Country Comfort — Banana, Apple, Raisin, Walnut Bran Muffins
After a two-year exhaustive search for a home in the country, I finally found the perfect house in one of the Hilltowns of Pioneer Valley in Western Mass just east of the Berkshire. I’ve been in my new digs for exactly two months now and it already seems like my life in New York City was a distant nightmare. Living in a small town in the middle of nowhere is where I am meant to be. I so welcome the peace and quiet of the country and feel like I am finally HOME. Changing from city life to country life — apartment living to home ownership — has not been without its challenges but more on that later.
Even in this short amount of time I have had the great pleasure of watching the season change from summer to fall to the approaching winter. This fall was exceptionally beautiful, even New Englanders’ have commented on how beautiful the reds were due to rain at just the right time. Most of the leaves have fallen to the ground by now, only the most persistent have turned brown and still cling to branches. At the height of fall this was the view from my front porch! You can’t get more New England than that.
And a path on which I walk my dog, Halley.
Not much of a baker in the city, but with falling temperatures and a chill in the country air, the baker in me surfaces. I want to try my hand at baking something warm and comforting for breakfast. And, bran muffins fit the bill.
As I sit in front of one of my first fires in the wood stove in my living room I research muffin recipes. It is cold in the house and my furnace isn’t working or I think it isn’t working so I hope to take the chill out of the air with a fire in the wood stove until I can contact the company to service the furnace. But building my first fire isn’t easy. I think I’ve got it light with flames licking a log in the stove only to have it die within minutes. I poke and move the log around again to see a flame ignite from the draft of the open door. Again it dies down. This scenario continues several more time until I give up and go to bed. In the meanwhile, it is cold in my house. Fortunately, planning for the winter ahead, I bought a new down comforter which keeps me warm throughout the night, except for my nose which isn’t covered by the comforter and is cold.
So my first attempt at building a fire was a dude. After consulting several friends with wood stoves I discover you have to get a really hot fire going with kindling before adding a log. Once I understand this my fire building technic improve and I can create roaring fires in the stove with temperatures rising on the catalytic converter on top of the stove. The needle on the converter moves from the beige area of temperatures below 500 degrees to the red area above 500 degrees. I worry the fire is getting too hot and damper it down. But again it rises into the red zone. I damper it down again, and again. But the next day something clicks in my head that this doesn’t make sense. Researching how a wood stove works I discover that you actually want it to go above 500 degrees and keep it up around 600 degrees or so to heat the room/house. Everything is a learning experience!! And to that end the furnace which I thought wasn’t working just wasn’t turned on. When I spoke to a technician at the heating company after that first night when I couldn’t get a fire going, he instruct me to turn up the thermostat and lo and behold there was heat. In my apartment in New York the heat came on when it was cold so I just expected the heat in the house to come on when it got cold. What was I thinking!! Or should I say not thinking!!
To get back to baking muffins I was able to find several recipes which I experimented with until I came up with the one below. I know it might sound like an oxymoron but these are really moist bran muffins which are fat-free and very low in sugar. The sweetness coming from the fruits used. I had read about using apple sauce as a substitute for oil but having over ripe bananas also on hand I decided to mashed them into the mixture as well and cut back a little on the amount of apple sauce. It worked wonderfully giving the muffins a mild banana favor but also making them very moist.
To the banana mixture I added a beaten egg with apple sauce, vanilla and sugar. Next the wheat bran which is soaked for ten minutes in Almond Milk which I had added a lemon to as a substitute for buttermilk. And then flour is combined into the bowl. Trying to cut gluten in my diet I used an all-purpose gluten-free flour I bought at the excellent local co-op. Lastly I added the chopped apple, raisins and walnut and baked for 15 minutes. They freeze well so once cool I froze about 1/2 to enjoy at a later time.
- 2 very ripe Bananas mashed
- 1½ cups of Wheat Bran
- 1 cup Flour or Gluten Free Flour which is what I used
- 1 cup Almond Milk
- 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
- 1 Egg
- 2 tbsp Apple Sauce
- ⅓ cup Brown Sugar
- ½ tsp Vanilla
- 1 tsp Baking Powder
- 1 tsp Baking Soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 Apple peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks
- ½ cup Raisins
- ½ cup chopped Walnuts
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Grease muffin tin with neutral oil such as grape seed oil or use paper muffin liners.
- Mash bananas in large bowl until a chunky liquid.
- In a separate bowl mix together lemon juice and Almond milk, allow to curdle about 3 to 5 minutes. Mix Wheat Bran into the almond milk mixture and let soak for ten minutes.
- Beat together egg with apple sauce, vanilla and sugar and add to mashed banana.
- Stir Wheat Bran mixture into mashed banana mixture.
- Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to mashed banana and bran mixture. Don't over mix.
- Fold in cut-up apples, raisins and walnut.
- Spoon into greased muffin tin
- Bake 15 to 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into muffin comes out clean and the muffins are starting to brown.
- Allow to cool, remove from muffin pan and enjoy.