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Bran Muffins

October 6, 2010

If I were to name my top twenty foods of all time, bran muffins would make the list.

Squished in there between pici al cinghiale and carrot cake, the humble, maligned bran muffin would take its place – for what may be the first time in its existence – in the Hall of Fame.

the cross-section of a really good bakery muffin...

I love bran muffins for lots of reasons: their moistness, their substance, they’re not too sweet, they can hold their own when dunked in tea or coffee, they give butter a reason to live, their subtlety of flavor, their illusion of healthiness, their extra-crunchy crusts…

But despite their potential to be awesome balls of character-building breakfast, more often than not bran muffins suck. And, though I’ve enjoyed many brilliant bakery bran muffins in my day, I have been totally unsuccessful in my efforts to recreate the perfect bran muffin at home.


...and the cross-section of mine


In high school, one of my best friends baked me a whole batch of bran muffins for my birthday one year. The only problem was that they remained raw in the middle no matter how long she baked them.

In college, my roommate Kat and I shared a distinct love for the bran muffins made by the company that provided otherwise wholly inedible food to our dorm.


Douglas Hall breakfast, circa 2006


After moving into our own apartment, we set about trying to recreate the hearty goodness at home (as our other roommates will painfully recall). But, despite Kat’s enviable baking skills and our buying tons of wheat bran, oat bran and raisin bran, the archetype eluded us.

And so, for my entire bran muffin loving life, I’ve had to rely on bakeries – or worse – to get my fix. And I know this sounds crazy, but I prefer an industrial bran muffin to any I’ve made at home (and I’ve made a lot of bran muffins at home). Though a great bakery is preferred, I wouldn’t stick my nose up at Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Tim Hortons, whatever, should the need for bran muffins arise.



One of Kat and my more successful attempts: bran muffins flavored with coffee but too soft and cakey for my tastes


So you can understand the problem I faced when, upon arriving down under, I quickly realized that, despite an unhealthy love for banana bread and friands, Australians don’t do bran muffins.


Let’s just let that sink in, shall we?


PERFECT bran you SEE that top?


In my experience, muffins here almost always come in either a blueberry or raspberry variety and taste more like processed cake than anything else. (Though there are some very noteworthy exceptions: Bourke Street Bakery and The Shortlist. And though these places do make some excellent muffins, none are bran). After hearing my complaints about the lack of adequate muffins, I’ve had two Australian friends tell me to quit ya’ whingeing coz muffins are too cakey and gross. Here, have some banana bread!

But you’re all just doing it wrong! I tell them. It’s as if the banana bread and friand lobbies have pushed muffins out of rotation! And it’s unfair!


From my first employer Great Harvest Bakery in Newtonville, MA, one of my all-time favorites: mixed berry oat bran


So what’s a bran muffin lover to do in a bran muffinless land?

Complain about it.

I’m only partly kidding. Truth is, I complained about it to the right person, my dear friend John, a Canadian who, by very dint of his birthplace, understood my plight. Last week he gifted me with a very thoughtfully handwritten copy of his favorite bran muffin recipe from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Home Baking.

The husband and wife team claim to have tested all sorts of precise ingredients to achieve the ideal bran muffin. Unfortunately, I took those precise ingredients and substituted them with whatever I had in the refrigerator, which may or may not have been the reason these muffins were…ehh.



pouring what should have been molasses into what should have been sour cream-soaked bran


While the husband, who likes bran muffins (“but not like you do,” he reminded me), gobbled up 2 while they were still warm, I found them…lacking. They were too light, not sweet enough (!) and had a slightly tangy, baking soda aftertaste. This might be explained by the fact that I swapped out whole milk for skim, sour cream for labne, and molasses for golden syrup. Maybe it was because I ate them while they were still ever-so-slightly warm, which always negatively distorts my baked good-receptor taste buds.

Maybe I’ll give them another shot tomorrow morning.

I’m sure I’ll be much more forgiving with a big cup of something hot in front of me. And maybe it’s a lesson. The perfect bran muffin may be unachievable. Especially if I never follow the recipe.


Adapted beyond recognition from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Home Baking, courtesy of John. Makes 10 medium-small muffins. (To enlarge John’s copy of the recipe, click the photo.)

…or until the sides of the muffin pull away slightly from the sides of the tin and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove muffins from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

MY (not-encouraged) CHANGES:

I used skim milk rather than whole

I used labne rather than sour cream

I added 1/2 cup soaked (and drained) raisins

I used golden syrup rather than molasses



with slashings of butter, just how I like it


P.S. If you have THE PERFECT bran muffin recipe, please share. I can’t promise you I’ll follow it, but I will be jealous of your peace of mind.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Brenna permalink
    October 7, 2010 12:21 am

    1) I CAN”T BELIEVE they don’t have bran muffins in Australia.
    2) When that Douglas Hall meal tray came into view, I teared up. At work. At 10:15 am.
    3) Canadian John has beautiful handwriting.

  2. Tom Hensley permalink
    March 9, 2011 6:16 am

    I’m on tour in Oz with the Neil Diamond band right now, and every time we’ve come here I’ve wasted a lot of time searching for bran muffins. I was doing so again, this time with a Google search, which turned up your blog entry today. Thank you for saving me additional time spent beating the bushes for something that apparently just can’t be found. Actually, a chain called Muffin Break does have something they call a bran muffin, but it has coconut in it, and it sounds gruesome, but I may have to try it, now that I know I won’t find anything else. At home I have a bran muffin every morning as part of my daily gruel, and coming to Australia has always put me off my feed. Now I know why.

  3. John permalink
    August 13, 2011 7:27 pm

    Muffin break in Australia is great and thankfully in every shopping centre, (its rather like tim hortons) the bran muffins especially are my favorite though I didn’t notice the coconut variety, my favorite mixed berry (real berry pieces). Coffee is great, the best i had during 3 months touring in Australia.


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