If everyone’s house has an identifying smell, these bran muffins were my grandma Gloria’s. They were there to wake us up every weekend with a gentle nudge to get out of bed. I can still see her standing in the doorway to my cousin’s room.
“I made muffins,” she’d almost sing in her high pitched voice. “You can zap them.”
There are pictures of her three grandchildren, sitting at a little metal table in the middle of the kitchen, eating them, and when I close my eyes and imagine my her kitchen counter, somewhere, there is a basket of fresh bran muffins tucked in under a kitchen towel.
My Grandma Gloria passed away 5 years ago and in the decade or so preceding, she slowed down. I remember the Thanksgiving her pie crusts started going downhill. My Papa made the pumpkin pies the next year and I silently grieved, knowing that we had lost this very defining part of my grandmother. We would no longer find her puttering in the kitchen. We wouldn’t open the door to be hit with the smell of banana bread or bran muffins. We were resigned to breath in whatever odors had soaked into the textiles over decades of Sunday mornings and afternoon tea parties.
In March, I was home for my birthday and discovered the recipe in a book she typed for my mom. When I made them myself for the first time, the distinctly familiar smell gutted me. I sobbed when I ate the first one… and the second. I will accept no judgement when I tell you I ate, and cried through, a third. I don’t know if this recipe is simply dripping with nostalgia or if these truly are the perfect comfort muffins. I am very biased. I’ll never be able to taste them objectively. I do however think they have a very well rounded, subtly sweet, yet grounded flavor. Bran is earthy in the best way. And without further ado, here is *my version of my Sweet Grandma Gloria’s famous muffins.
*I'm sharing the typed out version of my Grandma's original recipe with my Instagram subscribers. I've asked people to blind test both muffins and the jury is split so if you want to try the original, that's where you can find it. Happy baking!
•2 cups boiling water
•5 tsp baking soda
•1/2 cup vegetable shortening
•1/2 cup unsalted butter
•2/3 cup sugar
•1 1/2 cups date paste
•1 quart buttermilk
•5 cups all purpose flour
•1 tsp salt
•4 cups bran flakes
•2 cups grape nuts
•1 cup chopped pecans
•1 cup chopped dates
•1 tsp vanilla
Add the baking soda to boiling water and let cool.
Cover pitted dates with boiling water and let sit for 15 minutes. Strain then blend adding a tbsp of water at a time as needed. You'll end up with a smooth, brown-sugar like paste that is great for adding to things like oatmeal and yogurt, as well as your baking recipes.
In a stand mixer, cream together shortening, butter, and sugar. Add the date paste and bear until combined. Add eggs and beat for 20 seconds after each one to incorporate. Add the vanilla. Lower the speed and add the buttermilk, mixing until just combined, then sift in flour and salt.
Add the water and baking soda mixture, and once combined, fold in the bran flakes, grape nuts, chopped dates and pecans.
Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.
Store in a sealed container in the fridge and bake as you need each day. Gloria said that this would keep for 6 weeks which when doing a bit of research online, I did find other bran muffin recipes that said the same thing. Apparently the batter gets better as it ages but I haven't been brave enough to go past week three. However, by that point it definitely did have a more nuanced flavor. If you go to week six, and live to tell about it, please report back.