Breakfast with my father was a big deal. Every Saturday morning he would take either my sister or me out to breakfast somewhere, and in the warmer months this was accompanied by a long bike ride along any stretch of bucolic Pennsylvania trail. When I was very little, I always ordered chocolate chip pancakes and a hot chocolate, and he would chuckle and warn me that I wouldn’t be able to handle that much sweetness. “Balance,” he would say. I, naturally, derided this advice. More of a good thing is better, silly! That is, until the stomach ache kicked in and I had to stop drinking my hot chocolate because it had lost all flavor as my taste buds grew numb to the sugar.
Eventually I came to copy his signature order – a blueberry muffin and a cup of hot coffee. It’s a classic combination for a reason, and that reason is balance. The hot buttery muffin, perfectly sweet with a hint of savory, was cut by the coffee, smooth, rich, and full.
And so, as is so often the case, muffins became one of those foods that are more than just something to be eaten. They are a symbol – of those weekend mornings with my father, of his wisdom and my learning and our matched enthusiasm. They are comfort, pure and sweet and simple.
So when Sam suggested we embrace the autumnal air and its red and yellow hues and try making a batch of orange cranberry muffins, a seasonal twist on my favorite confection, I was duly on board.
These muffins take almost no time to prepare and only bake for about 20 minutes. The trickiest part is assembling all of the ingredients, no small feat for some college kitchens. That being said, the bulk of what you need are baking staples. The orange juice, zest, and cranberries are what make these little treats standout.
And standout they do – we baked twelve yesterday and already there is one left.
2 cups flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Orange or clementine zest
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice (we used oj with pulp for an extra orange kick)
Oven temperature: 375 F/190 C
Begin by combining the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the grated orange zest. (Be careful not to grate your fingers, as zest of flesh isn’t quite the festive flavor you are going for).
Whisk the egg, orange juice, and milk together. (Some curdling will happen – don’t freak out).
Gradually combine the dry and wet ingredients. Once the batter has formed, fold in the dried cranberries to taste.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them to the rim. We used muffin papers, but this isn’t necessary. Opting simply to butter the tins ahead of time is completely fine.
Bake these beauties for about 20 minutes or until they are a nice pale golden brown and the air is thick with clouds of citrus. We added shredded coconut to the tops of half of our muffins about halfway through the baking time. The coconut toasted beautifully and added a sweet, crisp element. The next time we make these we plan on experimenting with folding the coconut directly into the batter
These muffins were unbelievably delicious when eaten hot and fresh out of the oven and saturated with melting butter. What really surprised me was just how good they continued to be the next day. Once cooled, the orange flavor is even more pronounced. That, paired with a steaming hot coffee, and I had the makings of a perfect fall morning.