I always run into bran muffins while traveling. They’re usually the only muffin flavor that’s still left in the case when I’m dashing through the train station or airport at odd hours of the day. Ever hopeful, I quickly purchase one to bring along and regret it as soon as I settle in my seat and take a bite.
Let’s face it. Most people wouldn’t notice if you changed the name of bran muffins to bland muffins. But they don’t have to be dense and tasteless! It turns out they can be malty, nutty, and sweet, like a honey graham cracker—but even better because they’re moist and fluffy.
With tangy buttermilk, applesauce or mashed banana (you get to choose), floral honey, and rich butter, every ingredient in this recipe works double duty—function and flavor—to make bran muffins a breakfast or snack you’ll look forward to.
The Trick for Stellar Bran Muffins
The key flavor hack for bran muffins is to toast the wheat bran. I first saw this in a Nancy Silverton recipe, and I won’t ever go back. Toasting the wheat bran makes it extra flavorful with nutty, caramelized notes, just like when you toast nuts and seeds or make brown butter.
I toast the wheat bran just before making the muffin batter because the flavor will fade the longer it sits. To save time, you could toast the bran up to a day before and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. While you could technically skip the toasting step altogether, once you try it you’ll be hooked.
Here are a few more tricks I’ve picked up during my quest to improve bran muffins:
- Use fresh wheat bran. Over time, bran will begin to lose flavor and go stale, or worse, rancid. Once the package is open, wheat bran will last for about a month, but you may get more time out of it if you store it in the fridge.
- Use good-quality whole wheat flour. I like King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Ivory Wheat Flour. Both have a bit more flavor than all-purpose flour and many of the benefits of whole wheat flour without making the muffins dry. You can substitute with an equal amount of whole wheat pastry flour or use half whole wheat and half all-purpose flour.
- Fill every other cavity. If you have two muffin pans, or the patience to bake in batches, I recommend using every other cavity in the muffin pan. This gives them some extra space so the muffin tops don’t bake into each other (extra important when adding mix-ins) and allows them to bake more evenly.
Have Fun with Mix-Ins
I love to boost the flavor of these muffins even more with mix-ins. Add just one or a mix of all your favorites, but I’d recommend sticking to between 1/2 to 1 cup total. Here are some of my favorites:
- Toasted nuts: Chopped walnuts or pecans are the classics, but you could also sprinkle the tops of the muffins with sliced almonds.
- Toasted seeds: Pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds work best.
- Dried fruit: Raisins are standard, but I prefer the sweetness of chopped dates or tart dried cranberries. There are endless other options depending on what you have on hand: apricots, cherries, currants, figs, etc. You’ll want to chop any larger fruits into bite-sized pieces before adding them to the batter.
Make Vegan Bran Muffins
You can easily make these bran muffins vegan with a few straightforward ingredient swaps. They won’t rise as much, making them slightly denser than the recipe as written, but they’ll be just as flavorful.
For a vegan sweetener, use maple syrup or molasses in place of the honey. Swap the buttermilk for the same amount of your preferred plant milk and one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Instead of melted butter, use melted coconut oil, or you can even try vegetable or olive oil. And finally, use two flax eggs. Tip: Prepare the flax eggs while the bran is toasting so they have time to thicken.
How To Store and Freeze Bran Muffins
Store leftover muffins in an airtight container on the counter for up to three days.
These bran muffins freeze well and can be stored for up to two months. I like to keep a stash of these in the freezer for an easy breakfast or snack on the go. I pack one straight from the freezer when I’m getting ready to head out and it’s thawed by the time I’m ready for a snack later in the day.
To freeze, arrange the baked and cooled muffins in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the pan in the freezer until the muffins are frozen solid, about 30 minutes. Once they’re completely frozen, you can transfer the muffins to a freezer bag. Defrost them on the counter, or in the microwave for about 30 seconds (for a single muffin).
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Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Toast the wheat bran:
Spread the wheat bran out on a baking sheet. The baking sheet doesn’t need to be lined with parchment, but it does make it easier to transfer the toasted bran to the mixing bowl.
Bake, stirring halfway through, until the wheat bran toasts and smells nutty, 8 to 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the bran, as it can brown quickly. Let the bran cool in the pan slightly while preparing the muffin pan and batter.
Prepare the muffin pan:
Increase the oven temperature to 425°F.
Very lightly spray the tops of 2 standard muffin pans with nonstick baking spray (no need to grease the cavities, this is just to help the muffin tops release from the pan). Line every other cavity with a paper liner.
Combine the dry ingredients and wet ingredients:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the toasted wheat bran (it’s okay if it’s still warm), flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, honey, and melted butter until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until fully combined before adding the next. Add the applesauce or mashed banana, followed by the buttermilk and vanilla extract.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients:
Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Fold with a silicone spatula just until combined and no dry streaks of flour remain.
Use a cookie scoop or a couple of spoons to divide the batter evenly among the 12 paper liners. They will be filled nearly to the top.
Bake the muffins for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F without opening the door. Continue baking for 10 to 13 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.
Cool muffins and serve:
Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to finish cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Store leftover muffins in an airtight container on the counter for up to 3 days.
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