Sunday, July 13, 2008

Desperately Seeking Bran Muffins

I make a batch of bran muffins just about every week. You know the old saying, "A bran muffin a day keeps the doctor away." OK, that's not quite right, but bran muffins are a necessity when, like my husband, you're taking a pile of pills with all kinds of side effects. Plus, we're both at that age where we need a little help. So for the last 2-1/2 years I've been trying out different bran muffin recipes. I've spent countless hours searching online, but I've been pretty picky, however.

First off, I wanted a simple recipe that didn't involve elaborate steps & ingredients. After all, I'm making these every week! So recipes that called for creaming butter & eggs were out. I didn't want to fuss with dragging out my electric mixer or deal with getting butter at the perfect temperature for creaming. So I wanted recipes that used oil. I also didn't want to deal with chopping up apples, grating zucchini, carrots, smushing bananas or whatever.

Secondly, I wanted recipes that used just plain old wheat bran. No raisin bran cereal, no Kellogg's All Bran. I didn't want to have to worry about keeping those cereals stocked in my pantry, and they also add a level of sodium that I didn't want.

Thirdly, I wanted recipes that use one teaspoon of less of baking soda. Many bran muffins recipes call for molasses, honey, or buttermilk -- acidic ingredients that need baking soda added for leavening. Since I really like the flavor of molasses, honey, & buttermilk, I knew I'd have to try to keep the baking soda content down. (More about baking soda below.)

And finally, I wanted a muffin that had good flavor & texture and was moist. Something that didn't remind me of sawdust.

I've tried several recipes. One had two cups of sour cream -- good but kind of heavy & greasy. I made three from Cook's Illustrated. One called for creaming butter & eggs. It was good but not spectacular, definitely not worth the trouble. I used two others for a while. But one required pulsing Kellogg's All Bran in a food processor (too much hassle for me) and the other called for 4-1/2 teaspoons baking soda (way too much sodium!). Recipes from Epicurious & RecipeZaar were OK but nothing special. So I kept searching.

Eventually I decided to give the recipe printed on the Bob's Red Mill wheat bran package a try, "Moist Molasses Bran Muffins." I wasn't expecting much but was pleasantly surprised. They were indeed moist, and the molasses gave a good flavor. And I managed to get 14 muffins out of the batter rather than the dozen that the recipe indicated. A few weeks later I tried another winner, "Extra-Easy, Extra-Moist Bran Muffins" from Veggies, Crafts, & Tails. This turned out to be a good recipe too.

Baking with No-Sodium Baking Powder and Baking Soda
Before posting the muffin recipes, just a note about using no sodium baking powder & baking soda. I've been using Hain Featherweight Baking Powder (no sodium) successfully for almost a year now. I can order it online or pick it up from my local Safeway or Raley's markets. I have not noticed any negative impact on the texture or taste of any of the baked goods made with it. I use exactly the same amount as regular baking powder, so I don't have to remember any special formulas. This is a great product!

A few months ago I ordered Ener-G No Sodium Baking Soda. I thought it would work as well as the no sodium baking powder. The first thing I made was my usual oatmeal scone recipe. You're supposed to use twice the amount of the regular baking soda called for in a recipe. I did that, but the scones did not seem to rise as much as normal, and I detected a slightly "off" taste. When I made the Cook's Illustrated bran muffin recipe that called for 4-1/2 teaspoons of baking soda, the muffins were horrific. Doubling the baking soda amount as directed resulted in gummy, squat, muffins with a strong metallic taste. I decided that this product wasn't for me. Now I will only use a recipe if it calls for less than 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and I use the real thing. Also, I purposely choose baking powder recipes.
Bob’s Red Mill Moist Molasses Bran Muffins
(Printable Recipe)

1 cup Wheat Bran
1 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour (I used 1 cup WWW & ½ cup AP)
1/2 cup Raisins (or other dried fruit)
1 tsp. Baking Powder (I used Featherweight No Sodium)
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 cup Milk
1/2 cup Molasses or Honey (I used 1/4 cup each)
3/4 cup Applesauce
1/4 cup chopped Nuts (I omitted)
2 Tbsp. Oil
2 Eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine wheat bran, flour, baking soda and baking powder. Stir in nuts and raisins. In a separate bowl, blend applesauce, milk, molasses, oil and egg. Add to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened (the batter is very liquid). Spoon into greased muffin tin (or paper muffin cups) and bake for 15-20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins (I ended up with 14 muffins).

Extra-Easy, Extra-Moist Bran Muffins

1/3 C. vegetable oil
1 large egg
4 T. dark brown sugar
1/3 C. molasses
1 ½ C. unbleached white flour (I used 1 cup AP & ½ cup WWW)
1 C. natural wheat bran (not cereal)
1 teas. EACH baking soda, baking powder (I used Featherweight No Sodium), ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
¾ C. plain yogurt* (See buttermilk substitution below)
½ C. milk
1 C. raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 400. Grease muffin tins thoroughly and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine first 4 ingredients. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the dry ingredients, adding the raisins if desired. In a cup or small bowl, combine the yogurt and milk.

Add dry ingredients alternately with the yogurt/milk to the first ingredients, stirring JUST to combine, don’t over-mix, batter should be lumpy (I added dry ingredients to combined liquid ingredients). Pour into prepared muffin tin, filling each cup approx. 2/3 full. Bake 15-20 minutes, until done. Reduce heat to 375 after first 10 minutes if browning too fast. Makes 12 muffins.

Variations: Substitute 1 ¼ C. buttermilk for the yogurt/milk. Add the grated zest of one large orange with the dry ingredients. Add chopped nuts, dried cranberries etc…or combination of, in place of the raisins.

(For more bran recipes, check out this POST.)


OhioMom said...

Your a better woman than me, I have been avoiding baking anything in this heat we have been having :) Supposed to be a couple of milder days, I may turn on the oven.

Geraldine said...

Hello from Veggies....It was interesting to read your notes re: sweetness for my muffin recipe. Usually people say that it's a welcome change to make desserts etc, that AREN'T overly sweet. This is a very popular muffin recipe and I hope your readers also give it a try!

giz said...

I understand the dilemma although I admit I do use cultured buttermilk and baking soda. The recipe I use isn't far off from yours - maybe you can adapt it somehow. Would cream of tartar work - I know it works well in place of baking powder.

Anonymous said...


I'm glad it's not just my best friend and me who've had trouble with the Ener-G baking soda!

Recently I bought some of it, as I'm now on a low-sodium diet. I gave some to my best friend, who is a professional-level baker, so that she could make me a birthday cake (red velvet) last weekend.

The directions on the container and on the manufacturer's website all promise that "Calcium Carbonate works just like baking soda, but it's completely sodium free... For best results double the amount called for in recipes."

Ha! Not only did this not work, it failed spectacularly. Just so you know, this friend is a first-rate baker. She made my wedding cake 10 years ago and has seriously considered opening her own bakery, so I doubt the problem is at her end...

First, she said: "Hey, just so you know the cake isn't rising as much as I'd expected (despite doubling the baking soda) but it should still taste good and hopefully have a good texture. I was really meticulous making it. I think this particular type of cake depends so heavily on this leavening method, as opposed to eggs, that it made a difference. I put the vinegar in the baking soda and it fizzed, then I folded it into the batter and it sort of defizzed. Normally it lightens the batter. I wonder if next time, if I do a variation and beat the egg whites and fold them in too, maybe this would help. That's what you do on chiffon cakes and some white cakes."

Then: "OK, when I took the cake out of the oven it shrunk!!! All the rising it did undid itself."

And lastly: "It's continuing to shrink! At this point, it is a tiny brick! I'm sorry.... I will have to get rid of it and try something else."

Obviously, just doubling the amount didn't work, so there has to be some other trick to it. Someone's buying and using it, so someone out there knows how to make it work; that person just doesn't happen to be me. :/

shambo said...

Laura, I think the Ener-G baking soda only works well when small amounts of baking soda are called for in the original recipe. The bran muffin recipe I used it for called for 4 1/2 tsp. of baking soda. Double that and you end up with 9 tsp. or three tablespoons. That's an awful lot! It changed the texture so much the end product was inedible. I'm thinking that perhaps using recipes calling for no more than a tsp. might work better. I certainly understand your frustration.

Anonymous said...

I love bran muffins and almost all require baking soda. Have searched and searched for one that does not, and here it is. These muffins come out excellent! Nice rise, nice denseness, everything you want in a bran muffin. I use sodium free baking powder. I sub dark brown sugar for the honey, and have subbed mashed bananas, date puree, or applesauce for much of the butter, replacing the rest of the butter with canola oil. Those are just my health preferences - sodium isn't my only concern. Anyway, you're an experienced cook and baker and I'm sure you can make this recipe your own, and yay for no baking soda!

shambo said...

Oh, dear! Another bran muffin recipe to try. But try it, I will. Thanks for the link.

I'm with you regarding the baking soda issue. I've used the Ener-G baking soda, and it's OK -- up to a point. As I mentioned in the post, because it must be doubled, I won't use it if the recipe calls for more than 1 tsp. of baking soda. And even then, I'm a bit leery. I'm afraid of what it will do to the texture and taste of the baked goods.

So, like you, I search for recipes that only require baking powder. I've had absolutely no problems with the Hain Featherweight no-sodium baking powder.