, fresh burst of flavor you get from fresh cranberries, and instead I got the overly sweet, not tart enough mildness of the dried, sweetened cranberries.  Also I didn’t think there were enough cranberries.  I think one of the problems was that the muffins used all white flour.  It needed something with a little more heft.  Maybe cornmeal?  Maybe a little bit of whole wheat flour?  Nothing that would dominate though.

Nutritional stats per muffin according to CI (but mine are presumably 3/4 the size):  250 calories, 5g fat, 3g sat fat, 45mg cholesterol, 45g carbs, 5g protein, 2g fiber, 270mg sodium.

Rating: B-

Derek: C

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