Almost 30 years ago (oh my goodness, I’m dating myself!) I was given a version of this terrific muffin recipe by Sherry Strange, a cook who attended one of my Cuisinart food processor classes. She told me the muffins were a specialty of the Jared Coffin House, a historic inn in Nantucket, and asked me if I would adapt the recipe for the food processor. I told her I’d give it a try, and after several attempts I succeeded. The recipe called for Crisco, which helped make it work really well in the food processor because the fat is already aerated during manufacture, and it’s the air in batters that makes them rise in the oven. But plain vegetable shortening has no taste, so I compromised and used half butter.
Now that fresh cranberries are in our markets, I thought it a good time to rethink the recipe and make it using the original creaming method—with all butter this time. I also switched from regular milk to buttermilk for tang, added some heavy cream for extra tenderness (hey, that’s what fat does!), and some chopped pecans for crunch. Oh, and grated orange zest, because cranberries and orange go so well together.
The result? Amazingly tender muffins that keep fresh for days at room temperature. This means you can make them the night before you want to serve them and give them a quick oven reheat the next morning.
I’ve recently discovered a new non-stick muffin pan—the USA pan—that really is non-stick and turns out muffins that brown beautifully all around their sides and bottoms. The 12-cup pan is a “standard” size, meaning each cup measures 2 ¾ inches across and is 1 1/8 inches deep.
Cranberry Pecan Muffins
An ice cream scoop (1/3 cup capacity) is a great tool for dividing muffin batter. Toasting pecans deepens their flavor. Just put them on a baking sheet and pop them into the preheating oven for about 5 minutes until they become fragrant, then cool and chop. Be careful not to burn the nuts. Chopping cranberries can be a chore because their rounded surfaces make them want to roll all over the place. A food processor will make quick work of the task—just 4 quick pulses—but then you have something extra to wash. But if you use the processor for 5 seconds to combine the dry ingredients first, you get double duty out of the machine. Just dump the dry onto waxed paper and you save yourself a bowl to wash. No need to clean the food processor work bowl before adding the cranberries.
Baking the muffins at a high temperature (400 degrees) and using baking powder instead of baking soda causes the muffins to peak nicely.
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (measured by dipping dry measure into flour container, filling to overflowing, and sweeping off excess with a straight edge)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar + extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
Grated zest of 1 large orange
½ cup buttermilk (shake before measuring)
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ½ cups fresh cranberries (6 ounces), chopped
½ cup pecans (2 ounces), toasted and chopped
Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have ready a 12-cup standard-size non-stick muffin pan and a can of cooking spray. Don’t spray the muffin cups just yet.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor for 5 seconds. Empty the work bowl, reinsert the metal blade, and add the cranberries. Pulse 4 times to chop the cranberries medium-fine. Leave the cranberries in the work bowl until needed.
In a medium size bowl, use a hand-held electric mixer to cream the butter until smooth. Add the ¾ cup sugar and vanilla and beat well on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Stop to scrape the bowl occasionally. This is the aeration step where you create the bubbles. Baking powder and heat will cause them to expand in the oven.
Add the egg and egg yolk.
Beat the egg and egg yolk in well, then beat in the orange zest.
Stir together the buttermilk and heavy cream in a 1-cup glass measure.
On lowest speed, mix in about one-third of the dry ingredients, then half the liquid, beating only until incorporated. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and liquid, ending with the dry. The batter will be thick.
Add the cranberries and pecans and fold them in.
Lightly coat each muffin cup with cooking spray.
Divide into muffin cups with an ice cream scoop or two soup spoons. Sprinkle top of each muffin with about ½ teaspoon sugar.
Bake muffins about 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and they spring back when gently pressed in the center. Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then carefully lift them out of their cups and arrange them in a napkin-lined basket.
Serve warm with butter.
Makes 12 large muffins.
To reheat, wrap loosely in foil and pop into a preheated 300 degree oven for about 5 minutes.