Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cranberry-Pecan Muffins

Smith is two years old, and I have to admit that so far it has simultaneously been the most fun and the most frustrating age.  He oscillates between being inSANELY adorable and sweet, and ridiculously wild, crazy, and unreasonable.  One minute he is splitting his cracker in half and feeding it to his baby brothers, and the next minute he is chasing Caroline around and pulling her hair, knocking the twins over, and throwing a tantrum because I won't let him eat cornstarch.  It's hard to stay mad at him though.  I mean, look at that face!

Recently, our QT time has been spent almost exclusively in the kitchen.  He seems to have inherited my love for cooking, and anytime I so much as set foot in the kitchen, he's dragging the step stool over and asking to help.  And I love having him in there.  It's been especially fun to make recipes that require several steps, or call for using different appliances.  His favorite kitchen appliance of the moment is the food processor.  I let him press the button, and it absolutely makes his day.

These muffins were such a fun project for us to do together one afternoon.  Not only did we get to use the food processor THREE TIMES, but we got to eat muffins at the end!

And these muffins are awesome.  There are a few key points that set these muffins above the rest.  First is the preparation of the cranberries.  Using fresh cranberries definitely feels more festive and seasonal, but biting into a whole cranberry can be pretty jarring.  Here, the cranberries are coarsely chopped in the food processor, along with some sugar and a tiny bit of salt.  The salt helps tame the bitterness of the cranberries, while the sugar of course sweetens them a bit.  Chopping the cranberries also helps them to be more evenly distributed throughout the muffin, giving you cranberry in every bite.

Secondly, instead of just mixing in chopped pecans, you make a pecan flour in the food processor by simply grinding them in the food processor with some sugar.  This appeases those who don't like the texture of having nuts added, but it gives the muffins plenty of nutty and delicious flavor.  So as to provide extra texture, a streusel topping finishes them off.

These muffins were a huge hit with both Caroline and Smith, and I loved them as well.  With their crunchy streusel topping, big domed tops, and awesome sweet-tart flavor, they reminded me a lot of a big bakery muffin.  These made a great breakfast for a few days, and Smith and I would split one for a snack sometimes as well.  If you need a fun and festive muffin for a holiday party, or are looking to bake something for Christmas morning, give these a try!  Having a two year old around to help is recommended, but not required. ;)

Cranberry-Pecan Muffins
barely adapted from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book
makes 12 muffins

Streusel Topping

  • 3 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs packed brown sugar
  • 4 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, softened
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups pecans, toasted and cooled*
  • 1 cup + 1 Tbs granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 8 oz (2 cups) fresh cranberries
  • 1 Tbs confectioners' sugar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position.  Line a 12-cup muffin pan with liners, or spray with cooking spray.  Set aside.

For the topping:  Combine the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, butter, and salt in the food processor, and pulse 4 to 5 times, until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  Add the pecan and pulse another 4 to 5 times, until they are coarsely chopped.  Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and set aside.

For the muffins:  Whisk the flour, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the toasted pecans and granulated sugar in the food processor, and process until the mixture resembles coarse sand, 10 to 15 seconds.  Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in the eggs, melted butter, and milk.

Whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture until it's just combined, with no streaks of flour remaining.  Set aside for 30 minutes to thicken.

Meanwhile, pulse the cranberries, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the confectioners' sugar in the food processor until very coarsely chopped, 4 to 6 pulses.  Use a rubber spatula to fold the cranberries into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, filling each cup completely.  Evenly sprinkle the streusel topping over the batter, gently pressing into the batter to adhere.

Bake 17 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.  They are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool the muffins in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack and cool at least 10 more minutes before serving.


Joanne (eats well with others) said...

Smith is adorable!! I really can't believe he's 2 already. It's crazy how time flies! Also, I love that he loves to help in the kitchen! He's definitely taking after his momma! These muffins sound great. I love that the cranberries are chopped and distributed throughout!

Melissa L said...

I am becoming increasingly convinced that all toddlers are
bi-polar. Good thing they're cute ;)

Kristine's Kitchen said...

Yum! These muffins sound wonderful! I love that the pecans are ground up in the food processor, and fresh cranberries are perfect for this time of year. My daughter is 4 1/2, and still can go from happy and smiling one minute to completely upset the next. They like to keep us on our toes, don't they? :)

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