Hearty apple muffins


These apple muffins were born of spite. 

It’s a weird way to come up with a recipe, I know, but let me explain. 

A bowl full of the dry ingredients for the muffins - flour, oat bran, leavening, and spices. A whisk rests on the edge of the bowl, clearly about to start mixing everything together.

I want to take you back to 2018 – I’m three weeks into my culinary school externship at a bakery in Atlanta, just starting to feel like I have my feet under me. I’m starting to understand where things are and how things work. It’s not a big operation – we have three or four people in the kitchen on the production shift – and the day starts by getting your assignments off the whiteboard with the production lists.  

My list that day was short. I had brownies and biscuits, which were frequent fliers on my production list, and a new item: morning glory muffins. I was feeling pretty good – I’m fast in the kitchen, and with such a short production list I had visions of going home early and knocking out a bunch of my externship homework. 

And then I saw the recipe for the muffins. 

Apple muffin batter in a large stainless-steel bowl. The batter is being folded with a white spatula - what is visible is mostly chunks of apple.

Friends, the ingredient list was almost a full page long. The recipe had 21 separate ingredients – including apples, fresh ginger, and carrots which all needed to be peeled and grated, orange juice that needed to be squeezed, and raisins that needed to be rehydrated. None of that would be bad for a small batch – but we made 30-35 quarts of batter at a time. 

It took me two and a half hours to mix those muffins. 

With time and practice, as I figured out the optimizations over the next few months, I eventually got my time down to about an hour and a half – but I can’t say I ever enjoyed it. Neither did anyone else – turns out making morning glory muffins was something of a rite of passage in the kitchen, and often got handed off to the newest staff member, though my boss did a good job making sure nobody had to do it too often. 

A muffin, just scooped into a muffin tin. The yellow-handled scoop is being moved out of the frame. You can see a bowl of streusel and a few apples in the background.

Eventually, my manager managed to convince our owner that we should retire the muffins – and not just because everyone hated making them. They were actively losing us money. 

We needed a replacement – and that’s where these apple muffins come in. 

The owner wanted to keep a bran muffin on the menu – fine by me, since I love them, and it offered a nice counterpoint to the sweeter chocolate chip and coffeecake options. I also knew I wanted a fruit mix-in – and since apples were in season, decided on apple muffins as my final choice. I played around with it for a week or so – messing around with quantities and types of bran, different apple preparations, and different spice blends – and finally ended up with a recipe I liked enough to bring to my boss. He liked it too.

And so my apple muffin went on the menu. 

A filled muffin tin and a bowl of streusel. Five of the muffins have been topped with streusel - the sixth is in-process of being covered. The other three muffins are not yet topped.

They stayed in the pastry case through the autumn – apple muffins felt a little more seasonal than the all-around morning glory – but they have lived on in my own repertoire. Even after I left the bakery, I’d make a batch for myself on weekends to use as a grab-and-go weekday breakfast. 

In my mind they’re perfect – hearty and satisfying, with enough apple chunks and bran flavor to feel healthy, but with a sweet, crunchy streusel topping that makes me feel like I’m getting away with something. 

They’re still a bit of work – they’re made bakery-style, which requires creaming butter and sugar together, so it’s not quite as easy as your traditional dump-and-stir muffin method fare – but in my mind it’s worth a little extra effort to get the wonderfully fine, tender crumb that results. And of course, being apple muffins, there is some chopping involved, but I think the final product is worth it. 

And the best part? 

6 muffins sit on a cutting board. The closest muffin has been cut in half so apple chunks in the crumb are clearly visible. There is an empty plate to the right of the cutting board, and a bowl of out-of-focus apples in the background.

They take SO MUCH LESS than two and a half hours to make.

Apple Bran Muffins

Time: about an hour Yield: 12 standard muffins  Source: Inspired by Smitten Kitchen and King Arthur Baking Co.

I like oat bran in this recipe because it plays off the oats in the streusel, but if all you have is wheat bran (or even wheat germ) it’ll substitute fine. 

I haven’t tested it, but I bet this base would work well with whatever fruit you had to hand – just change out the spices to match whatever you’re working with!

For the muffins:

  • 100 grams (3/4 cup) whole wheat flour
  • 100 grams (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 83 grams (1/2 cups) oat bran
  • 3.5 grams (1 teaspoon) baking powder
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) baking soda
  • 1 gram (1/4 teaspoon) salt
  • 3 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) ground cinnamon
  • 2 grams (1 teaspoon) ground ginger
  • 0.5 grams (1/2 teaspoon) ground nutmeg
  • 0.5 grams (1/4 teaspoon) ground cardamom
  • 115 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, soft
  • 35 grams (2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon) granulated sugar
  • 60 grams (1/4 cup) dark brown sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 220 grams (1 cup) buttermilk
  • 2 medium granny smith apples, cut into small dice

For the streusel:

  • 57 grams (6 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
  • 60 grams (1/4 cup) dark brown sugar
  • 57 grams (1/2 cup) old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 57 grams (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • Pinch salt 

Preheat your oven to 350°F (176°C) with the oven rack in the center position 

Whisk together the flours, oat bran, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a small bowl – you could sift them if you wanted, but I find that the bran gets stuck in the sifter and you end up whisking it back in anyway. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and dark brown sugar on medium speed until they have lightened in color and are extremely fluffy. Don’t rush this – the creaming is critical for getting the light, airy crumb we’re looking for. I usually let my mixer run for about 5 minutes. 

Scrape down the bowl and add the egg and vanilla extract. Beat until they are well-combined, then scrape down the bowl again before you add the buttermilk. Mix until the buttermilk has been incorporated – things may look pretty gross and curdled at this stage. Don’t worry about it. As long as you don’t still have big chunks of butter-sugar-egg paste, just keep going. It’s a lot of liquid for the butter and egg to hold, so the emulsion tends to break. 

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl, and mix (on LOW SPEED please, nobody likes a flour explosion) until the dry is about 80-90 percent incorporated. You’re looking for a sort of clumpy, crumbly-looking top with dry streaks still present. When you hit this point, stop the mixer, add the apples, and fold the batter by hand until no flour streaks remain. Mixing by hand at this point helps keep the apples together and also prevents the mixer from developing too much gluten in the batter, which could make the apple muffins tough. 

Set all that aside for a sec, and make the streusel topping. 

In a small bowl, squish the butter, brown sugar, flour, salt, and rolled oats together with your hands until they form a crumbly mixture with no dry flour spots remaining. 

Scoop the batter into a standard 12-cup muffin pan. I use a yellow #20 scoop, which translates to a little less than a quarter cup of batter per tin. Top each muffin with a generous handful of streusel, and bake until the tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 20-25 minutes

Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  

These apple muffins will keep up to a week in an airtight container, and freeze beautifully once baked. 

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By Jessi Spell

Jessi Spell

A culinary degree and two years of professional experience has not stopped Jessi from making stupid mistakes – she just makes them more efficiently. She habitually reads cookbooks before bed, loses track of time on Wikipedia, and yells at cooking shows like dads watching football. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Jackson, five plants, and more cookbooks than a 600 square foot studio should hold.


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