I love this bran muffin and it alarms me that sometimes a great old recipe can unknowingly slip away or be forgotten by the excitement and fickleness of finding a new recipe. Our bran muffin at Sarabeth's has undergone very few changes since its debut in 1981. In fact, every January I review our recipe books and reprint the pages so that we can start the new year with a fresh copy minus the fingerprints of butter and the flour that has found its way between the pages. Sometimes the bakers will make a note or two in the margins; adjustments to the baking time and temperature depending on how large the batches are and how full the oven is. There are also recipe edits that I have made during the year in my own handwriting. These tweaks are subtle—more vanilla, extra lemon zest or a different chocolate.
Last week while working with the evening bakers, I noticed something was not quite right with our bran muffin. (Anyone who has had our muffins knows how particular I am, not only with the taste but with their appearance.) I decided to do the bake off that evening and keep an eye on them myself. I was on a mission and stood in the oven room and watched. To my dismay, the muffins began to spread and they took too long to bake. When they came out of the oven I became impatient—wanting to taste them right away, I restrained myself. You can't judge anything correctly right out of the oven. When I did finally break the muffin opened, I was surprised how overly moist the inside was.—much too wet and although it tasted ok, but it did not have the wow factor of the original muffin.
I opened our recipe book and turned to the recipe. To my surprise I discovered a change in one on the ingredients. It was buttermilk instead of the original whole milk called for in the recipe. How does such a thing happen? Many times the bakers will say" Sarabeth, you made the change", and sometimes they are correct— but not in this instance When one uses buttermilk, there is usually the addition of baking soda to calm the acidity from the cultured milk. That was the tell tale giveaway, there was no baking soda in the recipe. Still puzzled, I turned to my recently published baking book to compare the recipes—as I suspected, whole-milk. As much as I love tweaking and trying to improve recipes— if it's not broken, don't fix it.
I often tell the story about how I built my preserves business on a family recipe for marmalade. When I started my bakery--originally on Amsterdam Avenue, but now in the bustling Chelsea Market near New York’s favorite new outdoor spot, the High Line--this was one of the recipes that put us on the map. Bursting with pumpkin flavor, not-too-sweet, and studded with sunflower seeds, this has proven to be a classic. And autumn is the perfect time for making them.