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Whole-Wheat Prune-Bran Muffins

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These whole-wheat prune-bran muffins are fantastic for what ails you, if what ails you can be resolved with prunes and bran — if you catch my drift. They’re also deliciously hearty and tender, with the mellow, subtle sweetness of whole wheat and bran amplified by the natural nectar of prunes. (Dried plums, for the wonks at the plum marketing board.)

I developed this recipe for whole-wheat muffins when my son, five years old at the time, needed some help in that department. I cast around for anything I could think of that could help, and soon was plying the child with bran and prunes in the form of these muffins, french-fried sweet potatoes (I’ll make that a live link as soon as I’ve posted that yummy recipe — the secret is in the cutting shape!) andhome-cultured buttermilk with its probiotics that encourage intestinal fortitude and effectiveness.

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I wasn’t going to name it, but guess I’d better get the keyword into this article so people can find it via their search engines: constipation. Yes, constipation. These muffins cure constipation. They’ve done it time and time again. Got constipation? Want a natural cure for constipation? Make these muffins, rich with the goodness and effectiveness of whole wheat, prunes and bran. They’re really good to eat. And boy, do they work! While we’re throwing out the keywords, here’s another: laxative. These bran muffins fortified with prunes have a natural laxative effect.

If you are seeking a natural laxative for your constipation, I hope you find this page and consider harnessing the power of bran and prune. How’s that for keywords?

My starter recipe for these prune-bran muffins was Prune Muffins, from the classic Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook, a treasure trove of heirloom American and Eastern European cookery. Some of the differences in my muffins: the Slovak-American cookbook’s muffins are made with all-purpose flour, baking powder, “shortening” and milk, and they contain no bran. Mine are made with whole-wheat flour, baking soda, butter or peanut oil and buttermilk. And bran.

Slovak cookbook has brown sugar. I don’t buy brown sugar. Brown sugar is white sugar sprayed with a little molasses. Dark brown sugar has a little more molasses than light brown sugar. So why buy it? Why deal with the clumping? Why clutter my cabinets with (even) more stuff? I just add good molasses (2 tsp. molasses per cup sugar for light brown) whenever a recipe calls for brown sugar.

Another big difference: I like to cut sugar out of a recipe whenever possible. I experimented with liquid saccharine (my favorite brand is Superose, which is so darn cheap, less than two bucks a bottle, but Sweet’n Low is more easily found in grocery stores) and found that just two teaspoons works fine.

I’m always of two minds when substituting a product like this. On the one hand, it’s undeniably fake, and I like to make real food out of whole-food, natural ingredients. On the other hand, sugar is sugar, with all its attendant problems: raised blood sugar, increased insulin, increased likelihood of insulin resistance, and all that stuff leads to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. And the sugar-free version is closer to low-carb, with a lower glycemic index and glycemic load. So if you want to make bran muffins, what are you gong to do? I make a choice, reduce the sweetener as much as possible while keeping the integrity of the result, cross my fingers, and plunge ahead.

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These muffins are leavened through the magic base-acid reaction of baking soda with buttermilk. The extra chemicals in baking powder are not required.

The Slovak book tells you to cook the prunes. But that was 1952. Today’s prunes are moist straight out of the packet, thanks to modern packaging technology and who knows what else.

One of the challenges I faced was separating the chunks of prunes. Despite lots of stirring, they stuck together in large, prune-sized clobs, which sort of defeated the purpose of the tedious chopping.

Reducing the tedium of prune chopping was another challenge I took on in developing this recipe.

As it happened, both problems had the same solution: the food processor. I hit on the idea of placing the sifted dry ingredients in the work bowl, adding the prunes, and whirring away. It worked great. On my next batch, I realized that separately sifting the dry ingredients was no longer necessary. As long as I had all the dry ingredients in the food processor work bowl, I might as well let the machine do all the dry mixing. So the procedure got even simpler: just add all the dry ingredients to the work bowl, spin them together with the press of a button, then add prunes and chop them in with a second button press. Nice.

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Slovak book called for “shortening,” which I take to mean the artificial lard known as Crisco and other brand names. I can’t bear to use that stuff; it is so fake and so horrible for your heart. (I don’t care whether they’ve finessed the recipe so that they can legally say “0G trans-fats per serving” on the label — it’s faaaaake.)

I have two options. When I’m in a big hurry to throw some muffins together, I use peanut oil, which I think is not too terribly processed as neutral-flavored oils go. And it’s really fast. When I have one more minute to put into the recipe, I melt butter. The muffins taste much, much better with the butter. Also, buttering the muffin pans makes the muffins taste better than coating them with oil.

Note that I don’t use paper muffin liners. These seem wasteful to me. They’re not just a waste of paper; a lot of muffin gets cooked into them and thrown away or composted. Also, the muffins aren’t as tasty. The crust on every side of the muffin is yummy. Why lose that benefit, just to save a tiny bit of extra soaking afterward? It’s worth it. Life is not about the cleanup; it’s about the living and enjoying of it.

Extra notes

Butter tastes better than oil in this recipe. Buttering (not oiling) the pan makes a big difference all by itself.

I like cast iron muffin pans for this. I found my two identical iron muffin pans in two different thrift shops, years apart.

If you make the sugar-free variant, the tops of the muffins won’t brown; be sure to test for doneness with a toothpick so you don’t let them get overdone.

Whole-wheat prune-bran muffins
The recipe

Yield

Makes 2 dozen bran muffins

Sugar-free Prune-bran muffins

Ingredients

Dry

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup bran
  • 3/4 cup prunes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup peanut oil or melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • 2 teaspoons Superose or other liquid saccharine
  • Peanut oil or butter for muffin pans

Prune-bran muffins with sugar

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup bran
  • 3/4 cup prunes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup peanut oil or melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • Peanut oil or butter for muffin pans

Equipment that bears mentioning

  • Food processor
  • Muffin pans, enough for 24 muffins

In a nutshell

In a food processor, mix all dry ingredients, then chop in the prunes. Mix all wet ingredients. Stir the dry and wet ingredients together. Bake at at 400° F for 15 minutes.

In detail

This single set of instructions applies to both variants, sugar-free and sugar.

Place dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Process a few seconds to combine. Add prunes. Process several seconds, until prunes are chopped into pieces the size of raisins or smaller and distributed more or less evenly throughout the mix.

In a mixing bowl, combine wet ingredients.

Add dry ingredients to wet. Stir together. The consistency should be a thick batter, like porridge or cooked oatmeal.

Butter the muffin pan cups by smearing a stick of butter in them, making sure to get the corners. Or, oil them by pouring about 1/2 teaspoon oil in each muffin cup. Swirl the pans a bit to distribute the oil. You don’t need to completely coat the inside of the pans. If you have enough oil, the batter will push the oil up the sides of the cup when you pour it in. If using iron muffin pans, heat the muffin pans first.

Distribute batter among 24 muffin cups. Use a disher (fancy term for ice-cream scoop) for ease.

Bake at at 400° F for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted for testing comes out dry. The sides will be browned, but if you’re using Superose, the tops won’t brown.

Cool about five minutes in the pans. Loosen with a sharp paring knife. Note that sometimes the prunes stick to the pans.

Turn out of pans and cool on racks.

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