Nancy Silverton's Bran Muffins

April  1, 2015

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A bran muffin that's somehow both more wholesome and more delicious than the rest. What gives?

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Bran muffins have always been the Debbie Downer of breakfast. Even when they're not being categorically written off as dowdy and boring, someone is villainizing them as, essentially, liar health food.

This has been a lose-lose life for you, bran muffins, and we're about to make it all better.

Nancy Silverton might not seem to be a likely champion of bran—she's a chef beloved for her pizza crust and pastries, and we've celebrated her whipped cream in high-mounded bowlfuls.

But smart pastry chefs like Silverton, who are exposed constantly to the desserts that others only experience occasionally—and who know exactly what goes into them—are perhaps the most likely people to crave genuinely healthful ways of making sweets. (See also: Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain, Alice Medrich's Flavor FloursAnita Shepherd of Anita's Yogurt.) They're also in the best position to do something about it.

Silverton was uninspired by bran muffin recipes that called for processed bran cereals and lots of sugar. So she built a recipe based on unprocessed bran, which is pretty easy to find at health food stores and online. She toasts the bran briefly to develop the flavor, but otherwise stirs it straight in—so there really is no reason for using cereal, other than the fact that cereal marketers are good at their jobs.

To cut back on both some of the sugar and some of the fat, she also plumps raisins in simmering water, then purées them, which gives the muffins loads of moisture and a jammy sweetness that suits the earthy breakfast milieu well.

This is a muffin so flavorful and so squidgy that even I, a flagrant over-butterer, don't feel the need. But go ahead—sometimes I do it anyway.

Nancy Silverton's Bran Muffins

Adapted slightly from Pastries from La Brea Bakery (Random House, 2000)

Makes 10 muffins (or 12 smaller ones)

2 cups unprocessed bran
1 1/2 cups raisins, divided
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon orange zest, finely chopped (about 1/3 of an orange)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 extra-large egg
1 extra-large egg white
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup stone-ground whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to our A Bushel & a Peck columnist Ali Stafford and David Lebovitz for this one!

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order yours now.

Photos by Bobbi Lin

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  • alice
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    Lynne Grant Mohr
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    Alexandra Stafford
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


alice December 27, 2017
I enjoyed this muffins very much. I omitted the sugar and added cinnamon. I feel very good about making them without refined sugar.
Lynne G. December 27, 2017
I, too, made these many years ago. As I remember, they were a little labor-intensive, but worth the effort. I had over-sized muffin tins, which made them extra special. Thanks for reminding me of this recipe. I always enjoy Nancy Silverton's recipes.
Alexandra S. April 1, 2015
Love these and haven't made them in ages. Feeling inspired!
Kristen M. April 1, 2015
Thank you for sharing them with us -- they are the best.