I am likely the last person in New York City to learn about Blue Sky Bakery muffins, and it’s all my fault because I wasn’t paying attention. Why would you, really? Most coffee shops don’t sell muffins worth noting. You can only audition so many flavorless, greasy, tight-crumbed, massive metallic-tasting muffins before not even looking in bakery cases when you go in for your morning fix. Four year-olds, however, are not suspicious — they are insistent. So, one morning over spring break (something you dread when you’re in preschool, live for in high school and college, and I’m sorry to admit, lightly dread again as a parent), when I tried to make the most of our more leisurely mornings with excursions, we got in the terrible habit of splitting one of their fruit-filled bran muffins each morning and by the end of the week, we were so addicted that I had to make them at home.
It’s no surprise that a bakery that takes their muffins as seriously as Park Slope’s Blue Sky does produces such excellent ones. In a video on Serious Eats, founder Erik Goetze notes that “most bakery muffins are made by just going through the motions, either in an industrial factory-type muffin-making operation or whether people are making so many things, they cannot focus on what makes a great muffin,” which he outlines as moist, having a nice peak to it and, ideally, straight from the oven when it’s still crisp and crunchy on top, and when opened, a little curl of steam comes out of it.
Curl of steam, guys. Are you not in love yet? No? Try this instead: The New York Times spotted sign on the wall of the kitchen that read “No uglies. No flatties.”
So, perhaps mine probably wouldn’t pass muster at the bakery, but I received no complaints on the homefront. The flavor was spot-on. The mixed berries I used perfumed the entire muffin. And although they’re most amazing straight from the oven, as directed, even three days on, they’re impeccably moist and the ideal pairing to a morning coffee and plain yogurt.
Bran muffins, previously: Seven years ago, I shared a bran muffin recipe with sour cream in it, that I still find is amazing, tender and light. Comparatively, it’s a bit sweeter and has less bran and fruit in it. Consider that one a bran muffin for beginners, or skeptics. This one is barely sweet with a real heft to it, clearly more breakfast than cake.
One year ago: Japanese Vegetable Pancakes
Two years ago: Chocolate Buckwheat Cake
Three years ago: Creme Brulee French Toasts
Four years ago: Avocado Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing, Homemade Pop Tarts and Cabbage and Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts
Five years ago: Buttermilk Ice Cream, The time I visited the Pioneer Woman and Black Bread
Six years ago: Jim Lahey’s Pizza Bianca
Seven years ago: Corniest Corn Muffins
It wasn’t easy to find this recipe, but I’m glad I found a blog post that pointed me to this book, because it was definitely one of the better 159 pennies I’ve spent. The book pairs books and literature, inviting bestselling authors to talk about the foods and recipes that inspired passages in their books. Jill Clement suggests the Blue Sky Bakery bran muffin as the ideal companion to her novel, Heroic Measures; in a pivotal scene, she has a character eat a bran muffin because she wants him to be wowed by the earthy flavors.
And these are not just any bran muffins. They’re hefty and hearty, more whole grain than refined flour, barely sweet and you’ll never get two muffins alike because the great big pocket of fruit in the center is variable; in just one week’s time we had banana-coconut, mango-fresh cranberry, blackberry-apple and blueberry-raspberry. What should you put in yours? Anything that sounds good.
[Note: The original fruit level, 1 1/2 to 2 cups, was accidentally doubled. Now fixed; sorry for the trouble.]
Yield: 12 standard muffins (I halved the bakery’s original yield)
1 1/3 cups (315 ml) buttermilk (you can also use sour cream or yogurt thinned with a little milk)
1 large egg
1/3 cup (80 ml) oil (such as vegetable, safflower, sunflower or olive oil)
1/4 cup (50 grams) lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract, a little citrus zest (optional flavorings to add)
1 1/2 cups (90 grams) wheat bran*
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons (10 grams) granulated sugar, divided
3/4 to 1 cup chopped mixed fruit (just about anything but citrus or pineapple will work, they say; frozen berries are fine)
Heat oven to 425 degrees F and coat a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray.
Whisk buttermilk, egg, oil, brown sugar and any vanilla or citrus zest you’d like to use in a small bowl. Whisk bran, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir wet mixture into dry until just combined and still a bit rough.
Spoon two 2 tablespoons of batter into each prepared muffin cup. Add about 2 teaspoons fruit to each (dividing it evenly) and sprinkling the fruit with one of the teaspoons of granulated sugar. Spoon remaining batter (about 1 tablespoon each) over fruit and sprinkle tops of muffins with remaining teaspoon of granulated sugar.
Bake muffins for a total of 16 to 18 minutes, rotating pan once midway through baking time for even browning, until a toothpick inserted into the center of muffins comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Do not overbake. Let muffins cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from tin.
Do ahead: Muffins keep for 3 days at room temperature, longer in the freezer.
* I didn’t try it, but I suspect that oats pulsed in a food processor until a cornmeal-like consistency or even that 7-grain cereal mix we used for this whole-grain cinnamon swirl bread would work here. Let us know if you audition it. I used Bob’s Red Mill brand wheat bran.