Just like prunes that have become the butt-end (pardon the pun) of many a joke because of their laxative properties, bran muffins are somehow destined to be associated forever with the sandal-wearing, lentil-eating, tree-hugging hippy image of people trying to live a slightly left-of-centre lifestyle. You'd imagine that people who knit their own sweaters from hair collected off their family dog might have bran muffins as a treat on extremely special occasions. Or that diet and exercise addicts might allow themselves one small bran muffin for every 400 miles on the treadmill.
See what I mean? Max Clifford would find this a challenge.
Maybe that's why they aren't often for sale in the supermarkets of this country. In fact, I can't remember when last I saw a bran muffin outside South Africa. Cappuccino muffins, blueberry muffins, double choc chip muffins, lemon and poppy seed muffinsm carrot muffins – yes… but no bran muffins. In South Africa, it is the other way round – everywhere has bran muffins and if you're lucky they may have one or two other flavours. But in this country they do seem to have PR problems and just don't seem to be popular.
But a well-made bran muffin can be a wonderul thing. My mom used to make us bran muffins when we were kids, packed with raisins and delicious. And 18 months ago on a visit to Plettenberg Bay, we had breakfast at The Grand, where the bran muffins were so moist and rich that I could have sworn they contained chocolate. I was beginning to fantasise about giant bran muffins for breakfast on weekends, so clearly it was time to restore my muffin equilibrium and make some bran muffins. I'd had this recipe for bran muffins in my "to do" file for ever and ever (I think it is an adaptation of a recipe in Marie Simmons' Muffins A to Z?)- apart from liking the sound of the cranberries, I also liked the fact that it used up applesauce and molasses, both of which were taking up space in my tiny grocery cupboard last weekend.
The recipe is dead easy, healthy (packed with fruit and bran with very little fat) and makes some of the more decadent-tasting bran muffins I've had. They look like chocolate muffins, they are so full of fruit that you'd be forgiven for thinking that you are eating some kind of fruit cake, and they are moist enough to dispel all fears of cardboard-ish bran muffins. The applesauce gives them a lovely moist texture while the molasses gives them richness and their lovely dark colour. In short, if I didn't make them with my own two hands and know what went into them, there is no way I would ever believe something this good for you could taste so damn fine.
2 cups bran cereal (e.g. All-Bran)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup unsulphered molasses
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1.5 cups wholewheat flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup peeled, cored and chopped apple (about 1 large apple)
Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups.
Whisk together the bran cereal, milk, applesauce, molasses, oil and eggs in a medium bowl until well blended. Allow to stand for 5-10 munites to allow the bran to soften.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salf. Stir until blended, add the cranberries and apple and toss to coat with the flour.
Add the bran mixture to the dry ingredients and fold until just evenly moistened, but do not overmix.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake for 20-22 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before removing from the muffin pan.
This post is my contribution to this month's Heart of the Matter event, the brainchild of my two friends Ilva and Joanna. The host this month is the Accidental Scientist and the theme is heart-healthy holiday food – and I reckoned with their low fat and high cranberry content, these were sufficiently healthy and holiday-ish to qualify. What better way could there be to start your Christmas or Thanksgiving morning!