September 19, 2010

better bran muffins

One of my favorite breakfasts growing up was the “Six Week Bran Muffins” my mom used to make – so called because the recipe makes a lot of batter that will keep in the refrigerator for up to six weeks.  (I’m not sure where the recipe came from, but there are countless variations on the web.)  One of the best things about these muffins – besides the fact that they’re delicious – is that it takes about 2 seconds to pop them into the oven to bake while you get ready for work/school/life/etc.  (It’s even quicker if you have an oven that can be set to start preheating 10 minutes before you get up.)  Fifteen to twenty minutes later, voilà!  You have a warm, cozy, fresh-baked, relatively healthy – and might I add portable – breakfast!

Here are ingredients for “Six Week Bran Muffins”:

6 cups All-Bran cereal 
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 cups buttermilk
5 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups boiling water
Raisins and/or walnuts, optional

I’ve been baking them myself for years.  Imagine my dismay when I discovered that the requisite All-Bran cereal contains high fructose corn syrup.  Yuck.  (By the way, there’s a campaign in the works to rebrand it as “corn sugar.”  Don’t be fooled.)  Some will say there’s nothing wrong with HFCS and that it’s just like sugar, but I just don’t want to eat something that processed, over-subsidized, and unsustainable.  Plus, unprocessed wheat bran is cheaper than All-Bran.

I’m sure there are a number of good bran muffin recipes out there, but I’ve never had one that quite rivals my mom’s.  A few months ago, I broke down and bought a box of All-Bran to make a batch of muffins.  When I found the remaining cereal still in my pantry several weeks ago, I thought it would be a great opportunity to develop a new recipe.   I would use the rest of the All-Bran cereal to make a small batch of muffins and taste them side-by-side with the new All-Bran-free recipe in an attempt to recreate the same finished product.

In order to accomplish this, I couldn’t simply replace the All-Bran in the recipe with an equal amount of unprocessed wheat bran because the All-Bran has added ingredients (like sugar and salt) that would be missing from the plain wheat bran and change the final result.  So, I would have to figure out what exactly was contained in each 1/2-cup serving of All-Bran and add equivalent amounts of those ingredients (or substitutes) to my muffin recipe.

I started off by examining the ingredients on the All-Bran label.  Luckily, there aren’t that many that I needed to worry about:

Ingredients: wheat bran, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, malt flavoring, calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, salt, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid  (vitamin C), reduced iron, niacinamid, pyridoxine hydrocloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid, thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), vitamin A palmitate, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.”

I disregarded most of the latter ingredients as supplementary vitamins and minerals appearing in trace amounts and dealt with just five of the ingredients:  wheat bran, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, malt flavoring, and salt.  Four of those ingredients are self-explanatory.  I did a little online research on the “malt flavoring” and discovered that it is probably a malt syrup of some sort (often in the form of barley malt syrup).  So the “malt flavoring” is just a third type of sweetener. 

A 1/2-cup serving of All-Bran cereal has a mass of 31 grams

In order to find out how much of each ingredient is included in that 31 grams, I would have to compare the nutritional value of the cereal to the nutritional value of unprocessed wheat bran.  Let’s say 1 gram of that 31 grams is the “disregarded” ingredients, that way we’re working with a nice, round 30 grams. 

Let’s start with sweeteners:

The high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and malt flavoring are all sweeteners whose entire mass (and caloric content) is sugar.

Unprocessed wheat bran contains 0 grams of sugar.  All-Bran contains 6 grams of sugar in a 30-gram serving.  That 6 grams of added sugar is either in the form of high fructose corn syrup, granulated sugar, or malt syrup. 

But how could I translate 6 grams of sugar into a recipe?  (How many teaspoons is 6 grams of sugar?)

One teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams.  So, 6 grams of sugar is 1 1/2 teaspoons and each 1/2 cup of All-Bran contains 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar (or other sweetener, since they’re about the same mass per teaspoon).

I obviously wouldn’t be using any corn syrup, so the sugar and malt flavoring were the only two contenders.  I happened to have barley malt syrup in the house from the last time I made bagels, but you could probably substitute molasses with similar results.  (Either will give the sweetness of the muffins some depth.)

I could tell by the order of the All-Bran ingredients list that there is more sugar than HFC and more HFC than malt flavoring, so I thought that a sugar-to-malt-syrup ratio of 2:1 might be reasonable. That translates to 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of malt syrup per 30 grams.


Wheat bran contains 0 mg of sodium. A serving of All-Bran contains 80mg of sodium. 

1/4 teaspoon of the sea salt we use contains 530mg of sodium, so All-Bran contains a negligible amount of salt (something like 1/100 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup cereal)

Wheat bran:

6.08 grams of every 30 grams of All-Bran is added ingredients.  So,

30g – 6.08g = 23.92g

There are about 24 grams of wheat bran in each 1/2 cup of All-Bran cereal.

24 grams of wheat bran (at 15g per 1/4 cup) is 0.4 cups, which translates to about 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons.

And, finally, the totals:

So, for each 1/2 cup of All-Bran called for in the original recipe, I would substitute the following:

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons All-Bran

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon barley malt

1/100 teaspoon salt

Since the recipe is rather large, these work out to much more manageable numbers.

The verdict:


The non-All-Bran muffins (pictured right) turned out deeper in color than the All-Bran version (left).  They also had a slightly grainier texture (because of the bran itself), but the flavor was very close.  The non-All-Bran muffins had a slightly richer, deeper sweetness (probably attributable to the barley malt), and the All-Bran muffins had a more honey-like sweetness.  The more Brian and I ate them, the more we preferred the non-All-Bran variety.  I’ve included a few different sweetener options in the recipe below to adjust for different tastes.

So without further ado:


Better Six-Week Bran Muffins
printable recipe

5 cups unprocessed wheat bran
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons barley malt syrup (or molasses or honey)
4 eggs
4 cups buttermilk
5 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups boiling water
Raisins and/or walnuts, optional*

In a medium bowl combine 2 1/2 cups wheat bran with boiling water.  Stir to combine and set aside.

In a very large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add barley malt, eggs, and buttermilk.  Beat until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine flour, remaining 2 1/2 cups wheat bran, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Beat together the first and second bowls.  Add the third bowl and beat until well combined. 

Use a measuring cup or large cookie scoop to drop batter into a greased or lined muffin tin. Bake at 350°F for 12 to 20 minutes (depending on muffin size),  until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.  (A 1/2-cup muffin tin requires about 17 minutes.) 

Allow to cool slightly in pan before removing to cooling rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  (They are particularly good served warm with a bit of butter.)

Leftover batter will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

*If using raisins or walnuts, only add them to the portion of batter that you are ready to use (just before baking, not in stored batter).


jmc said...

Hurray for Six-Week Bran Muffins!! I feel all cozy inside. :) Fall needs to hurry up and get here!

efm said...

Mmmmhmmm. I love them!
I think fall already is here. I hope you get it down in Austin soon!!!

Brooke @ Parenting from Scratch said...

Elizabeth! You are awesome. A girl after my own heart (belly?). I love that you're figuring out healthier alternatives to foods that you love...and that you're sharing them. I'm glad you're my cousin. I'm definitely going to try these soon. And if Sadie will eat them for breakfast (she's a reluctant carb eater...weirdo), I'll upgrade you to goddess status.

efm said...

Aw, thank you, Brooke! That means a lot. I hope Sadie does like them! (I almost envy her reluctance to eat carbs...but not quite. :) ) Will we see you at Thanksgiving? It's been too long!

Selyasa said...

My mom made these, substituted 2 TBSP bacon drippings.

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