Both sweet and tart, these tender cranberry orange muffins are perfect for the holidays, or any day.
What, exactly, is cranberry season?
And by that, I’m not asking about when the fruit is harvested (although it may correlate). No, just like pumpkin spice has a season, as does gingerbread, as does peppermint (why are all of these Starbucks latte flavors, come to think of it? Bravo, marketing team, bravo) — is there a cranberry season?
If there is one, it would probably have its peak around Thanksgiving. I don’t suppose anyone eats cranberry sauce the rest of the year. But cranberry baked goods seem rather cozy for all of wintertime. I mean, cranberry bliss bars live on at Starbucks until January or something, right? Since they seem to be my barometer of seasonality? Not to mention the cranberry color is so wonderfully holidayish.
In any case, I would eat these cranberry muffins fall through winter, at a minimum. So I feel okay posting them in December. But the story behind them, I must confess, centers on Thanksgiving.
When I was little, we read a picture book every year called “Cranberry Thanksgiving.” I’ve forgotten the finer plot points, but there was a girl who lived with her grandmother in a cranberry bog, and a man with a fierce beard named Mr. Whiskers spent Thanksgiving dinner with them. My favorite line was his praise for the meal: “‘Feast of feasts!’ said Mr. Whiskers.” To this day it remains a common quote in our household after a particularly good dinner.
Somewhere in this story, there’s a plotline about Grandma’s secret recipe for cranberry bread, and how some nefarious character was attempting to steal it. However, it couldn’t have been all that secret, because the recipe was found at the end of the story. And since we’ve always been a baking family, every year after reading the book, my mom and my sister and I would make the bread together. And it’s absolutely the best recipe I’ve ever gotten out of a picture book. Damning with faint praise? Probably. So let me rephrase: this recipe is absolutely delicious.
Over the years, we gradually stopped baking the recipe as a bread and made it as muffins instead. It’s delicious either way, but I think muffins are just a little bit more fun to eat, and they’re just slightly easier as well. Bread, well, you have to cut it. I don’t need an extra step between me and my breakfast.
My favorite thing about these muffins is how moist they are. I’ve always had a feeling the moistness has something to do with the orange juice, but that’s only a hunch. I suppose it could be the butter as well. But whatever it is, they have a super tender crumb. They also have a really nice balance of sweetness with the tart cranberries. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a muffin that doubles as a cupcake — but I can also appreciate the slightly more sophisticated taste of this little gem.
I think I’ll to choose to believe that cranberry season runs all fall and winter long, and this recipe would be just as perfect for Christmas morning as it would be for Thanksgiving. I’m going to choose to believe this, because these muffins deserve as much play time as possible. I’ll be curious to hear if you agree or disagree. But either way it won’t change my mind. I’m eating these anyway.
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- 1 beaten egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
- ¾ cup orange juice, room temperature
- 1½ cups cranberries, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Whisk together the first five ingredients (flour through baking soda) in a large mixing bowl.
- In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the butter, egg, orange peel, and orange juice.
- Fold the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Add the cranberries and fold gently until just combined.
- Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Pour batter into muffin tins, filling each one about two-thirds full.
- Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, until the tops are set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few crumbs. Do not overbake, or they will become dry.
These muffins freeze very nicely. Just seal in a ziplock bag. To defrost, place in the refrigerate overnight.
Recipe adapted from Cranberry Thanksgiving, by Wende and Harry Devlin.