My Very Special Cranberry Orange Muffins

I love to make these muffins during the holidays because of the combination of winter fruits and the way they make my house smell when I'm baking them. Sweet orange and tangy cranberries belong together. I'm often reminding you of the benefits of eating seasonally, for the best flavor and the best price. I also think our bodies are happiest when we are nourishing them with the good food that is growing right now, whether that's strawberries in the spring, tomatoes in the summer, apples in the fall or citrus in the winter. Anticipation is a good thing.

While cranberries are plentiful and on sale buy a few extra bags to toss in your freezer, to use later in the winter. Making your own cranberry relish is delicious to go on turkey and havarti cheese sandwiches and you will have the ingredients to make these muffins in February! I also have a cranberry orange pork chop recipe that is on standard rotation during these cold weather months and I like to have cranberry relish for that dish. I'll share that soon.

These are special muffins. Not your average, "dump the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients and combine" muffin. The list of ingredients is kind of long, includes fresh foods and comes together more like a cake than a muffin. As a result they have a super tender crumb. They should be assembled on a

morning when you have a little extra time and want to turn out an above average breakfast treat. That's why I like to make them at Christmas. Here's how they come together...

Begin by chopping the cranberries in the food processor. You can do it by hand, but it will be messy.

Gather the dry ingredients and spices. This recipe calls for unbleached plain flour and a little cake flour.

Whisk the dry ingredients together.

Zest an orange. I love my microplane zester. It's one of the most used tools in my kitchen. Be careful though. They are sharp and if you aren't careful, you will zest your finger which isn't on the ingredient list and doesn't

feel very good! Zesting with the back side facing up makes it easier to see where you need to move it around on the orange so you don't get any of the bitter white pith in there with your zest. Then you can just turn it over and dump the zest on your cutting board to be measured for the recipe. Quick and easy.

After removing the zest, juice the orange. I guess you could use dried zest and orange juice from a carton, but they won't be as good. Fresh ingredients are what makes this recipe special. I promise you'll be happier with the results if use them.

Beat the softened butter and sugar. If you forget to take the butter out of the refrigerator ahead of time, along with the buttermilk and eggs, which are also supposed to be at room temperature, you can carefully warm

things up in the microwave. Well, not the eggs, don't put them in the microwave! Just be careful, as one second can make the difference between softened butter and melted butter.

And you can warm up the eggs in a bowl of hot water. I didn't plan ahead to make these, so none of my ingredients were at room temperature. I helped them along using the methods I've mentioned.

This is where the instructions begin to sound more like a cake than a muffin. The flour mixture has to be added in thirds, alternately with the eggs and the buttermilk, taking the time to scrape the bowl throughout

the process. Sounds like making a pound cake to me. A little bit of extra work , but we're not going for normal,

everyday muffins here. Remember? They're special.

After the batter comes together, gently fold in the chopped cranberries. I love the bright red berries, so pretty.

Scoop the batter into muffin tins. I like to use cupcake liners, sprayed with cooking spray. But today I was out of them, so I put them directly into the pans. Before putting them in the oven, sprinkle sugar on top. I especially love the turbinado sugar, like Sugar in the Raw. It's big and crunchy and looks pretty on the tops of the muffins.

I'm also thinking that a confectioners sugar glaze made nice and thick with a little more of that fresh orange juice, drizzled over the tops, just might make these even more delicious. Hey, if you're eating something that tastes like cake for breakfast, might as well go for a little frosting too! I think I'll try that next time.

Either way, I think you'll agree they're really yummy and very special. Enjoy!

Orange Cranberry Muffins

1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, picked through and rinsed

2 cups unbleached plain flour

1/2 cup cake flour

2 t. baking powder

1 t. ground ginger

1/2 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

10 T. unsalted butter, at room temp.

3/4 cup plus 2 T. sugar

2 large eggs, at room temp.

1 1/2 finely grated orange zest

1 t. vanilla

1 cup buttermilk, at room temp.

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

2 T. sugar in the raw

Position rack near the center of the oven and heat

to 425 degrees. Use cupcake liners and spray

with cooking spray. Coarsely chop cranberries in

food processor. In medium bowl, mix cake flour,

plain flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy,

about 2 minutes. Scrape bowl. Beat in eggs,

one at a time, scraping after each egg. Beat in

zest and vanilla. On low speed, add 1/3 flour

mixture, then 1/2 c. of buttermilk. Next add

1/3 cup of flour mixture, then rest of buttermilk and

orange juice. Mix in rest of flour. Fold in cranberries.

Sprinkle tops of muffins with sugar.

Bake for 15 - 18 minutes.

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