My mom says crafting was the best way she knew to keep her small tribe of highly active and often mischievous children occupied. She had three of us in rapid succession, with no car or spare income, a husband who worked long hours, and more than her fair share of parental heartache. She launched into motherhood young, energetic, and naive — when women these days are  still drinking cheap beer in college dorm rooms — and coped with the chaos by keeping us busy with projects: sewing and painting, knitting and woodworking, and everything imagineable in between  If ever you need tips on how to make a macrame mobile with string and seashells, craft an apple doll using hand-me-down clothing scraps, or build a dollhouse, all the furniture inside, and the family of mice dolls who live there, she’s your gal.

We also crafted in the kitchen, tackling highly skilled, multi-day projects such as gingerbread houses with candied window panes, and more ordinary ones, such as cookies and quickbreads. These Cranberry Streusel Muffins fall into the latter category; they were always a favorite. Made with an abundance of tangy cranberries and a generous streusel topping, they showed up as soon as the cranberries did each fall and were a fixture  in the kitchen through the holiday season.

As a child, I felt a particular affinity for cooking with cranberries since we lived in Massachusetts, a state responsible for about half the country’s production of this petite ruby fruit. My family had nothing at all to do with farming, but the fact that we had cranberry bogs in our very own town gave me a peculiar sort of pride. Perhaps Vermonters feel this way about maple syrup or Georgians about peanuts. Regardless, I’ve always felt close to the cranberry, and so when it came time to develop recipes for my cookbook, I was determined to show them off.

Cranberry STreusel Muffins

Turning to my mom’s cranberry muffins for inspiration seemed exactly right, but sadly, the recipe had gone to way of so much childhood memorabilia, lost to the era in which it had thrived. And so, I developed my own, trying to mimic as best I could remember, the original. My mom didn’t use whole grain flour in hers, and my guess is that she was more generous with the butter and sugar, but to me, the result tastes the same. It is tasty and tender, with puckery nuggets of cranberry in every bite. I’ll make them through the fall, and maybe into next year, hopefully creating the same sort of food memories for my own children as my mother did for me.

Tender Cranberry Streusel Muffins

Cranberry muffins were a winter staple in my house growing up, always with cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top. Cranberries are a cold-weather fruit that add tang, color, and loads of antioxidants to this muffin. Fresh cranberries are ideal, but thawed frozen ones yield good results as well. You can also use unpeeled chopped apples or whole fresh blueberries instead, depending on the season.
Servings 4 dozen mini muffins or 14 standard-size muffins

Ingredients

  • Oil for greasing muffin tins if not using paper liners
  • 2 1/3 cups fresh cranberries (or thawed, frozen cranberries)
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup oat flour (see Notes)
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice (the juice from about 1 large orange)
  • Zest from 1/2 large orange
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons rolled oats (not quick oats)
  • 3 tablespoons packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease 14 standard size or 48 mini muffin tins with oil or line with paper liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole-wheat pastry flour, oat flour, flax meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, orange juice, orange zest, and granulated sugar until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the butter, whisking constantly, until it is fully incorporated.
  4. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, using a rubber spatula to gently stir them together until just combined. Add the cranberries, stirring with as few strokes as possible. If you stir the batter too much, it will result in tougher muffins (we want tough kids, not tough muffins!).
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, filling them about 3/4 full.
  6. To make the streusel topping, in a small bowl, add the oats, brown sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon and stir with a fork. Sprinkle it over the muffins, dividing it evenly.
  7. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 12 to 15 minutes for mini muffins, 20 to 25 minutes for regular muffins.
  8. Leave muffins in the tins until cool enough to handle, then use a little knife to dislodge them and continue to cool on the counter. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the pantry or 1 month in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

Note: If you don’t have oat flour in your pantry, you can make it by pulverizing rolled or quick oats in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade until it becomes the fine-grain texture of flour.

Reprinted from Best Lunch Box Ever by Katie Sullivan Morford, Chronicle Books (2013)