I thought of those muffins recently when I felt that old yearning for something wholesome after a month and a half of nonstop holiday cookie, pie and gingerbread-house baking. I will never forget the initial thrill of transforming a bowl of cereal, flour, milk, eggs and sugar into warm-from-the-oven muffins. But eventually I realized my muffins could be fluffier and tastier.
Over the years, I tinkered with the back-of-the-box recipe, in search of a more satisfying result. First, I substituted yogurt for milk, which gave the muffins some tangy flavor while keeping them moist. Then, I replaced the white sugar with a more interesting combination of brown sugar and molasses. Most radically, I decided to ditch the cereal altogether after noticing how it soaked up liquid like a sponge, and stirred a cup of unprocessed wheat bran into the batter instead. The final result was a more tender and authentically wheaty-tasting muffin.
I've been baking my new basic bran muffins for quite a while, very pleased with the way the recipe lends itself to many healthful and delicious variations. (When trying to bake something healthy, I like to think about what I can add, rather than obsessing about what I should be subtracting.)
This time, I added chopped dried figs and raw sesame seeds. The figs do increase the calorie count, but they also add calcium, potassium and fiber. Sesame seeds contain antioxidants, iron, heart-healthy lecithin, and are a good nondairy source of calcium. Of course, I wouldn't have added either of these ingredients to my bran muffin batter if I didn't think they would add wonderful sweetness, richness and Mediterranean flavor. Nibbling on the results, I'm grateful to the recipe that pointed me in this direction, and I'm welcoming a year filled with all foods healthy and delicious.
BRAN MUFFINS WITH FIGS AND SESAME SEEDS
To vary the recipe, try another combination: Raisins and flax seeds, cranberries and pumpkin seeds, dried cherries and sunflower seeds. Or try apricots with finely chopped almonds, or prunes with finely chopped walnuts.
Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup wheat bran
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup dark (not blackstrap) molasses
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup stemmed and finely chopped dried figs
1/3 cup raw sesame seeds
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
2. Whisk together flours, bran, baking powder, baking soda, salt and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add oil, molasses, eggs, vanilla and yogurt. Stir until all ingredients are moistened. Stir in figs and sesame seeds.
3. Divide batter among muffin cups and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Let muffins cool in pan for 5 minutes, invert onto wire rack and turn right-side up on rack to cool completely.
Makes 12 muffins.