Cranberry and white chocolate muffins

The temperature in Chicago is -15ºC and dropping fast. Stuck at home with one sick child and another about to follow suit and no prospects of flying to Florida or the Dominican Republic like some of my friends are, I got out the muffin tin. The weather conditions are perfect for home baking, which I find warming, relaxing and tasty.

Cranberry and white chocolate muffins

The basic recipe I use for muffins is adapted from an old pre-prison Martha Stewart Holiday Baking special issue. Not that I haven’t tried others, but this one works great every time and is very easy. The original calls for fresh raspberries. I’ve done it with blueberries, cherries, apples, dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, raisins, dried cranberries and frozen berries (don’t defrost them) of all sorts and combinations of the above. Still, the best muffins for me are the my latest variation – dried cranberries and white chocolate chips. They are not too sweet and just the right treat for a frosty day. If you are a butter hater don’t make these – they need the entire dose of real unsalted butter, or they will be flat, dry and boring.

As with any simple recipe, this one also needs the best ingredients you can afford, but without going overboard. The measurements are in US cups, but IKEA sells those everywhere. If you are used to g and ml – there are good conversion sites in the net. I find cups great and easy. For a kids’ party, but not only, you can easily double the recipe, and if you have one of those monstrous American ovens you can fit two tins on the same level. If you are brave enough and have the counter and floor space – let the children help. Muffin making is very kid-friendly. I always use child labor when not in a hurry.

Ingredients (makes 12):

  • 1 ¼ cups (1 ½ sticks unsalted butter) – for those not used to US butter sticks – one stick is 113g
  • ½ vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1 tsp of the best natural vanilla extract you can afford
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs (organic or free range if you can find)
  • ¾ cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips or 50g white chocolate, chopped

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Position rack in the middle section. Melt the butter with the vanilla pod and seeds over low heat, or in the microwave. Let it cool and discard the vanilla pod. In a large enough bowl mix the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the butter, eggs and buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula until the ingredients have combined. Don’t overwork the batter – it needs to be airy so the final result will be a light and moist little cake. Add the cranberries and chocolate and stir to incorporate. Place baking paper cups into the muffin tin forms – one thing I love about my new location – unlimited supply of those in every color and pattern possible. If you don’t have those – butter the forms well. Using two spoons, fill the muffin cups completely and bake until golden for 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t open the oven door before at least 20 minutes have passed, as you can ruin the “mushroom effect”. Let the muffins cool on a rack or, as in my case, a wooden board. Sprinkle with confectioner’s (powdered) sugar and grab one before the hordes arrive. They are best 20 minutes after baking, with a cup of cold milk, but are very good even the next day – if any are still left.

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